Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
Trying to make a good Mission Impossible movie WITHOUT Brad Bird? Sounds like a job for the IMF to me! After the success of the fourth installment in the Mission Impossible series (Ghost Protocol), Tom Cruise and company are going to try their luck at making this into a noteworthy franchise once again. This time around though, they don’t have Brad Bird on hand but they DO have the director of Jack Reacher which was a fun little Tom Cruise power fantasy so this new guy might just be a good fit for one of this series which is known for being a collection of Tom Cruise vanity projects. While I have not seen the first three movies, I thought that Ghost Protocol was incredibly enjoyable and Tom Cruise has been on an upswing lately with movies like Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow, so there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to recapture what made the last movie work despite the absence of its director. Will they succeed once again in their mission to make something worthwhile out of this aging franchise, or will this blow up in their face (in five seconds)? Let’s find out!!
The movie is about super spy Ethan Hunt played by Tom Cruise who HAS to be a real life Highlander considering how good he still looks in his fifties.
He’s been on a personal quest since the last film to take down some here to unmentioned evil syndicate that’s called… wait for it… The Syndicate. Apparently this organization is responsible for a whole lot of international “accidents” that have led some serious geopolitical destabilization in the last few years. This evil organization takes a chance and tries to take Ethan out, but they fail and end up giving him a lead to their identity as well as the means of their operation. Unfortunately, while he was fighting it out with The Syndicate, the CIA director (played by Alec Baldwin) has convinced some senate committee to dismantle the IMF, blame them for a whole bunch of bullshit, and start hunting Ethan down because of reasons. So Ethan is on the run from the US Government, while trying to take down this evil organization that’s apparently so good that no one knows about it, and the remaining members of the IMF (Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt, Simon Pegg’s Benji Dunn, and Ving Rhames’s, Luther Stickell) do what they can to assist Ethan while still in the employ of Uncle Sam. Along the way, Ethan keeps running across this one woman named Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson) who seems to be working for The Syndicate, but is also helping him out whenever she can. Can Ethan stop The Syndicate from doing whatever it is they plan to do? Can this woman be trusted or will she betray him at some point? Will Tom Cruise inevitably outrun cars, planes, and explosions!?
In short, the movie is a somewhat disappointing sequel. From what I understand, Ghost Protocol really was a step above and beyond what had come before in the series so it’s only to be expected that they would go with what worked in the last film and try to catch lightening in a bottle twice. It doesn’t work. The movie’s fine, but it’s SO much like Ghost Protocol yet nowhere near as good. It’s still a FUN movie with plenty of creative action scenes and some standout cinematography, but it fails to improve in any significant way and the story is SIGNFICANTLY worse this time around. The story structure is almost note for note the same as well. Opening action scene that has little bearing on the rest of the movie? Check. The IMF is disavowed and therefore don’t have as many resources to work with yet still manage to have unlimited resources? Check. There’s a huge and overly complicated information retrieving mission right in the middle that leads to a car chase which ends with the bad guys inevitably getting exactly what they want from the IMF? Check again! Who wants to guess Jeremy Renner questions Ethan’s sanity at one point? Hell, they REFRENCE the last movie often enough (with the Moscow bombing being the inciting incident that led to IMF’s dismantlement despite not having anything to actually do with it which I THOUGHT was resolved in the last movie but whatever), so why is no one bringing up the fact that they’re more or less doing the same thing over again!? On top of all that, it also borrows heavily from the last James Bond movie (Skyfall) what with the government inquiries into the spy agency and the main bad guy being a disillusioned former member of a similar spy organization that uses the guise of lofty ideals as a cover for their ultimate goal which is revenge.
It HAS to do something different though, right? Well yes, but they’re mostly steps backwards or at best lateral moves rather than steps forward for the franchise. As stated, I haven’t seen the first three films, but my understanding is that those were basically The Tom Cruise Movie with maybe a team hanging around in the background. If that’s true, then this movie sadly seems to be going back in that direction. The whole team aspect of Ghost Protocol was one of the better things about that film and while Tom Cruise still had the big, stupid, dangerous stunts all to himself for the most part, no one in that team felt more important than the other. Here though? Sure, there’s a bit of teamwork here and there but even then it seems like everything is revolving around Tom Cruise and everyone else is either a pawn in his master scheme or actively making things more difficult for him. Benji once again gets a prominent role in this, but he’s much more bumbling than he was last time and doesn’t contribute all that much in the end other than USING gadgets. Not MAKING gadgets for solving problems. He’s just holding up some magic doohickey and having it solve problems for them. Hell, he’s brought to Austria just so he can sit in the corner and watch a laptop for an hour while Ethan’s looking for the bad guy in person!
