Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation is really good! Probably the best forgettable movie of the year.
It’s a competently made A-class blockbuster that tries hard to service all of the previous Mission: Impossible crowds. If you happened to be more into the grounded espionage approach of parts 1 and 3, you’ll get to have that. It has a little less of Pegg and a little more of Rhames. In case you preferred the spectacle peaks of parts 2 and 4, you’ll be satisfied. And if you thought 3 was a little too intense, or that 4 had too much “fun” with itself, this is pure safe middle ground. In every aspect. That isn’t to say that the movie is bad. It’s full of good banter, Tom again gives 120 percent, the movie has another traditional amazing break-in sequence to offer, and in the end you’ll probably be satisfied with the overall results. It’s just that there’s really nothing really memorable. Qualitywise, the movie is better than Terminator: Genisys, Ant-Man, and Kingsman: The Secret Service, and it’s another good entry in a strong franchise, but two years from now you’ll have it easier remembering why you didn’t like Terminator: Genisys than recollecting why exactly you really got to like this one.
JJ Abram’s Mission: Impossible 3 was the weakest entry in the franchise, but that one at least had a very intense Philip Seymour Hoffman, the Vatican heist, and that drone attack on the bridge. Rogue Nation’s standout moment is a heist that involves diving into a ridiculous underwater safe, and in itself that’s a really good scene, but it’s pretty much a rehash of the unforgettable 1996 Langley break-in. The second best action scene is a car and motorcycles chase in Morocco that, again, is really well staged and fun to watch. It’ll just remind you of Mission: Impossible 2 all the way through, and of a similar chase in Cruise’s Knight & Day. Another scene takes place at the Vienna State Opera, and has Hunt trace enemies during a show. That never happened in a Mission: Impossible before, but it’s pretty much the same thing we saw in Quantum of Solace, just with better legs.
It somewhat reminds of seeing a ski chase action scene in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service first, then again in The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, A View to a Kill and once more in The World is Not Enough. Also, the upcoming Spectre will apparently have a ski chase. That is 6 out of 24 movies which mathematically gives Mission: Impossible every right to repeat itself already. It’s allowed, just a little lazy.
The one element that could have made Rogue Nation more distinctive is Rebecca Ferguson. Ferguson shows up as a mysterious agent named Ilsa Faust (name probably inspired by a Wolfenstein game). At first, she seems fascinating. Is she a modern day Mata Hari? Could she outjump and outfight Ethan Hunt, and outsmart the whole of IMF? Could it lead to an intriguing espionage plot full of twists, conspiracies, and betrayals? You get the notion that she could start all of that, but it turns out to be a fluke. Ferguson is truly convincing as a tough-as-nails agent, and she looks as if she could Ronda Rousey Paula Patton any day of the week. The movie never turns her into a damsel in distress, but McQuarrie doesn’t succeed at giving her the depth the character would need, and he doesn’t dare to give her more spotlight than Cruise. Much of the plot revolves around her character, but in the end she doesn’t feel worth it. Vesper herself wasn’t a very strong character in Casino Royale, but Martin Campbell really sold her meaning for Bond, and her emotional weight for the whole narrative. Surprisingly, there’s no romance aspect between Faust and Hunt, and McQuarrie doesn’t bring enough to elevate her otherwise. It’s a shame, because newcomer Ferguson seems to be really talented, and while she’s really attractive as well (she does resemble a P90x-ed Ingrid Bergman) I’d gladly have traded both that useless bikini shot and that equally useless sideboob action (what is wrong with me?) for a little more character depth.
Another small disappointment is the much advertised plane stunt. Yeah, that’s really Cruise hanging on a starting cargo plane like the amazing madman he is, but the way it’s presented in the movie it’s just done for small laughs. It’s neat, but it could been used for a way stronger scene. There are two additional interesting aspects to the story. For one thing, Hunt’s team finally begins to question his leadership. He’s an amazing field agent, and he’s especially great at last minute saves, but how long until he really fails for once? Everyone has to fail at one point, and the movie doesn’t shy away from addressing that head on. The way McQuarrie handles it though doesn’t leave any future marks for anyone involved. I mean, MI3 already showed that we really don’t care about Hunt’s life as an actual human outside the IMF anyway, but maybe a different story could have achieved that? Rogue Nation seems to try, but doesn’t succeed. Did it need to? No, of course not, but if you don’t have actual arcs for your characters it puts so much more pressure on fun and action scenes, and you lose a lot of ground if you reduce your humor and replicate action scenes from earlier in the movie franchise. I know, they’re still great to look at and both McQuarrie and Cruise do a fantastic job selling those action scenes, but the movie does exceed two hours. There could be more to look out for.
The villain. Solomon Lane looks like a more athletic version of Mason Verger and is played by one of the stupid geologists of Prometheus, Sean Harris. Harris does a good job playing a creepy intellectual, but the movie sells his character even weaker than Faust. He does have some interesting points about loyality, ungrateful governments following goals as questionable as those of organized crime, but everything is just swept aside and kept superficial. In the end, he really isn’t that much better or worse than Jon Voight or Michael Nyqvist which is okay I guess. I miss Dougray, though. No one cuts pinky-fingers like he does.
So far, the whole Mission: Impossible franchise is a highly watchable series of well-made action movies. We might obviously argue about the charme of Mission: Impossible 2 which I hold dearly, but you can easily recommend any of the others. This time though, I’m just unable to tell you why exactly you should watch Rogue Nation. Every other entry has a simple argument going for it, but not this one. However, it also really got nothing goin’ against it, which is nice.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
Mission: Impossible (1996): five stars
Mission: Impossible II (2000): three stars
Mission: Impossible III (2006): three stars
Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011): four-and-a-half stars