Reviewed by Nick Jones.
The opening of this fifth Mission: Impossible film gives us Tom Cruise taking a running leap onto the wing of an enormous cargo plane and holding on for dear life as it climbs into the sky. It is tremendous fun, but it does not really serve as a model for what follows. Featuring stunts for stunts’ sake and infused with the kind of effective but copy-and-paste banter that defined the previous entry, 2011’s Ghost Protocol, this sequence feels like a high-gloss Roger Moore Bond. Thankfully, this is something of a feint (and a great marketing hook), since what follows is decidedly more downbeat and hard earned. The rest of the film still features logistically absurd stuntwork and snappy repartee, but it offers a modestly authentic milieu populated by people closer to flesh and blood than the zippy, quippy heroes normally filling the multiplexes these days.
Despite his nifty plane dangling, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has once again been disavowed, the agency he was formerly star player of - the improbably named Impossible Mission Force (IMF) - disbanded. Yet he gets the old gang together, including Simon Pegg’s Benji, Jeremy Renner’s Brandt and Ving Rhames’s Luther, in order to take down the Syndicate, a shadowy criminal organisation (is there any other kind?). Their best shot at this seems to be the lithe and capable Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a Syndicate agent whose loyalties are in question, and who steals the film from the flashier Cruise. While the camera may linger lovingly on the way she fills out a set of motorcycle leathers, she’s always an active, motivated part of events. (She even removes her high heels before a fight in an unintentional but pointed jab at Jurassic World’s unfortunate understanding of feminine agency.)
Her portrayal is indicative of the film’s broader attempt to find something amid the chases, shoot-outs and vertiginous leaps more engaging than simple MacGuffin hunting. As with his previous Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher (2012), writer-director Christopher McQuarrie aims to temper ridiculousness and convention with significance and humanism. Characters almost act like recognisable human beings would in such situations, and emotions and conflicts feel warranted rather than pre-programmed. The credible chemistry between Ethan and his team makes their pursuit of the head of the Syndicate feel like a significant goal rather than a veiled excuse for sightseeing and hardware deployment, and the occasional heartfelt odes to friendship work surprisingly well. All of this means that when the action gets moving, and even becomes preposterous, it still feels as though something is at stake. Cinematographer Robert Elswit helps by providing sombre and carefully calculated images that put the focus on the action in the frame rather than the frame itself, and Cruise’s integration of his star persona is also more nuanced and appealing than in previous entries. He’s still indestructible and foolhardy, a ‘living manifestation of destiny’ as one character oddly describes, but we sense he is forced into this role by his own impossible reputation. Witness the unspoken misgivings that flash across Hunt’s face when he’s casually told that during an elaborate heist he’ll need to hold his breath for three minutes, a whole minute longer than any normal person could - after all, this isn’t mission: difficult.
The third act, with its numerous vocal stand-offs and relative paucity of action, comes as something of a relief after the cavalcade of set pieces that came before. Unlike the ever-inflating blockbusters this year has so far provided, with their hundred-strong car chases and elevating landmasses, Rogue Nation ends with some brief fights in the London fog reminiscent of The Ipcress File (1965) and a denouement in a wilfully minor key. All of this feels like a very deliberate attempt to re-ground the franchise in something like the real world, and if the film ultimately doesn’t provide anything terribly novel, it at least brings Hunt smoothly back to earth after his pre-credit plane ride, and gives us some solid reasons to come down with him.
This review was published on August 07, 2015.
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