Thursday, August 6, 2015

Review - Mission: Impossible -- Rogue Nation

In an age when cinephiles continue to bemoan the glut (and the fiscal success) of unoriginal populist entertainment, I feel it's important to remember not all unoriginal populist entertainment is created equal. There's that which is dumb, lazy or poorly made, and there's that which is so well executed it truly entertains despite its familiarity. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the fifth in the series of Tom Cruise vehicles which had plateaued at 'mediocre' until Brad Bird's 2011 entry Ghost Protocol, falls comfortably into the latter designation.

Thankfully, you don't need to have followed the previous globe-trotting exploits of super spy Ethan Hunt (Cruise, barely aged since his first M:I outing in 1996) and his Impossible Mission Force, IMF, to enjoy Rogue Nation. You don't even need to follow this one all that closely. In a franchise whose primary draw is its star and his daring-do, story details erase themselves from one's memory as readily as the famously self-destructing messages that send Ethan on his next mission, should he choose to accept it. Which he does, of course.
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (Oscar-winning scribe of the notoriously twisty The Usual Suspects) scripts this adventure with every espionage clich̩ in the book, but never insults his audience's intelligence. The screenplay mainly serves to propel Ethan from one perilous tight spot to the next, tied together with a winking sense of humour that is consistent with the series' Bond-lite flavour Рespecially compared to 007's more recent serious streak. So even if the plot contrivances don't have enough air in their lungs to last more than three minutes if you stopped to think about them, the film moves at such a fun clip that you never have the time (or the desire, really) to scrutinize their impossibility.

This impossible mission involves bringing down a covert terrorist ring, puppeteered by a typically sinister villain (Sean Harris) with typically vague reasons for his Machiavellian misdeeds. In Ethan's corner are his IMF cohorts (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames) who must abet him in secret since being dissolved by the CIA (personified by reliably brusque Alec Baldwin).
We also meet new woman of intrigue, Ilsa Faust – a rather on-point name that makes us wonder just whom she's been dealing with – terrifically played by Rebecca Ferguson. She's a more-than-worthy foil for Cruise; In every way an equal match to his beguiling screen charisma. It's a boon to us that McQuarrie never makes her the crux of some silly romantic subplot, freeing up Ferguson to explore the dimension of a character whose motivations and morals are somewhat less than transparent.

None of it is stuff we haven't seen before, unless you count the sight of Cruise hanging off the side of an ascending cargo plane, which we can file under the usual heading of: 'Tom Cruise doing his own stunts again because he is a freaking crazy person!'

But generic spy thrillers of this ilk are seldom so lovingly made.
Robert Elswit's slick action photography is surgically precise, and even discovers rare flourishes of beauty amid the gunfire and fisticuffs. Tremendous care is taken to ensure the high octane stunts aren't lost in translation from footage-to-final.
In particular, the Hitchcockian Vienna opera house sequence is a masterclass of construction, brilliantly timed to the crescendos and cadences of Puccini's Turandot. Film editor Eddie Hamilton merits consideration for an Oscar nod given that setpiece alone, but it's really the entire film that benefits from his brisk pace-setting.

In an early scene, when Baldwin's CIA secretary admonishes the IMF as a “throwback” to an age without transparency, one can't help but detect McQuarrie's proud assertion that he's not reinventing the wheel here by any means. Sure, we can all wish studios would pursue more original blockbusters (and they should), but a throwback, if made skillfully enough, can still make for a damn satisfying time in a movie theatre.

Go catch it at a discount matinee. You'll get a lot of bang for your buck.

*** out of ****

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