The Summer of 2015 has brought with it the doldrums. What is there to see at the Cineplex right now? Fantastic Four? Been there, done that. Mission Impossible? Seems like we’ve been around that block a few times also.
But with Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie was determined to bring us something different, to top the previous entry in the franchise (way back in 2006; it’s been a while). The opening sequence certainly gives it a go. If you’re in the mood for an action-adventure-thriller, it’s hard to see how one can do much better than watching Tom Cruise, screaming his head off, hanging onto the side of an airplane in full flight.
The best part of this sequence — and this is the central gimmick of the movie — is that you keep saying, “Wow, that looks like that really is him, hanging off the side of the plane!” For all I know, it is. We live in a world in which George Lucas and Peter Jackson can put anything at all up there on that screen by programming in enough CGI and employing armies of stunt men. The big thrill left to us now is to watch REAL ACTORS REALLY PUT IN DANGER.
That’s what Tom Cruise, playing super-agent Ethan Hunt, delivers. Say what you will about him, he’s kept himself in good shape, looks twenty years younger than he is, and doesn’t mind doing stunts. It’s appropriate penance, perhaps, after distracting us with the Katie Holmes marriage and Scientology. You can’t deny he works really hard, and once in a long while in this film, he even gets to do a little acting.
So what about the rest of the film? There’s a clever riff on the old “This mission, should you choose to accept it” motif, in which the audio device announces it will explode in ten seconds. (That was the scene that Peter Graves played out on the original TV series). Only this time—well, I won’t give it away. Then there’s an overly-long plot about computer hacking while skin diving (don’t ask me to explain) and a showdown with (what else?) a shadowy government conspiracy.
The conspiracy plot involves a CIA chief (Alec Baldwin, who seems born to do this sort of role), a Senatorial Committee, which for once is doing something other than blocking legislation or begging for campaign donations, and a hearing over whether the “Impossible Missions Force” should be continued. With a name like that, it probably doesn’t deserve to be—a government agency with such a name would be a joke—but it’s inherited from the old TV show, so there’s no way around it.
The plot provides a rationale for this secret organization… played here as a kind of sub-bureau of the CIA. Apparently, the rest of the Agency can’t be trusted. (No surprise there.) The I.M.F. can’t be very expensive, as it seems to have only three or four employees: Jeremy Renner as a well-intentioned bureaucrat, Simon Pegg as the resident technology guru, and Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt… the guy who does most of the work in the field by hanging off planes and reprogramming computers underwater. Without oxygen.
Oh, and Ving Rhames occasionally shows up to supply some much-needed muscle. Which is not a bad idea, as all the other guys are shorter than average… although that turns to be okay, because Mission Impossible was always about a group of super-smart operatives who pulled off the “impossible” through a series of cool toys, ingenius deceptions, and clever disguises, rather than resorting to fist fights.
Rounding out the cast is a British double agent agent — or is she a triple agent? –named Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whose true allegiance is suspect. But if you can’t figure out her real agenda before the third Act, do not pass Go, land directly in jail. To McQuarrie’s credit, Ilsa Faust does have the virtue of being more than pure eye-candy. This isn’t James Bond, after all, although the Mission Impossible series probably wouldn’t have existed without the success of Bond.
The result is a reasonably pleasant two hours of action-adventure, although it’s at least twenty minutes too long. But you’re probably not going to get anything better at the multiplex these days. For real quality, I’d suggest the art houses.