Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Zaki's Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Click here to read my 2011 review of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

After nineteen years and five films, you have to give it up to the Mission: Impossible movies. Sure, I may have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start with the first two big screen go-rounds, but even I have to stand back and appreciate their sheer consistency. No reboots, retcons, or remakes here. Instead, every five years or so since 1996, through changing styles and tastes, we've been able to count on Tom Cruise stepping back into the role of super spy Ethan Hunt and engaging in another round of globetrotting espionage and death-defying derring-do.

When I watched the fourth Mission, 2011's Ghost Protocol, I left the theater fully convinced that the then-fifteen year old franchise had bested all previous missions with the opulent Brad Bird-directed sequel, in the process setting a nigh-insurmountable bar for whatever was coming next. As I said back then in my review, "It's fun in the right places, funny in the right places, and the skillful dispatching of returned and recruited personnel onscreen and off points the way to several more entries in this series before it ever need worry about self-destructing."

Well, in the ultimate measure of that consistency I alluded to above, we can apply those same comments verbatim to this week's Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the latest addition to this enduring brand. As directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who previously worked with Cruise on 2012's Jack Reacher, and continues the tradition of every installment having a new helmer), the latest Mission has Hunt matching wits with an outfit bearing the sinister appellation "The Syndicate," which operates almost like an opposite number of our Impossible Mission Force.

As I've mentioned previously on at least a few occasions, I grew up loving the classic 1960s TV show, so it's been gratifying to see the movies grow closer to the style and tone of the show with each successive entry (beyond the superficial -- but entirely welcome -- use of Lalo Schifrin's iconic theme music). Rogue Nation (from a story by McQuarrie and Drew Pearce) is the clearest effort yet to mimic the show's ineffable stylistic tics. Like the weekly skein, McQuarrie and Co. present us with a puzzle box of such complexity that we in the audience are utterly mystified as to how our heroes will figure their way out of it.

Providing backup for Ethan this time around is a team comprised entirely of returning Impossible agents: Simon Pegg's Benji Dunn (onboard since 2006's M:I - III), Jeremy Renner as William Brandt (joining the team in Ghost Protocol), and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell (with the films since the beginning, right alongside Cruise). In addition to the simple pleasure of seeing our old friends again, bringing back these familiar faces has the further benefit of offering connectivity from one sequel to the next. It also allows our relationships with them and their relationships with each other to ground us in the proceedings as the stakes rise.

Serving primary villain duties for Rogue Nation is Sean Harris as Solomon Lane, the Syndicate's mysterious head honcho who may, at long last, prove a match for Hunt and his team. Also along for the ride this time are newbies Rebecca Ferguson as a mysterious assassin who has a complicated relationship with Hunt, and Alec Baldwin as Hunley, the CIA director who wants to see the IMF shut down. Both are wild cards whose presence adds a welcome dash of unpredictability to the proceedings. Of course, the movie (and the series as a whole) works largely because of Cruise.

Nearly two decades out, Ethan Hunt has become the star's signature role, and at fifty-three, the indefatigable action hero hasn't lost a step as he runs, jumps, rides and drives from eye-popping set piece to the next with both will and skill. Based on what we see from him here, I don't see any reason why Cruise couldn't keep doing Mission: Impossible movies for twenty more years. The same way he so easily slips back into his character, there's just something reassuring about being able to go see a new one of these flicks every couple of years and just picking up where we left off.

In fact, it tells you something about how confident the filmmakers are in the confection they've concocted that the big "Holy cow!" stunt prominently placed in all the trailers and adorning all the posters -- Cruise dangling precariously by his hands from the outside of an airplane -- is part of Rogue Nation's teaser sequence, tossed off before the opening credits have even rolled, Bond-style. It's like they're telling the audience, "You think that's cool? You haven't seen anything yet. Stick around!" And I have a feeling that's one mission audiences should have no problem accepting. A

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