Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)
If the subtext of the first three “Mission: Impossible” movie is that we need IMF agents like Ethan Hunt to protect us from IMF agents like Jim Phelps, Sean Ambrose and John Musgrave, traitors all (the fourth movie went in a different direction, thankfully), the subtext of the fifth installment, “Rogue Nation,” is that we need IMF agents like Ethan to protect us from MI6 agents. So ... different.
There’s another related subtext, too, with which almost everyone in the movie audience—all the slovenly, popcorn-crunching and cellphone-checking doofuses—can identify: Don’t trust the boss; he’s a major asshole.
But it’s the first subtext that’s most important. Spy agencies in the “M:I” movies have become self-fulfilling prophecies. We need spies to protect us from spies. So we better get more spies.
Talk about job security.
He’s been going in and out of style
It’s been almost 20 years since Tom Cruise first played Ethan Hunt. Back then, Cruise was 34, married to Nicole Kidman, and beginning to stretch as an actor: “Eyes Wide Shut,” “Magnolia,” “Vanilla Sky,” “The Last Samurai,” “Collateral.” Now he’s 53 and thrice-divorced, the creepy Scientologist and former couch-jumper who’s maintaining his place in the Hollywood power structure by doing nothing but action sequels. Back then we were in a post-Cold War world (whee!) and now we’re post-9/11 (oh). Digital tech was so new in ’96 that Ethan used the nonsensical “Job@Book of Job” as an email address. Now Ethan and his IMF crew use the latest Hollywood tech shortcut: facial recognition technology. (No one can hide anymore! Anywhere!) Back then, the big stunt was Ethan hanging from a zipline in Langley, Va.; now he hangs from the doors of airplanes in flight. Even Jackie Chan looks at that stunt and goes, “Dude, that’s just crazy.”
The team, such as it is, is back. There’s the big black tech dude named Luther (Ving Rhames), who’s been with Ethan since the first movie. There’s the comic-relief Brit named Benji (Simon Pegg), who’s been with him since the third. Then there’s William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), the Ethan doppelganger who didn’t betray him, who’s been around since the fourth.
Almost all the other actors get promotions of a sort. Tom Hollander, best known to me as the comically inept Minister for International Development in “In the Loop,” winds up as Britain’s Prime Minister here, while Simon McBurney, the undersecretary in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” is promoted to the head of MI6. Sean Harris is usually the underling creep (“Red Riding”) but now he gets to be the head creep. Nice work! Alec Baldwin? CIA director! Jeremy Renner? A step below CIA director! Rebecca Ferguson? Instead of kinda betraying Hercules but still being on his side in “Hercules,” she kinda betrays Ethan Hunt but is still on his side here. She’s Ilsa Faust, the Love Interest, replacing, I think, Emmanuelle Béart, Thandie Newton, Michelle Monaghan and Paula Patton. Nice work if you can get it.
The movie is getting positive reviews (93% on RT), but we’ve seen it before. Here’s the IMDb description of the first movie:
An American agent, under false suspicion of disloyalty, must discover and expose the real spy without the help of his organization.
And the fourth:
The IMF is shut down when it’s implicated in the bombing of the Kremlin, causing Ethan Hunt and his new team to go rogue to clear their organization’s name.
Mix and match. As the movie opens, IMF is subsumed by the CIA and Hunt is discredited and forced to go rogue to discover the rogue nation of the title, called, somewhat unimaginatively, “The Syndicate.” His team is loyal to him. But is Ilsa? (Yes.) But will his boss back him in the end? (Yes.) But will hers? (No.) Effin’ Brits.
The act you’ve known for all these years
There’s a big missed opportunity here. The Syndicate, an MI6 plan gone awry, is made up of former agents from all over the world (Mossad, BND), and instead of killing to maintain the status quo they now kill to disrupt things. To what end? Not sure. I don’t even know if they know. But it’s fuel for paranoids everywhere. That plane that disappeared over that ocean? That just didn’t happen, dude. The message of the movie is that there are no accidents. Thanks for that, Chris McQuarrie. Just what we need.
But this is the missed opportunity. At one point, the lines between right and wrong become so blurred that I couldn’t tell for whom Ethan should be fighting, or whether he was actually the good guy. That was pretty cool. Are MI6 and the CIA too corrupt to fight for? Was Ethan risking too much—as he always does—and would Brandt betray him as a result? But then the roller coaster arrives back at the station with everything as it was at the start: Ethan vindicated, IMF restored, sequel set up. Cue theme music.
“Rogue Nation” is a movie with great stunts, great legs (Ferguson, ouch), exotic locales and a nice rendition of “Turandot.” But there’s got to be a more interesting plot somewhere.