Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Rating: B

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie
Star: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg, Sean Harris

Full disclosure. I watched this on my birthday, and was about a bottle of wine in, plus an extra helping of Chris’s lasagne. I’m not sure my critical faculties were therefore exactly at their sharpest. That said, I still enjoyed this, with Tom Cruise giving its all, from the opening sequence which sees him genuinely strapped to the outside of a Russian aircraft. You can only admire that kind of commitment to the cinematic process, which harkens back to the glory days of Jackie Chan, or even before it, to Buster Lloyd. Whatever you may think about Cruise and Scientology, he can only be respected for a willingness to go the distance for his audience.

Here, he’s going up against The Syndicate, led by Solomon Lane (Harris), a previously official group of black ops agents, who are now operating on their own terms, towards a generally obscure goal. However, they must be stopped as usual, and Hunt (Cruise) has  allies such as Benji Dunn (Pegg), and perhaps ally Ilsa Faust (Ferguson), who helps Hunt escape near the beginning, despite apparently being part of the Syndicate. Oh, who am I trying to kid? She’s an undercover British agent, though her own bosses in MI-6 aren’t entirely on board with her mission. Yet Faust is still the most-rounded female character in the franchise to this point. While there have been reasonably interesting candidates previously, she has a depth and complexity, previous bits of M:ITotty could only dream of.

It bounces around the globe, from Vienna to Morocco to London, with a series of extravagant set-pieces. My main complaint would probably be that it peaks with the underwater heist near Casablanca. I defy you to hold your breath for as long as Cruise does. According to the stunt coordinator, he was underwater for just over six minutes. That triggered Chris’s disbelief, until I showed her a YouTube video of the Guinness World Record holder… who held his breath for more than twenty-four minutes. It’s probably a case where the cinematography, being edited, doesn’t do the performance justice.We needed a single, unbroken shot of Cruise underwater, to be able to appreciate the effort.

However, both this and the Vienna Opera scene which preceded it, are so well-executed as to make the finale in London which follows, somewhat disappointing, albeit only in comparison. It does also feel like about the third film in a row where either Hunt or the entire IMF organization gets canned. I’m beginning to think that disavowals aren’t what they used to be. McQuarrie (writer of The Usual Suspects) does a good job of mixing things up and keeping them fresh. Cruise hanging on to the side of a plane as it takes off, has to be one of the most attention-grabbing pre-credit sequences in cinema history, and the film rarely lets go of you thereafter.

[August 2015] An exceptionally solid piece of action entertainment, it helps that the “Tom is on the outside of the plane!” footage of which we were heavily aware, shows up in the first five minutes. When you’re expecting that to be the climax, turning it into the film’s curtain-jerker is a radical adjustment of audience expectations, and for the great part, it delivers on these. I can’t help feeling I’ve seen this story before though, with the IMF again closed down, forcing Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his band of motley associated – Ving Rhames about the only survivor from the original, almost 20 years ago – as they whizz around the world in search of… stuff. Let’s just leave it at that.

It plays like a more sociable version of classic Bond, all globe-trotting, gadgets and girls, though the latter, in the form mostly of improbably-named MI5 operative Ilsa Faust (Ferguson), steals the show in a way not seen by an action heroine since… Er, about two months ago, in Mad Max: Fury Road, to be honest. If this is a trend, it’s one I’m happy to endorse. The variety of characters does allow for a bit more range in tone than Bond movies; Pegg delivers the most amusing lines, such as “Join the IMF! See the world! On a monitor. From a closet…” Renner, as the man tasked with trying to keep Hunt in check and fend off the predatory CIA, had a nicely world-weary air, though you do occasionally wonder how much longer Cruise can keep going as the ageless wonder.

The action is highly competent on all fronts, and only occasionally succumbs to obvious 3-D pandering, most obviously in the sequence set in the underground, water-filled chamber. This is also heavily CGI’d, so much less effective than the stuff which is actually done – such as the excellent car- and motorcycle-chase through the streets of Casablanca, or the extended sequence of human chess in the Vienna Opera House, played out to the strains of Turandot [a.k.a. that song by the fat bloke with the beard, for any cultural Philistines]. It’s well over two hours long, yet doesn’t feel padded in the slightest and you can’t argue you’re cheated out of value, since this is definitely one to see at the cinema. Just give Pegg and Ferguson their own franchise and I’ll be happy. B