Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) Review

"Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" Japanese Theatrical Poster

"Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation" Japanese Theatrical Poster

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

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8 Responses to Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) Review

  1. Scott Blasingame says:

    I sooooo want to see this. I guess I should watch GHOST PROTOCOL first. What Jeremy Renner? How was he in this?

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      It’s certainly well worth seeing, and I’m pretty sure you’d enjoy it Scott. As for your question, you’ve kind of indirectly answered it yourself – Renner plays a pivotal character in ‘Ghost Protocol’, and his presence here see’s him reprising his role from that movie. While you don’t need to have seen any of the original trilogy to enjoy ‘Rogue Nation’, I’d definitely recommend checking out ‘Ghost Protocol’ first, as it’ll mean the movie makes a lot more sense.

  2. John Brizell says:

    Awesome review Bramhall!!! I’m dying to see this so might have to take a trip to the flicks this weekend!! Hope all is well. really really good review mate.

    Cheers!!

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Hey John…cheers for the comment! Glad you enjoyed it, but hope you enjoy the movie more! I’d say ‘Ghost Protocol’ just edges it, but only on the basis that the sheer franticness of that installments final 10 minutes are difficult to beat. But considering the massive crush you have on Tom Cruise, I don’t think you’ll come away disappointed.

  3. HKFanatic says:

    Fantastic review, Paul, and I couldn’t agree more. I love the way you posit Tom Cruise as Hollywood’s equivalent of Jackie Chan, a connection I hadn’t even thought to make. I did enjoy the way Cruise was willing to play with and subvert his image throughout the film, much as he did in “Edge of Tomorrow”: when the incredibly tall henchman at the Opera suddenly stands up and towers over Cruise and later when he tries to slide over the hood of a car and ends up fumbling it. This film kind of presents Ethan Hunt as a scrappy underdog a la many Jackie Chan movies, it is mostly Hunt’s keen intellect and unwillingness to give up that see him through the day.

    The film’s major flaw, as you point out in this review, is that it peeks too early! After watching Cruise hang off the side of a plane, the finale of the movie feels incredibly tame. The movie doesn’t even try to top itself and therefore presents no big stunts or meticulously crafted setpiece to close out the film on a high note. I wonder if budget or time constraints were a factor – I read an interview with McQuarrie in which it sounded like they were rewriting the ending until the last minute.

    Another issue I had – with the exception of Dougray Scott in M:I2 and Phillip Seymour Hoffman in M:I3, this series has struggled to create memorable villains. Sean Harris seems a capable actor but his delivery in the movie was more chuckle-worthy than menacing thanks to that voice he was using.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Thanks for the comments HKFanatic! I didn’t want to go overboard with the First Strike/Rogue Nation comparisons in the review, but even the underwater break-in had me thinking of Jackie Chan’s scene in the aquarium fish tank!

      You’ve hit the nail on the head in regards to the positioning of the action set pieces, and again while I don’t like to get in to too much spoiler territory in the review itself, the ending is incredibly tame when compared to the scope of the action scenes which come before it. Kicking things off with hanging onto the side of a plane, and finishing them with a foot chase that has a few bullets fired, arguably wasn’t the brightest idea in the book.

      I read that Cruise wanted Bird to come back and direct this one as well, which makes him the first M:I director asked to come back for a second instalment, but he was already committed to ‘Tomorrowland’. I think McQuarrie is a great thriller director, and his style really suited the grittiness of ‘Jack Reacher’, as a full blown action movie director though he definitely takes a few missteps.

      All in all though, still a worthy entry to the series.

  4. mpm74 says:

    Just saw this. Agree… peeks too early. And they also had the nerve to use that plane sequence in the actual teaser poster!

    Other than that, a decent movie. Paul’s review (and his 7/10 score) hit the mark dead on. I do like the way McQuarrie presents his action sequences, which was also evident in Jack Reacher. And yes, with each MI film, Tom Cruise becomes more Jackie, and more EON production! Final third…eh… let’s just say it NEEDED a plane or motorbike sequence, but it was too late. 🙂

    I guess that’s something a typical Bond movie has going for it over other action/spy films; their ability to pace the action throughout. You get the awesome opening sequence, and it’s later topped off by two or three more action pieces.

    The best MI flick is still the 3rd one!

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      I’m going to give my vote to ‘Ghost Protocol’ as the best in the series! I watched it again over the weekend, and it ticks all the boxes for an action movie – the pacing, a sustained momentum, humor, gradually escalating set pieces, and a strong sense of what’s at stake.

      In the first 30 minutes of ‘Ghost Protocol’ you have the agents ill-fated chase scene, Cruise busting out of prison, and the Kremlin break-in….and the momentum just builds and builds from there. Like I mention in the review, had the plane scene been placed mid-way through the movie, with a lot riding on it, I think I would have given it a higher score. But considering it’s already over and done with before the opening titles even play, it doesn’t have that same sense of danger and tension to it that the Burj Khalifa scene has.

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