At least he doesn’t get it as bad as Jeremy Renner or Ving Rhames who spend most of the movie just hanging around the CIA and only catch up with Ethan and Benji in the third act. I don’t even recall if Jeremey Renner shoots a gun at any point or participates in any action scene besides the car chase in the middle (in which he does almost nothing). What also bothered me is that Paula Patton is the ONLY person from the last film to not return for this one. SUPPOSEDLY there was a scheduling conflict that prevented her (and Maggie Q who was in the third film) from showing up, but the movie doesn’t handle it well at all. Despite being a direct sequel to the last film, her absence from the movie goes COMPLETELY unmentioned which is just distracting. At least Rebecca Ferguson’s character gets a graceful exit from this film that DOESN’T imply she will return for the next one which she probably won’t and they’ll get some other disposable semi-love interest to be inevitably replaced in the film after that. The only other new thing they brought to the table this time around is that, more so than the last film, this one wants to be a spy movie more than a giant action extravaganza, and it ALMOST works. It’s by far the best new element they introduce here, but it’s definitely a mixed bag. For starters, the scale is thankfully brought down a bit from global annihilation to just stopping a terrorist organization. That works because, while the last movie WAS indeed a blast, I think that trying to go that big or even bigger again would have just been a Sisyphean task so they went in the right direction and tried to make it a somewhat smaller film. I also like Rebecca Ferguson’s character that basically embodies everything you’d want from this kind of character in a spy film. Her allegiances aren’t known for most of the movie and even when they do reveal what her deal is, she’s still completely unpredictable and is really the movie’s only source of legitimate tension as we can only guess what her actions will be from scene to scene. Not only that, but she does a great job in the role as someone who can actually match Ethan’s level of physicality, yet almost always outsmarts him whenever they cross paths. Despite possibly being better than Ethan though, she’s nearly helpless in her situation which I won’t spoil here but is definitely a position you’d never want to be in and it garners some serious sympathy for a character that’s THIS good at what she does, yet can’t escape the machinations of others who are using her for nefarious ends.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good aspects of the stronger focus on espionage and subterfuge ends. The script just can’t handle this new direction and undercuts any tension for the rest of the movie outside of Rebecca Ferguson’s character. To be fair, it’s not really any stupider than the last film, but the problem is that when you want to make something with lots of twists and turns, you HAVE to have a stronger script than you do when you’re making a crazy shoot-em-up action film. For example, they have a ‘supposed’ betrayal at some point that doesn’t sell in the least. Not only are they trying too hard to convince you that they’re being super serious with this back stabbing, but because the movie has such a hard on for Ethan, we never once are given a reason to ever doubt him or anything he does which robs scenes like the betrayal of any impact. And the thing is, the movie even GIVES itself a reasonable reason for us to AT LEAST momentarily doubt Ethan, but it doesn’t pay it off! After the crazy middle of the film mission, Ethan seems to have suffered some permanent damage (he’s falling over and there is some memory loss). Unfortunately, the movie just decides to play this up for laughs for about five minutes and then drop it completely. This could have been developed further, and while it’s unlikely to have REALLY convinced the audience to doubt Ethan all that much, it just seems baffling to have that element thrown in there and then just completely abandon it when it COULD have been used effectively!
On top of that, the villain’s plan is pretty stupid (for someone so smart, he’s risking a HELL of a lot on a comparatively modest reward), and the whole disavowed thing is so much less convincing this time around. Alec Baldwin is a joke in the movie and everything the US government does here is just setting up their inevitable realization that IMF is super-duper awesome. While we may not know exactly what road they are going to take, we do know without a doubt where this is heading (Ethan’s gonna win and be proven right about everything) and that’s not something you want to say about a spy film. An action film? Sure, but that’s not the movie they were trying to make and the story just falls flat because of it. This review has mostly been negative which is a bit unfair considering that I did enjoy a good number of scenes in this movie. The big action scenes are almost all enjoyable, with the Opera scene that’s fairly early on in the film being a highlight. There are lots of great moments and ideas within these scenes to make them really stand out, and the opera scene in particular reminded me in some ways of the ending to Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Tom Cruise as well is still REALLY into the character and throws himself into the role with such ferocity that he ALMOST is able to carry this on his own, even though we really don’t WANT him to and would rather have more of the team be in it. Also, while Benji has been downgraded into a much more subordinate role, Simon Pegg is still eminently watchable as the character and the little team up the two of them have for the first half of the movie works for the most part. Really, the movie’s biggest crime is playing it way too safe and trying to recreate the magic that Brad Bird brought to the series in the fourth film. Instead of trying to reinvent itself once again (which seems to be what people LIKED so much about Ghost Protocol), it opted to give us more of the same which is exactly as good as can be expected. Still enjoyable because it’s doing what was good last time, but the wow factor isn’t there and it’s obviously a cover of something much better. I hope they realize where they went wrong with this film and try a bit hard next time. Either that or we’ll have to wait until the eighth movie for them to get it right again I guess. Hell, I’ll bet Tom Cruise will still be more than willing to play the part and will still look no older than thirty five.
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