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Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation
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by Brett Gallman

"In which Tom Cruise renews his commitment to doing anything to entertain."
5 stars

When “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation” opens with Tom Cruise clinging to a plane as it lifts off, it’s staggering on multiple levels.

The first is obvious: you almost can’t believe that Cruise is still willing to do something this insane, though it also shouldn’t be that much of a surprise—after all, this is what he does, and his boundless enthusiasm for performing crazy stunts in the name of entertainment is now legendary. It’s certainly become part of the appeal of this franchise for nearly two decades now. But what’s even more staggering about this particular gambit is that it comes so early: as you watch the plane ascend even higher, coaxing your mouth agape in awe, you also wonder just how much crazier “Rogue Nation” is going to get. I mean, where do you even go from here?

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s answer is refreshing: you can’t really go bigger than this, nor do you attempt to outdo the high-wire grandeur of “Ghost Protocol,” where Cruise literally dangled off the world’s tallest building. Rather, you strip this franchise down to its spy movie essence by tangling the audience in a web of genuine intrigue. You raise the personal stakes even higher than before: if the previous film had the IMF disavowed, then this one has a CIA head (Alec Baldwin) lobbying to shut it down right in the middle of Ethan Hunt’s ongoing investigation into The Syndicate, a global shadow organization that’s been orchestrating chaos for years. After that opening sequence, you can feel McQuarrie bringing “Mission: Impossible” back down to earth.

By grounding the film, McQuarrie finds himself in the same position as Hunt and his ramshackle IMF crew. Now labelled a fugitive of the law, Hunt has to piece together scraps of information and feed it to what remains of his team, as both Benji (Simon Pegg) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) find themselves practically strapped behind desks back in Washington. For much of the early-going, Hunt is without his typical resources: gone are the fantasyland gadgets and ludicrous technology. At one point, he has to communicate via coded snail mail.

Without the usual touchstones to lean on, McQuarrie adopts a similarly scrappy approach by crafting a deliberate but absorbing story, one that unfolds in small pieces as Hunt connects sparse dots that begin to form a labyrinthine conspiracy. Where this film’s immediate predecessors were largely preoccupied with having Hunt chase a Macguffin from one exotic locale to the next, this one has him hunting down virtual ghosts and untangling layers of deceit he isn’t sure even exist. Despite the potential world-breaking stakes, it’s a low-key rummaging through a digital paper trail. The previous movie had Hunt shutting down a nuke mid-air; this one has him sifting through white noise and an air of possible deception to recover a flash drive.

Combating this as someone who has suddenly become akin to an analog watch in a digital world, Hunt treks the globe to infiltrate assassination schemes and stage elaborate heists with limited resources. His by-the-skin-of-the-teeth methods are matched by McQuarrie’s practical, hands-on craftsmanship: “Rogue Nation” may be a journey through ones and zeros, but its conception is anything but a mass of weightless pixels. Each sequence—including the incredible opener with the plane—has an appreciable, real-world heft that feels all too rare lately (hell, we have a movie this summer that’s literally titled “Pixels”).

Each scene—whether it be a chaotic motorcycle chase through Morocco or a slow-building confrontation in a Vienna opera house—is realized with such clarity and precision that we must consider McQuarrie to be one of our great American action filmmakers. You don’t sense that he’s merely assembled these sequences from mounds of coverage footage—they actually feel, you know, directed rather than stitched together haphazardly. High-speed, adrenaline-charged scenes feel every bit as measured as the more deliberate, simmering scenes.

It’s the latter that especially benefit from McQuarrie’s knack for pacing. Not since Brian De Palma’s original has the “Mission: Impossible” series embraced the inherent suspense of the spy genre. While previous sequels have occasionally employed it as a means to an end, “Rogue Nation” consistently nudges its audience to the edge of its seat with impeccably designed sequences. One particularly breathless one tasks Hunt with holding his breath for over three minutes in order to hack a security system, but when even his ragtag crew’s best laid plan goes awry, it leaves you wondering just how in the hell they’ll survive this time. Or, as I muttered under my breath, “oh shit.” Between this and the crackerjack timing of an opera assassination sequence, “Rogue Nation” generates so much suspense that it genuinely has you wondering if Tom Cruise is going overcome impossible odds. That’s more impressive than thousands of special effects shots.

Of course, McQuarrie and company almost seem aware of how impossible that is. So much of “Rogue Nation” feels designed to stretch Ethan Hunt (and, by proxy, Cruise) to his limits, to bury him in a hole and question his relevance before having him claw out. It almost feels like this franchise’s echo of “Skyfall,” only it’s not as dour or ponderous, and its answer doesn’t resort to call-backs or nostalgia to confirm what we’ve already known for 20 years now: Ethan Hunt—and Tom Cruise—rules.

What it further supposes after all of these years is that he is not only faster, stronger, and cooler than you—he’s also much smarter, as “Rogue Nation” has Ethan Hunt often relying on his wits as much as his physical prowess. It turns out that he’s Jigsaw from the “Saw” series but without the homicidal tendencies: an incredible mastermind who can will any situation into going the way he wants it to, even if he can only talk his way into it.

