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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Movie Review: #MissionImpossible - Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise flies high and delivers one of the best films of the Summer.

Review by Matt Cummings

Actor Tom Cruise has always maintained a special place in SandwichJohn's heart; thankfully, he asks me to write these reviews. Truth be told, I am also a fan of Cruise, and who could blame us? His recent movies (Oblivion, Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow) consistently rank among my favorites, and his respect for the fans has done much to repair his wounded status as a tool for Scientology. Perhaps that's why he continues to draw lackluster box office numbers, leaving a mystery whose origins are hard to connect. What isn't a mystery is the result of his newest film Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation: it's easily one of my favorites of the year, bolstered by strong performances, great action, and a smart, twisty script.

After successfully rescuing a stash of chemical weapons, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his Impossible Missions Force should be breathing a sigh of relief. Instead, agency becomes the target of CIA chief Atley (Alec Baldwin), who succeeds in shutting down what he considers a rogue organization and a dangerous operative in Hunt. His team, including CIA analyst Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and hacker Benji (Simon Pegg), go to work for Atley as he seeks to bring Hunt in, unaware that a major crime organization called The Syndicate is his real enemy. At its head is the shadowy figure Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), whose attacks are pegged on Hunt exclusively. When Hunt is captured by Lane, he employs Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) to torture him, but both soon realizes Ilsa has ulterior motives. As Lane's real plan begins to emerge, both sides play a dangerous game of cat and mouse, while wondering whether Ilsa works for them or the other side. Together with Brandt, Benji, and Luther (Ving Rhames), Hunt must secure critical data that will either escalate Syndicate attacks or end their reign of terror.

Director/Writer Christopher McQuarrie - an under-appreciated titan in the industry - has fused a good old-fashioned spy thriller with the best elements of the James Bond franchise. If you count his behind-the-scenes work on Ghost Protocol, he's collaborated with Cruise five times; that familiarity shows up consistently here, especially in its "show me, don't tell me" script. Sure, there are moments where Cruise narrates over a menagerie of images to keep things moving, but it's McQuarrie who connects the dots with both memorable action beats and solid character development.

In Rogue Nation, we see a smart, twisty story that burns hot at the right time and slow when it needs to without drowning the audience in story beats that tend to plague the spy genre. McQuarrie paints an IMF shuttered by a CIA that refuses to believe The Syndicate exists, which in turn allows them to run unchecked from one terrorist act to another. Co-writer Drew Pearce helps McQuarrie take that premise into an unforeseen direction: they make its resolution less about Hunt and more about Ferguson's Ilsa. She is part puppet, part revenge-seeker, part badass, all rolled into the best female character of the series. Not until the end do her graying loyalties finally emerge, providing rich territory for Ethan and the boys to debate her loyalties.

At 53, Cruise is still a physical presence, but he ultimately endures because of his surprisingly quiet demeanor. He no longer needs the bravado of a Maverick to get things done, and in some parts Ethan is even reduced to a man without a nation (and a razor for about six months). That plays really well with Benji and the similarly-conflicted Brandt; over the last two movies, their characters have made such agreeable transitions from capable by-the-numbers bookworms to agents on-the-run that audiences should enjoy both their comedic moments as well as their dramatic quandaries.

Mixing the best practical effects we've seen in years, Rogue Nation almost overextends itself with an opening that was huge before the film was even released. That's what being strapped to the side of an A400 transport plane flying 250 feet in the air will do, and Cruise handles it like a pro. Ill-content to duplicate Ghost Protocol, Cruise and McQuarrie instead turn a sharp left to show that both Ilsa and Hunt are out of their league against Soloman Lane, and whose combined strength might not even stop their pursuits by the CIA or MI6. I love that sort of storytelling, even if some of the path to a rousing conclusion feels less than as fresh as I would have expected.

If there's something to be said against Rogue Nation, is that its bad guy is too interesting to defeat in one film. Lane would have been a worthy opponent to tackle over multiple movies, and in general I'm waiting for a bad guy/girl who can survive beyond that 'villain of the week' outline. Harris has the smooth operator of a Silva from Skyfall, a practiced and polished former agent who's confused mass destruction with enduring peace. Baldwin surprises as the single-minded Huntley, whose blind hatred for Hunt keeps him from seeing the true face of his enemy. His takedown is achieved especially well, and it's my hope we'll see him in future episodes.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation succeeds as much as its brethren, but does so in different ways. It proves that Cruise is still a force, and that his baby (now 19 years old) is perhaps more spry than its ever been. This is a film made for the big-screen experience and multiple viewings, but you'll also find yourself wading through the deep water of rock n' roll espionage and feeling sexy for it. With numbers tracking surprisingly low, Rogue Nation should be a no-brainer on your Summer Movie To-Do List.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is rated PG-13 for for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity and has a runtime of 131 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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