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Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation
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by Peter Sobczynski

5 stars

There have only been a handful of film franchises that have been lucky enough to earn a fifth go-around in theaters and in nearly every one of those cases, a certain degree of artistic ennui has inevitably set in as the filmmakers, more often than not, are merely rejiggering things that have worked in the past instead of taking the time to come up with something fresh and entertaining. The results have, for the most part, been fairly dire--"A Good Day to Die Hard," "Star Trek V" and any number of horror titles one could mention to name just a few. (Hell, even the James Bond series, a franchise as durable as one could possibly hope for, had its first stumble with its official fifth installment, the semi-disappointing "You Only Live Twice.") Oh sure, I am certain that we could come up with a couple of films that buck that particular tide--"Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" comes to mind (though anyone calling "The Empire Strikes Back" "Episode V" is going to get [i]such[/i] a pinch)--but such things are pretty much a rarity. Now there are plenty of reasons to love "Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation," the fifth in the incredibly lucrative and surprisingly durable string of films spun off from the popular Sixties-era espionage television series--the smart writing, the good performances and the breathlessly exciting action set-pieces that have been its hallmark since Brian De Palma had Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling of CIA headquarters in the 1996 original--but the most significant one is that it is that rare late entry in a long-established series that is still acting as if it has something to prove instead of lazily resting on its laurels. Like "Mad Max: Fury Road" from earlier this summer, a lot of care and effort clearly went into making this film and the result is the best franchise film to come along the line since. . . well, since "Fury Road."

The film kicks off with two back-to-back scenes that deserve to become instant classics of the action genre. In the first, IMF super-agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is at a remote airstrip in Minsk trying to prevent an airbus loaded with all sorts of bad stuff from taking off and landing its cargo in enemy hands. When his team of computer geniuses--Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames)--are unable to open the door to the plane before it begins its takeoff, Hunt does the only logical thing to try to save the day--he jumps onto the airbus and holds on for dear life as it begins its ascent in the hopes that the door will open. Now we have probably all seen clips from this especially hair-raising stunt (performed by Cruise himself) by now--Paramount has essentially been using it as the centerpiece of their promotional campaign--but the sequence is still a knockout (especially the stuff that hasn't been seen yet) and by putting it right at the start, it lays down a challenge to try and top itself that it actually manages to meet and even exceed in a couple of places.

Following this scene and the ever-stylish opening credits (in which the entire story is laid out in fast-forward) comes a scene that I have always waited for in a big action blockbuster sequel but which has rarely occurred outside of pure comedies like "Ghostbusters II." In it, IMF government liaison William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) is called up for a congressional hearing to answer for their escapades in the previous film, "Ghost Protocol," that, you will recall, led to most of the Kremlin being reduced to smoking rubble in their attempts to once again save the world. Remember that old "MAD Magazine" feature "Scenes We'd Like To See" in which Hollywood's hoariest cliches were demolished in hilarious fashion? This is sort of like that as CIA head Hunley (Alec Baldwin at his Baldwiniest) recounts the damages the group racked up in both the previous film and the original "Mission: Impossible" (with the second and third adventures pointedly left out of the conversation). The scene is very funny but the end result isn't--IMF is immediately dissolved, the few valuable assets (namely Brandt and Benji) are folded into the CIA and Ethan is now disavowed and on the run.

Not that Ethan is letting a little thing like being a high-profile CIA target interrupt him from his latest pursuit. As you will recall, the last film ended with him preparing his team to begin investigating a group known as the Syndicate, a shadowy organization apparently consisting of agents from around the world who are officially missing and presumed dead. Ethan is convinced that they have been brought together to serve as a super-terrorist organization designed to wreak havoc around the world. Even before the IMF is dissolved, his pursuit of the Syndicate has already led to his being captured and smacked around by a torture expert known as the Bone Doctor (Jens Hulten) before escaping with the help of the mysterious Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). After again running into Ilsa, who is either a.) a British intelligence agent who has infiltrated the Syndicate, b.) a Syndicate agent pretending to be a British intelligence agent who has infiltrated the Syndicate or c.) something else entirely, Ethan and the other members of the IMF gang have no real choice but to join forces with her in hopes of bringing the Syndicate down, all the while hoping that she isn't b.).