Nothing encapsulates this film’s willingness to engage beyond a physical level than its delicate, cerebral climax. When was the last time a summer blockbuster’s most intense and rousing moments came during conversations? You can almost feel McQuarrie throwing down a gauntlet and embarrassing any movie that dares to impress with empty spectacle—who needs any of that when you have an immaculately crafted screenplay built upon strong character work and breathless pacing? Sometimes, the best spectacle is assured craftsmanship.

Granted, McQuarrie is helped tremendously by a franchise that is hitting its stride in terms of characters and chemistry. There’s a real “the gang’s all here” vibe to “Rouge Nation,” which finally pairs Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) with the crew that’s assembled over the past two films. You like these guys, and McQuarrie preys on that by consistently placing them in peril and even teasing the possibility that Brandt may assume the position as IMF’s latest turncoat. Again, in a film where the fate of the world hangs in the balance, McQuarrie takes the time to suppose that these fractured relationships would be just as devastating.

He especially plays a long con with the introduction of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a shifty agent who may or may not be working on behalf of the film’s villain, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris, continuing the franchise’s recurring difficulty with developing memorable villains outside of Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Strutting into the film with icy, penetrating eyes and a coy expression, Ferguson has an elusive, alluring presence that’s shaded by the faint hint of regret and uncertainty. When she proves to be as badass—if not more badass—than Ethan Hunt, it’s exciting that the likes of Black Widow and Furiosa have company, but it’s even more exciting that she’s eventually tasked with carrying the film in a different capacity than Cruise himself.

Where Cruise has always played Hunt with a sort of blankness that makes him an avatar analogous to James Bond (even during “Mission: Impossible 3,” a film designed to give him depth), Ferguson’s Isla is fascinating because she resists (and perhaps loathes) a system that tasks its agents with morally compromising tasks. If “Rogue Nation” is about anything other than reconfirming Tom Cruise’s greatness, it’s found in Isla, the sort of vaguely wounded but righteous soul at its center, there to question the insanity unfolding around her and suggest that even Ethan Hunt doesn’t need to keep trying to kill himself to save the world. In exploring Ilsa’s humanity, McQuarrie also continues to ground Hunt, who is more compelling when he’s made to look vulnerable.

What develops between the two is atypical of Hollywood romances in this sort of movie—it may brush up against affection and love, but it feels mostly platonic and professional. These are two warriors who understand each other in a way only they can. They aren’t lovers so much as they’re professional dance partners who eventually know each other’s moves and rhythms, and it just so happens that their stage is full of shootouts.

It comes as no surprise that “Rogue Nation”—via IMF—is a metafictional confirmation of its series and star. Much like “Skyfall,” it’s an attempt to revitalize through returning to its roots while lightly treading on what espionage thrillers mean in a modern world with corrupt governments and crooked agents. Questions about the IMF’s methods seem especially valid after Edward Snowden, but McQuarrie wisely doesn’t get too caught up in this. I keep referring to “Rogue Nation” as “grounded,” and you could even toss in “gritty” as well, two terms that usually double as warning flags. However, it’s never grim, nor is it glum—it may be less outlandish on its surface than previous entries, but it remains just as light on its feet.

Conventionally speaking, "Rogue Nation" is not a comic book movie, yet it supposes that Ethan Hunt is the superhero we need right now: a paranoiac truther attempting to weed out a New World Order operating right under the world’s governments. By turning this sort of person—who is more often seen posting memes and shady articles on Facebook—into an ass-kicking avenger, Cruise proves that truly no mission is impossible for him. After five movies, I really love Ethan Hunt—and not just because he’s an extension of Tom Cruise’s compulsive need to entertain us.

You wonder how long Cruise can keep this up. Something tells me he's just as curious to find out, too, and, if "Rogue Nation" is any indication, it's going to be a journey that improves with age.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27488&reviewer=429
originally posted: 07/31/15 03:51:05
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User Comments

2/12/17 morris campbell good entry in the series 4 stars
12/14/15 Langano Same old, same old. 3 stars
10/04/15 Alex S Great female companion but other than a few scenes, this movie felt forgettable :/ 3 stars
10/04/15 G. Fun and Rebecca Ferguson was a great addition to the cast. 4 stars
9/09/15 Terror Same shit over again. Nothing new 1 stars
8/27/15 Laura I think I expected more, after seeing the last one. Good movie still. 4 stars
8/08/15 Koitus Good movie; awesome m-cycle chase scene. And kudos to Rebecca! Hopfully she's rising star 4 stars
8/06/15 Tony Brubaker I want to bugger Rebecca Ferguson. 5 stars
8/04/15 mr.mike While it's good, a bit of been there-done that is starting to creep in. 4 stars
8/01/15 Bob Dog Tom Cruise rocks / Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation sucks 1 stars
8/01/15 The rock Tom cruise and mission impossible sucks 1 stars
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  31-Jul-2015 (PG-13)
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