Rogue Franchise No More

Posted by : | August 4, 2015

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There was a time when I thought I understood what kind of movies the Mission: Impossible franchise would be; then the first sequel came out. Since that John Woo “why the hell is an undercover spy jumping a motorcycle through fire while a flock of doves flies in slow motion behind him” interpretation, I’ve been chasing ghosts, unclear what latex disguise any new iteration would don, what direction it would take to subvert my expectations. Quiet action movie, intense thriller, stunt spectacular? I don’t know. Could be any of ’em. But even Ethan Hunt isn’t immune to the effects of age, and he has slowed a step or two; I’m starting to catch on. While each movie has had a different director, and thus at theory a different vision, since J.J. Abrams took the reins not only directing, but also producing number III, there has been very little stylistic deviation in subsequent movies. Brian DePalma brought his dark Hitchcockian sensibilities and skewed angles to the original, John Woo put his bizarre action poetry on full cuckoo display for the sequel, but since then a safer, more palatable look and feel has dominated. An Abrams feel. Slick action, self-aware humor, and zero attention drawn to the filmmaking is the name of the game, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation follows that formula just fine, maybe even pulling off the espionage a little better than its kin.

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Like a good spy, he never draws attention to himself.

Rogue Nation steals borrows some story elements from the first movie, with super secret agent Ethan Hunt on the run again, pursued by his own organization (now folded into the CIA) again. His only way to prove his innocence again is to break into a high-security installation again, to hack a computer and steal information that can be used for evil again. Of course there will be twists and turns along the way again, as hero and villain engage in a battle to outsmart each other again. Despite all the blatant familiarity however, the movie never really resembles that initial inspiration, leaving the former’s subtlety in the dust of a high-speed motorcycle chase and an awesome plane stunt. Unlike with some others in the series, however, I didn’t find this to be too much of a detractor. Rogue Nation has it’s problems, sure, but much like with Abrams’ Star Treks, there’s a likeability to the whole endeavor, Cruise fitting snuggly into a role he’s played with confidence many times before, and Simon Pegg resuming his adept nerdy comic relief. The rest of the cast knows there’s nothing too serious going on, and pretty much have a hoot going about their business. Cowriter-director Christopher McQuarrie handles things smoothly, executing the not-at-all believable set-pieces he has constructed the best that anyone could expect, and some nice callbacks and humorous touches pepper the script. Competent isn’t necessarily the right word for all of this, but entertaining is a decent substitute.

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I’ve already sent in my application to the C.I.A.

Movies about the cloak-and-dagger crowd usually focus on the cat-and-mouse intrigue, the crafty way of infiltration, pulling off a job, and disappearing without a trace. You know, like spies. Intricate operations require attention to the tiniest detail, clever ruses and the ability to outsmart and eventually trap the opponent. The thing is, unlike in the original Mission: Impossible, these people are idiots. For intelligence agents supposedly trained in the art of covert operations, they spend a lot of time being utterly fooled by the most obvious tricks, letting people ten feet away from them get easily away, walking by every security camera ever made, and blowing stuff up in plain sight for the entire world to notice. More brawn than brains are the keys to the lucky success of these so-called “plans”; they’re basically Marvel movies in spies’ clothing. Ethan Hunt is a superhero, not a government employee, and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation might as well be Thor: Dark World. Hilariously, Hunt is actually referred to as “the physical manifestation of destiny”, lauded for his anticipatory skills, like this has been some sort of chess game instead of American Gladiators. We’ve seen him blow everything the entire movie, messing up each proudly hatched scheme and ultimately, of course, relying on his fists once again to carry him through the day. Less brilliantly cunning mind than suave stock Jackie Chan character, he exhibits a reckless disregard for property rights across the globe that James Bond would appreciate. The action, while sometimes the source of genuine thrills, is often the cause of derisive chuckles, but since this is a goofy movie and everyone seems to know it, it’s hard to be irked too much outrageous defiance of the laws of physics. Fun is fun, and Rogue Nation manages to have it. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen a return to real complexity, tangled and obtuse as it sometimes may be, and some mostly attainable human feats.

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No matter how many times you read that script, it won’t get any more believable.

Really, I’d like to see something different again from a brand that once used to surprise, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s revealed what it is and has been for three movies now; a definite identity. But despite adhering to a pattern, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is utterly likeable in its exuberance, a childlike belief that in a race with adults its blur of tiny, quick legs will not only catapult it out front, but also cause it to remain multiple steps ahead of the audience, all the way through to the makeshift finish line. It’s fun to watch, and hard not to smile. Of course, it’s even harder not to smile when it trips over its own two feet and tumbles to the dirt, only to pick itself up with a toothless grin, but that’s part of the fun. There’s a decent amount enjoyment to be had in Tom Cruise’s latest entry in his long-running action series, even if it’s not quite as smart as the movie thinks.

My Rating: 2½ out of 4 Times I’ll Watch That Plane Stunt

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