Mission: Impossibly AwesomePosted: August 2, 2015
I’ve always been a fan of Tom Cruise, which means I’ve always been a fan of the Mission: Impossible series. After all, each film of the franchise is the distilled essence of who Cruise is as an actor and an entertainer. In the modern vernacular it would be safe to say that the Mission: Impossible films are “peak Cruise”, and they are more his films than anyone else’s. And yet, each film in the franchise has also been a great distillation its director as well. Cruise has allowed each movie to have its own voice and tone, making Mission: Impossible one of the more limber and engaging film series Hollywood has to offer. Thankfully, that trend continues here with Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation, not only as good a film as the franchise has had but also one of the best blockbusters of this year.
Along with the likes of Fast & Furious, the Mission: Impossible franchise has improbably gotten better the longer it’s been around. The reason being that with every new film they put out, Cruise and company further refine the formula of the series and hone in on what makes the stories work best. The more this formula is perfected, the more stable the platform for the director du jour to do something distinctive within it. In the case of Rogue Nation, Christopher McQuarrie takes that winning formula and finds new and exciting ways to approach it and reconstruct it, helped in no small part by the natural parallels between the themes of the franchise and the themes he’s focused on throughout his career: trust, loyalty, and justice.
The biggest trope of the series (other than Tom Cruise himself) is the recurring plot point of Ethan Hunt being disavowed by the government and seen as a traitor: of the five films in the series thus far, only M:I-2 avoids this plot beat. In the hands of McQuarrie, however, this trope becomes more than just a plot contrivance to make Ethan’s life harder. Instead, it is a launching pad to a deeper and more tragic examination of how governments will use up and discard assets like Ethan, and whether it’s even worth serving a cause that could be so callous towards those that do. This is brought to the fore by both primary antagonist Lane (Sean Harris) and wild card Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), fellow spooks like Ethan that have been screwed over by their government. In Lane, we see Ethan gone bad, turning against the very system that scorned him, while in Ilsa we see Ethan without a cause, someone doing the best she can just to survive this death trap that has become her life. What ultimately makes Ethan the clear hero in this story is how he remains committed to his mission, even when those that gave him the mission aren’t committed to him. This may be nothing new in the world of Mission: Impossible, never has it been more emotionally impactful than in Rogue Nation.
Of course, this is still Mission: Impossible, not Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and thankfully the requisite action is as good as ever in Rogue Nation. Cruise, McQuarrie and company show a great deal of versatility and inventiveness with each of these sequences, all of which serve character and theme as well as being immaculately-constructed setpieces. It’s hard to even narrow down which of them is the best: the underwater infiltration and the resulting car/motorcycle chase is obviously fantastic, but so is the multi-tiered opera fight early on in the film. And neither of those even involves the much-publicized airplane sequence, which is how the movie opens and is so straightforward as to be almost an afterthought, impressive though it is. One complaint I might have is that, much like Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation expends its best action sequences too early, leaving the finale feeling more anticlimactic than it really is, at least in terms of scale and escalation. But this is ultimately a minor issue, especially given that the climax serves the story so perfectly that I couldn’t really think of a better way to arrange things.
With the level of thematic depth and technical thrill as Rogue Nation has, you would think that’s all it would need to be a success, but thankfully it doesn’t stop there. The supporting cast is nothing short of excellent, as they usually are in this series. Of the IMF veterans, Simon Pegg’s Benji particularly stands out as he balances between worshipping Ethan as a hero, supporting him as his friend, and trying to stand alongside him as an equal, and puts it all together just right. But the real standout of the film, standing toe-to-toe with Cruise with ease, is Rebecca Ferguson. In her hands, Ilsa is a wonderfully uncertain mystery, as multifaceted a character as you could hope for. She is both a perfect mirror image of Ethan (and therefore an externalization of the film’s themes) but also her own distinct person. Overall, the whole supporting cast is terrific, and help to elevate Rogue Nation to an even higher level of quality.
Being as big a fan of the Mission: Impossible series as I am, it’s nice to see it age like wine, getting better as it goes along. While the clear formula of the films could lead to a stagnant and uninspired collection of stories, the enthusiasm and energy of Tom Cruise and the clever craftsmanship of filmmakers like Christopher McQuarrie have allowed the series not just to survive, but thrive. Rogue Nation is as good an example of smart blockbuster filmmaking as you can find, and one of the best action films yet in 2015. It’s exactly the sort of film you want, in exactly the ways that you don’t expect, and there may not be higher praise I can offer than that.