Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Review: Spy vs. Spy ~By Brett Bunge

Hollywood, CA…The Mission: Impossible series has always been represented by a lit fuse—first in the 1960s TV show, followed by its revival in the 80s, and continuing with the Tom Cruise film series that began in 1996. It’s a particularly apt symbol for this fifth installment, subtitled Rogue Nation, as one never knows what to expect. Will this new film catch fire and explode into a hit, or will it fizzle out?

Thankfully, Rogue Nation predominantly delivers as a fun and exciting action film. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie—who has worked with Tom Cruise before, most recently on Jack Reacher—crafts a solid if somewhat predictable globetrotting action-adventure. In a summer of action movie sequels with Mad Max: Fury Road on one end of the scale and the lackluster Terminator Genisys on the other, Mission: Impossible sits somewhere in the middle.

Following on 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the story finds Tom Cruise back as Ethan Hunt, now a living legend among the Impossible Mission Force, or IMF. Ethan has been the trail of “The Syndicate,” the Rogue Nation of the title, an international criminal organization made up of former black ops soldiers and intelligence agents. “An anti-IMF,” as one character succinctly puts it. Concurrent with this, the IMF is disbanded by CIA director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who believes—not without reason—that the IMF is a liability due their habit of causing massive damage and using improvised plans to accomplish their objectives. The CIA sidelines returning characters William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), leaving Ethan once again a fugitive as he searches for the Syndicate’s leader, the mysterious Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) and crosses paths with a femme fatale named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose true allegiance remains a mystery for most of the story.

It’s here that the film runs into the first of the obstacles that prevent it from reaching true greatness: the script, which is riddled with plot holes. While the story does its job admirably, setting up the worldwide chase from London to Vienna to Morocco and more, one can’t help but notice certain discrepancies. Just as an example, at one point during the film’s first act, the viewer is told that Ethan Hunt has been on the run from the CIA for six months, yet the plot conveniently overlooks exactly how Hunt has managed to evade the Central Intelligence Agency for that long. This relatively minor detail unfortunately leads to more, such as why a power plant that the heroes must infiltrate is so heavily guarded (who’s guarding it, and why?), and how Brandt can bring Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) into the CIA without arousing suspicion.

It also doesn’t help that most of the plot points are fairly predictable, aside from the final act, which includes some welcome twists and turns. You know, for example, that the series’ famous “face maker” mask system will come into play—the only question is when, just as one can easily guess that the story will involve weird gadgets and plans gone wrong. Finally, despite supposedly being a direct sequel to Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation feels more like a stand-alone installment, as nothing aside from a few characters return for this one—not even Ethan’s wife, who was major player in the previous two films.

The film’s predictability is a shame, as the plot sometimes shows glimpses of depth. For instance, it’s suggested at several points that Ethan might be fabricating the existence of the Syndicate in order to allow his team to continue to operate and be heroes. While this might have made for an interesting look at action movies and allow for some deconstruction, the film is squarely on Ethan’s side, and of course he turns out to be right, as there wouldn’t be a film otherwise.

Having said all that, however, the story is still a lot of fun as it keeps the audience engaged, and the answers behind the Syndicate are surprising enough once revealed that you can overlook the plot details that the film refuses to insert. While the Syndicate is somewhat generic, right down to their name—which is actually a callback to a group of villains in the original show—they turn out to be effective bad guys, even if most of the thugs look like they’re trying their hardest to imitate Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.

This brings us the other thorny issue: the characters. One can argue that a summer action movie doesn’t need character development, and while that idea is debatable, the filmmakers sadly seem to agree. None of the characters change or grow in any way aside from Faust, who is expertly played by Rebecca Ferguson in a star-making role. Ferguson brings actual depth to the action girl, who is easily a match for Ethan himself. What you see is exactly what you get: Simon Pegg is the comic relief, while Alec Baldwin is the obstructive bureaucrat.

It’s also unfortunate that returning characters like Brandt and Luther are given absolutely nothing to do—they could probably disappear from the movie with no one the wiser. It’s a real problem in Brandt’s case, especially considering that Jeremy Renner played him with cunning and skill in the preceding film. Baldwin, while a good actor, can’t save his performance from sometimes feeling like a parody of the role he’s supposed to be playing, as the CIA is mostly here to look inept at catching Ethan until the plot says otherwise.

Here’s the thing, though: for all the stock archness of the cast, they still excel at their roles. Say what you will about Tom Cruise’s public persona, but he’s still a great action hero, and takes to his one-liners with gusto. In a similar vein, Pegg is funny enough in his usual slot that he can draw laughs out of even the most jaded moviegoer. Lastly, there’s Sean Harris as the criminal of the piece, and while he may not be worthy of an Oscar, his quiet and understated delivery make him a commanding presence during his scenes.

But the focus of the film is action—and Rogue Nation has it in spades. While the film’s PG-13 rating occasionally holds it back—you can see the filmmakers struggling against the bloodless carnage in shootouts by using rapid cuts—the chase scenes are over the top and exhilarating, with the highlight being a high speed motorcycle chase during the middle of the film (although in my opinion, the filmmakers missed a golden opportunity to play Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” during it).

Other set pieces include a tense fight during an opera and an underwater infiltration, all of which keep the pace going at a good clip. In particular, the opera scene uses the location to great effect as the characters battle backstage. The unique gadgets—the most interesting of which is a rifle that’s constructed of flute parts—help elevate the action scenes beyond the sum of their parts. It’s also fun to see Tom Cruise do his own stunts, which are some of the best on offer in the entire series, such as hanging for dear life on a plane that’s taking off.

So, in summary: somewhat flat characters doing insane stunts and fights add up to an enjoyable ride for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The dialogue may not leap off the screen, but the one-liners are funny and the plot provides enough varied locations to keep things interesting. While the film is not mind-blowing, chances are that this mission is entertaining enough that you’ll want to accept it.

Final Score: 7/10

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