The screenplay by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie is pretty solidly constructed for a movie of this sort but face it, the script is basically a laundry line needed to fill time between the over-the-top action sequences. This time around, they involve a brawl with a sniper in the wings of the Vienna State Opera during a production of "Turandot," an attempt to infiltrate Syndicate headquarters that requires Ethan to swim through a pressurized underwater cavern and reprogram a computer in under three minutes and with no air tanks and a high-speed chase through the streets of Morocco. Of these, my favorite by far is the one in the opera house, an alternately hilarious and heart-stopping exercise in premium action filmmaking that downplays the visual pyrotechnics that are now commonplace in order to let it play out in ways that take pains to ensure that viewers know where everyone is in relation to everyone else in the scene--a rare concession to spatial geography that is a welcome touch. The other sequences are just as impressive--the underwater sequence manages to come up with an amazing number of variations on its setup and if it weren't for the aforementioned "Fury Road," the car chase seen here would probably be hyped as the most exciting one to hit screens so far this year.

Although still one of Hollywood's biggest names, it is no secret that Tom Cruise's standing at the box office has been a little shaky in the last few years thanks to the release of a number of films that have failed to really take off with audiences, either deservedly (as with "Jack Reacher," "Oblivion" or the nightmare that was "Rock of Ages") or undeservedly (if you haven't yet seen the clever and hugely entertaining "Edge of Tomorrow" yet, do so as quickly as you can), and the "Mission:Impossible" films increasingly feel like commercial sure-things that he can return to in order to restore his superstar standing after a few misfires. The trick with these films is that Cruise doesn't approach them as safe harbors allowing him to collect an easy and hefty paycheck in exchange for the minimal amount of work needed. Instead, he throws himself into them with as much gusto and intensity as any of his most significant projects, not just in terms of the stunt scenes, and that effort can be felt without--even those who aren't especially big fans of the actor will have to admit that his energetic performance helps keep things humming along without ever bogging down into confusion. Since acting is usually not one of the things considered very much when dealing with a movie of this sort, his strong and sure performance probably will not get the credit that it so richly deserves.

Cruise, who produced the film, and McQuarrie also made the smart move to fill the other roles with good actors who are all given their moments to shine instead of making it simply a Cruise-centered project. Making return appearances to the franchise, Renner, Pegg and Rhames (the latter being the only person in the series besides Cruise to appear in all five films) each get some big laughs and are a lot of fun when they get to come together and bounce off of one another. As the CIA goon hell-bent on trashing IMF for good, Alec Baldwin is a riot throughout and gets to deliver one of those big speeches towards the end that deserves to go up on the shelf alongside his cameo in "Glengarry Glen Ross" and the "I am God" monologue from "Malice." As the face of the Syndicate, Sean Harris is quietly menacing and free of the usual bluster one associates from movie super-villains. However, the real standout is relative newcomer Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa. If there has been one consistent flaw in the "Mission: Impossible" films over the years, it has been the general lack of strong female roles (take away Lea Seydoux's ass-kicking secondary villain in "Ghost Protocol" and you are left with precious little)--to be fair, this has been a problem with the action genre as a whole. This time around, a halfway decent character has been written and Ferguson is a smashing success at both the physical and dramatic aspects and possesses enough raw screen charisma to give even Cruise himself a run for the money without even trying. Unless you happened to see her in such television efforts as "The White Queen" or "The Red Tent," it is likely that you will go into this film with little idea of who Rebecca Ferguson is but I guarantee that will not be the case when you come out.

"Mission: Impossible--Rogue Nation" probably could have lost a few more minutes in the editing room to tighten the pacing (this may be the result of the film's release being pushed up a few months from its original Christmas berth at the last minute) and McQuarrie's directorial approach, as good as it is, lacks the stunning visual grace that Brian De Palma brought to the first (and still best) film. Nevertheless, this is a stunningly effective piece of commercial filmmaking that proves that even a fifth installment in a long-running franchise can still offer multiple pleasures to viewers as long as it has been made with the proper care, energy and cinematic grace. That is certainly the case here and when it is all said and done, my guess is that virtually everyone who goes to see this film will come out of it wanting to see both a sixth "Mission: Impossible" film and the next Rebecca Ferguson film as soon as possible, though perhaps not necessarily in that particular order.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27488&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/30/15 10:16:07
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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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