Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (dir. Christopher McQuarrie)

Posted: August 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” is the fifth film in the “Mission: Impossible” series of films, and it seems like Tom Cruise goes back to these movies when he has a string of bombs. Perhaps “bombs” isn’t a fair assessment, but after three underperforming films (“Oblivion”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, “Jack Reacher”) he probably needed a safe haven, even if this film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who write and directed “Reacher”, and co-wrote “Edge of Tomorrow”. In fact, McQuarrie, who once wrote the phenomenal screenplay for “The Usual Suspects” (1995), has pretty much just been Cruise’s lackey lately.  Then again, considering McQuarrie’s other scripts include “The Way of the Gun”, “The Tourist”, and “Jack the Giant Slayer”, I think McQuarrie fits into the category of screenwriters who only had one good script in them. Ehren Kruger, who once wrote the great “Arlington Road” went on to ruin the “Scream” franchise (now relegated to a mediocre MTV show) and has become the worst screenwriter in Hollywood, is also in this category.

That paragraph is probably making it sound like I hated “Rogue”, which I didn’t. I still think J.J. Abrams’s “Mission: Impossible 3” (2006) is the worst of series, to the extent that I barely remember what happened in that film.  Still, coming of the surprisingly good “Ghost Protocol” (2011), “Rogue” is a big step down, and it’s hard not to blame the screenplay. Tom Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, the main character, and he produces these films, but Hunt has never been more than a bland cipher to take us from action and heist set pieces. Cruise’s job is to engage in stunt work and deliver exposition. He has no character, really.  So while Cruise makes for easy cheap shots because of his creepy devotion to the Scientology cult, he’s not to blame for “Rogue” being mediocre. Nope, this is all McQuarrie’s fault.

Some plot information is needed to explain why. These films deal with the IMF, which in this universe doesn’t mean International Monetary Fund like it does in our world, but rather Impossible Mission Force. In “Rogue”, the CIA Director (Alec Baldwin) wants the IMF shut down and folded into the CIA.  Seeing as how the IMF pretty much does whatever the hell it wants on the taxpayer’s dime whilst having almost no oversight and being successful generally based as much on luck as on skill or intelligence (brain type or spy type), the guy has a point. The Senate agrees with him and does so. This doesn’t please Hunt, because right as this is happening he finds (well, more is DELIVERED) evidence that an organization known as The Syndicate is real.  The Syndicate, as an organization, seems to have as its goal dismantling the work of imperialist Western governments’ work in third world countries and killing bankers and capitalists. If you’ve ever read any of my reviews, or know anything about me, you will begin to understand why this film didn’t work for me.

So, on side of the equation, the film presents to us as our bad guys a group of people who used to work for the intelligence agencies for a bunch of countries (the US, Britain, Israel, Germany, and Russia are specifically name-checked) but became disenfranchised by the havoc these countries has them commit in the name of keeping the status quo (keeping Western governments and capitalists in power) and decided to perform secret operations to cause trouble that will lead to world change. Honestly, I have no issue with the Syndicate’s goals, just that innocent people die for them.  On the other side, as our good guys, we’re presented with the IMF, who also cause havoc, but in order to keep Western interests afloat and no have any social change beyond what their governments want. They also act without any real oversight at “protecting” America. The film never shows the IMF harming innocent people, which seems disingenuous considering all the damn car chases, gun fire, and explosions these guys are responsible for. So this film is about a Conservative security state fighting against left-wing idealists, and then it stacks the deck w/r/t innocent deaths to make us think that the film’s equivalent of the NSA or drone warfare are the indisputable good guys.  No wonder the trailer for Michael Bay’s upcoming, sure-to-be-shitty Benghazi movie played before this film.

Okay, most people are not going to “Rogue” for its politics. They are going for action sequences. I will admit that it is cool that Cruise was actually on a plane taking off, with CGI merely used for wire-removal. I enjoyed a motorcycle car chase sequence a bit. Still, the main set pieces for this movie are an underwater holding-your-breath scene, in which the CGI is painfully obvious and the scene is too damn fast to be thrilling, and an assassination attempt at an opera, which is not edited tightly or suspenseful enough to be as De Palma-esque as it’s obviously trying to be. Remember, De Palma actually directed the first “Mission: Impossible” back in 1996. He’s the guy who made “Dressed to Kill” (1981), “Body Double” (1984) and a whole slew of very suspenseful, Hitchcockian thrillers since the 1970s. McQuarrie can’t hold a candle to De Palma, and probably shouldn’t have even tried.

Also, on a story level, why try to play up a will-they-won’t-they possible romance with the new character of British double-agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson)? While De Palma’s film and John Woo’s “Mission: Impossible 2” (2000) were mostly self-contained movies, the films starting with the third film have had more overlapping continuity, with the addition of characters like Simon Pegg’s Benji and Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt.  “Rogue” even mentions the events of “Ghost Protocol” in the Senate committee scene. This means, hey, Hunt has a wife (played in films 3 and 4 by Michelle Monaghan) and he specifically left her to keep her safe. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t still love her (he stalked her at the end of part 4 so we’d remember he had a wife).  These movies can choose to be self-contained, like most of the James Bond films, or they can be a continuing series, but it needs to pick one.

If you divorce yourself from the politics of “Rogue Nation”, what you have is a mediocre action/heist film that is overlong, has little-to-no character development or character-based-drama, and is sort of bland.  C+

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