Watching the Mission: Impossible TV revival of the 80s, as a child sitting at the foot of my father’s easy chair, one thing always stood out to me even then: a real government agency would never call itself Impossible Mission Force (IMF). That would be like if CIA stood for Classy International Avengers. But this conceit, that the show was a somewhat serious political action thriller while being hilariously cartoony, is what made the whole thing work. We suspended our disbelief for two runs of the show and four wildly successful movies. Unfortunately with Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the suspense has run out. While the fifth entry in the series has been a financial success once again, and though it’s actually not a terrible movie, the magic has indeed finally worn off.
The first four films had very different tones and styles, with new directors taking over every time. And each time it seemed like a good move. Transitioning from the taut suspense style of Brian De Palma to the graceful action of John Woo, to the tight kineticism of JJ Abrams to the large-scale spectacle of Brad Bird, the series managed to maintain a cohesive connecting link in the form of the enigmatic Ethan Hunt (played in all the films by Tom Cruise). They didn’t exactly stray from that formula this time around, either, it just felt hollow.
This time around, Hunt is forced to match wits, and guns, with a shadowy organization known as the Syndicate, which is at one point in the film described as “an anti-IMF.” Right off the bat we have a number of problems here. The least of which is that this is very simply not what we want to see in a M:I storyline. Powerful, almost demigod-like villains, yes, but not an organized gadget-toting group that mirrors the IMF. Why? Because if they’re so secret that nobody knows who they are or what they’re doing, then they can’t really be that bad, right? If one recalls, previous bad guys in the series sought among other things, to get super rich, kill all the spies, unleash a plague, and destabilize the global economy. In this film, the Syndicate never really reveals a purpose, other than a vague justice-on-the-end-of-a-sword type thing that doesn’t sound tremendously different from the IMF.
The larger problem with this premise is that it’s just so stale and unimaginative. For those keeping count at home, this the exact same premise of the new upcoming James Bond film, Spectre (which unhelpfully had a trailer show before M:I5), not to mention former Bond entries Quantum of Solace, Goldeneye, and Thunderball, oh yeah, and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. as well. Not only that, but it robs the film of the trait that arguably carried the first four entries which is that each one featured Hunt facing some sort of deeply personal obstacle. In the first film it was betrayal by his mentor, in the second it was the life of a love interest, the third it was the future of his personal life, and the fourth had the fate of mankind hanging in the balance. This film had exceptionally low stakes, and it made it hard for the viewer to invest anything beyond staying awake.
It’s not all bad news, though. As I said, it’s really not a terrible movie, just an incredibly uninspiring one. Cruise is his usual competent self, and he remains one of the strangest paradoxes of the big screen: arguably the most popular star in the world, yet he’s barely tolerated in his own country. It’s easy to beat up on him for his personal eccentricities, but he’s always been a pretty reliable deliverer of screen excitement, and has remained as good in recent years (with strong performances in M:I4, Tropic Thunder, Jack Reacher, and Edge of Tomorrow) as his earlier successes (like the string of success that ran from Rain Man and Born on the Fourth of July through Magnolia and Collateral). Simon Pegg, Alec Baldwin, and particularly Sean Harris as the villain stand out in supporting roles, and the action sequences are all entertaining enough that I didn’t excuse myself to use the bathroom.
The writing and direction, both from brilliant veteran Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Jack Reacher), are both sound inasmuch as they successfully execute what they set out to do, I just take issue with why one would set out to accomplish those things. McQuarrie is an expert of pacing and not wasting dialogue, and other than naming the femme fatale Ilsa Faust (Get it? Because she made a deal with the devil… derp), his skill is mostly on showcase throughout the briskly blocked adventure.
Basically, if you’re looking for summer entertainment to beat the heat, you could certainly do a lot worse. But in the end, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the most quintessentially summer of summer blockbusters; it’s completely forgettable.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is currently playing at the Carmike 12 in Corvallis and the Regal 7 in Albany.
By Ygal Kaufman