Secret Agent Ethan Hunt must take a lot of glucosamine. After tumbling end over end five times in a roll-over car crash, he manages to walk away none the worse for wear. The only possible explanation is his bones are made of some titanium alloy, his skin is that non-rip paper you sometimes get in the mail, and his joints work like a bendy straw.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation has the 19 year old spy movie franchise going past the point of lunacy finally. It always teetered on the edge of crazy in various ways. The John Woo second installment being the worst of the bunch and feeling like an entirely different film, there were always great stunt set pieces. Let’s remember that Ethan jumping off an exploding helicopter in a tunnel to land on a bullet train at top speed is how this franchise started. So it only seems reasonable that we’d throw Ethan in a car, put it on tumble dry, and have him come out snuggly fresh (snuggly fresh is a relative concept here). At least in installment four (Ghost Protocol) he fights with a hurt leg. But on the terms of engagement that Rogue Nation chooses, the movie is still a blast.
It’s been a long time since we had a plot as convoluted as this and whilst my friends Director S and Mr. UnLawyer found the constant double, triple, and quadruple crossing to render any investment in the story or characters a waste of time, I liked the idea of a spy movie having lots of mean spy tactics, even if not all of it made sense.
It seems that Ethan Hunt is on the <Ethan’s last name> for a suspected spy organization known only as The Syndicate. I guess names like The Group, The Cabal, The Organization, The Collective, The Club, and The Shadow Cotillion were already taken. If Ethan works for the IMF, stopping world terrorists, then The Syndicate makes the world’s terror. Possibly recruiting disavowed and supposedly dead spies from every remaining spy organization on the planet with better names (MI6, KGB, CIA, etc), The Syndicate is always one step ahead of Ethan and his attempts to take them down. He’s captured and helped to escape by Ilsa Faust, possibly a double agent inside The Syndicate trying to destroy it internally or possibly an incredibly smart ruse for some other nefarious purpose. Either way – the whole task is made impossibly harder when the IMF is dissolved by the head of the CIA and Ethan Hunt is put on the top of the top 1 most wanted list. In MI:1 Ethan is thought to be a mole and is hunted by his own government. In MI:2… uh… that movie is pretty bad. In MI:3 Ethan works unsanctioned on a mission his own boss isn’t fully aware of. In MI:4 the whole IMF is disavowed. Just once, I’d like to see what it’s like for the Impossible Mission Force to still be employed while saving the world. All this pro-bono work has to be expensive and these guys need healthcare.
Back for this crazy hard task of saving the world but not letting anyone know about it are analyst William Brandt who manages protocols with the CIA, Benji Dunn who does all the complicated computer stuff while talking far too much, and Luther Stickell who does all the other complicated computer stuff while talking far too little. Together they go off the grid to help take down The Syndicate, an organization nobody believes exists.
There’s a fantastically entertaining fight sequence and assassination attempt at the opera where some mishit buttons has Ethan dealing with an ever moving walkway above the performance. This leads to a fantastically entertaining underwater computer hack scene that plays nicely with the ticking clock suspense tropes as we wait for Ethan to run out of breath. This leads to a fantastically entertaining motorcycle and car chase scene with a truly laugh out loud joke of Ethan tripping over a car. And all of this is tied together with a fantastically twisted and impossible to follow plot about a file that has a ledger that the head of The Syndicate wants for some reason.
The action set pieces are really well crafted. The car/motorcycle chase is of particular high order. Special praise to Tom Cruise’s wild eyed, confused gaze that injected some appropriate humor to an otherwise tense affair. I’m sure they digitally added vehicles to the road to make it seem more busy but the thrill and sense of speed is palpable. The geography of the action is easy to follow. And the stunts as bodies tumble away and cycles explode off the roadway is remarkable.
I don’t like the extra focus on Benji though. His character was introduced in MI:3 but starting with Ghost Protocol, he became a key player. I’m guessing audiences dig Simon Pegg’s easy sense of humor but I personally find two movie’s worth of endless, clueless chatter in the middle of life ending destruction where quiet and focus is of the utmost important to be pretty annoying. The first Mission Impossible film had a silent bank heist that was a standout achievement for how quiet even the audience became. After saving the world two other times, you’d think Benji would appreciate the gift of not talking so much.
As it is though, that’s a minor complaint. I agree with Director S that in the face of so much plot twisting we shouldn’t bother caring what happens, it’s all probably a lie anyway. And yes, I think Ethan Hunt’s stunts have gone into the mythical and could use paring back (one car flip is enough). The CIA director gives a speech about Hunt being part of “destiny” that indicates the writers are very self-aware of how ridiculous it’s all gotten. Still, the ride is wildly entertaining and delivers big. As stated in the film when shutting down the IMF, Mission Impossible is more about lucky brinksmanship and less about being the smartest man in the room.
At 131 minutes it plays like all 131 of them. The ending happens suddenly and I felt a wee bit cheated that I wasn’t let in on the plan, but that’s a lot of minutes of grade-A escapism prior, so I’m totally fine with the total package.