Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Writer: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Alec Baldwin, Zhang Jing Chu, Simon McBurney, Tom Hollander
Running Time: 131 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s been almost 20 years since Tom Cruise remade the Mission: Impossible TV series into his own one man show, with Brian De Palma’s 1996 production of the same name. Perhaps no less significantly, 2015 also marks the 10 year anniversary of Cruise’s infamous couch jumping incident on The Oprah Winfrey Show. A gesture that reflected his love of Katie Holmes, who at the time he’d been dating for just a month, more significantly his antics saw him portrayed as an annoying idiot by the media, and the public were more than happy to agree.
While for some that portrayal will never be shaken, there is one other equally undeniable fact – in those 10 year since, Cruise has continued to put out some of the most original and exciting movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time. War of the Worlds, Jack Reacher, Oblivion, Edge of Tomorrow, and that’s not even counting the other movies in the Mission: Impossible series. Check out his filmography, and you won’t find a single superhero flick or reboot in sight, and that’s to be admired. Of course though, out of all those movies, it’s the Mission: Impossible series that has always been his baby.
Cruise has produced all of them, and has done an outstanding job of bringing in a distinctive director for each entry in the series. Brian De Palma helmed the first installment, with legendary Hong Kong director John Woo handling the second, the man behind the Star Trek reboots, J.J.Abrams, taking on the third, and a director renowned for animations like The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Brad Bird, onboard for the fourth. Out of all of them, it was arguably Bird who had the toughest job. It had been 5 years since Mission: Impossible 3, and with the announcement of a fourth installment, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol was largely treated as the sequel that no one was asking for.
Against the odds however, it was the fourth than many people now consider to be the best. Bird took the exaggerated animation aesthetic of his movies like The Incredibles, and applied them to a real time action movie. Best of all, it was agreed between himself and Cruise that they’d do all of if for real, eschewing the green screen effects work that dominate modern action cinema. The result saw Cruise scaling the outside of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, in what was one of the best and most awe inspiring stunts seen onscreen for far too long. While some people go through a mid-life crisis by buying expensive sports cars, Cruise seems determined to take things in his stride, by becoming some sort of American version of Jackie Chan.
4 years on from M:I – Ghost Protocol, and we now have M:I – Rogue Nation. The fifth installment is directed by frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie. Besides being the scribe behind The Usual Suspects, McQuarrie also wrote the Cruise flicks Edge of Tomorrow and Jack Reacher, the latter of which he directed as well. McQuarrie no doubt has an understanding of what’s expected from a Cruise flick, as well as the man himself, so their collaboration on a Mission: Impossible movie was highly anticipated.
Anyone who has seen the other M:I flicks will be in familiar territory. Rogue Nation picks up largely were Ghost Protocol left off. The IMF team is in the process of being disbanded and absorbed into the CIA, Cruise ends up on the run from both his allies and the enemy, and in-between there are plenty of action and espionage hijinks. It’s a template which was used to great success with Ghost Protocol, so it’s forgivable that McQuarrie decides to recycle the structure of it here.
I think it’s important to point out that there’s a certain elephant in the room with Rogue Nation. Just like how Ghost Protocol heavily used the scene of Cruise ascending the Burj Khalifa for the movies promotion, Rogue Nation heavily relies on the scene of Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane as it takes off. It’s a crazy stunt which, just like the Burj Khalifa scene previously, was done for real. However, there’s a major difference between the two. While the Burj Khalifa stunt from Ghost Protocol has a lot riding on it, and is essential to the plot, in Rogue Nation the plane stunt takes place before the opening titles even roll. It’s essentially a James Bond-esque opener, and while it is impressive, it would have been great had it been integrated into a vital part of the story. As it stands though, Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane is essentially just that – Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane, with its connection to the rest of the events that take place superfluous at best.
That being said though, there’s enough action and espionage contained within Rogue Nation’s 130 runtime to keep any fan of the series, or action movies in general, happy. From a fight scene on a suspended platform over an Opera being performed on stage, to a fantastic car chase that then segues into an even better motorbike chase, to a thrilling underwater break in, Cruise is front and center, performing all of the stunts, and even the driving, himself. While the proceedings and characters all feel familiar, Cruise’s decision to take the series into more of an action driven direction ensures that none of it becomes tiresome.
Also drawing similarities to the James Bond series, the M:I series seem to be creating its own pool of M:I girls. For Rogue Nation, joining the likes of Emmanuelle Beart, Thandie Newton, Maggie Q, and Paula Patton, is Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson, who plays a British agent working in deep cover that ends up teaming up with Cruise. Unlike many Bond girls though, Ferguson is a worthy equal to Cruise, herself getting to throw down several times over the course of the movie, including a one-on-one knife fight in the finale.
If any criticism can be drawn towards Rogue Nation, it’s that it somewhat lacks the urgency that permeated throughout Ghost Protocol, and the decision to open proceedings with the plane stunt results in the action playing out in reverse, with the best coming first. To go back to my Jackie Chan comment, in many ways Ghost Protocol can be looked at as Police Story 3: Supercop, while Rogue Nation is First Strike. All of the stunts and action are still there, just not in the most favorable order, and the emotional investment has largely been cast aside as well. Just like Jackie Chan’s partner of the whole Police Story series, Maggie Cheung, is completely absent from First Strike, so is Cruise’s wife completely absent from Rogue Nation, not even getting a single mention.
While the action and espionage has always come first, the small human touches can elevate a story from being functional, to being both engaging and something that we can be invested in. Rogue Nation misses out on those details, but thankfully it still delivers enough visceral thrills and wit to register as a worthy entry to the series. With an average time of 5 years between each entry in the series, if Cruise decides to make another installment and waits until 2020 to do it, he’ll then be 58, which would put him at the same age as Jackie Chan when he made Chinese Zodiac. But just like Chan, if he’s still willing to put himself out there and take the knocks for the sake of our entertainment, you can count me in.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10