Wednesday, August 5, 2015


(US/China - 2015)

Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Cast: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Xiang Jingchu, Tom Hollander, Jens Hulten, Hermione Corfield, America Olivo, Robert Maaser, Wolfgang Stegemann. (PG-13, 131 mins)

Putting aside the fact that he's a pretty weird guy who believes in a patently crazy religion, there's no denying that Tom Cruise is perhaps The Last Movie Star, the kind of guy who, with occasional missteps (ROCK OF AGES), knows what his fans want and always delivers. The action just gets more frenetic and ambitious with ROGUE NATION, written and directed by Cruise's apparent new BFF Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for his USUAL SUSPECTS script nearly 20 years ago. McQuarrie disappeared from sight after 2000's THE WAY OF THE GUN and resurfaced with a writing credit on Cruise's 2008 film VALKYRIE. Since then, McQuarrie wrote and directed Cruise in 2012's underrated--with a growing cult--JACK REACHER, and he co-wrote last year's EDGE OF TOMORROW. Fans of McQuarrie the writer will be happy to know that he brings some of his gift for verbiage and Keyser Soze hyperbole to ROGUE NATION, particularly when Alec Baldwin's irritable CIA chief tells one of the bad guys that Cruise's Ethan Hunt is "the living manifestation of destiny...and he's made you his mission!" As a director, McQuarrie throws all of the styles of past M:I franchise helmers into a blender in a way that's tantamount to a greatest hits package. There's a lot of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2's John Woo in the fight choreography and some generous Brad Bird in the elaborately death-defying GHOST PROTOCOL-style set pieces, plus the long Vienna Opera House sequence that's more Brian De Palma than anything De Palma did as the hired gun directing the first M:I installment in 1996. Though there's quite a bit of CGI assistance, ROGUE NATION goes the extra mile in the action sequences to make them as practical as possible. Sure, for every scene of Cruise hanging on to the outside of a plane as it's taking off, or doing most of his own driving in a high-speed motorcycle chase sequence, there's one of him being bounced around like a pinball or a really phony-looking car flip that momentarily takes you out of the movie, but these interruptions are few and far between.

After a spectacular opening sequence with IMF agent Hunt hanging on to the side of a plane as it takes off, the actions starts bouncing around the globe, first in London where Hunt, on the trail of a terrorist organization known as "The Syndicate," is ambushed by its sinister leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). Hunt and his IMF team have never been able to produce any concrete evidence of The Syndicate's existence, much to the consternation of CIA chief Hunley (Baldwin), who has IMF disbanded and tells agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) that he believes Hunt "is both arsonist and fireman, and that the Syndicate is a figment of his imagination, created by Hunt to justify the continued existence of IMF." Hunt, now off-the-grid and considered a global fugitive, enlists the aid of his former cohort, Langley-based CIA flunky Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), who meets up with Hunt and deeply-embedded British agent Ilsa Faust (a star-making turn by Rebecca Ferguson), who shows ever-shifting loyalties after infiltrating The Syndicate and constantly being put to the test by the nefarious Lane. Eventually, Brandt and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, who probably looks forward to the M:I films to rescue him from the world of straight-to-Redbox) join the group in Morocco for an incredible car/motorcycle/SUV chase down a Casablanca highway. The action moves at a furious clip and never stops, whether it's the MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH-style sequence in the opera house or a complex plot to retrieve data from a underwater power server that requires Hunt to hold his breath for several minutes, though watching how it plays out, I'm not sure I buy the hype that Cruise himself held his breath for several minutes.

ROGUE NATION doesn't aspire to be anything more than escapist entertainment and it's one of the most enjoyable movies of the summer. At 53, Cruise seems to have stopped chasing an Oscar and instead settled into a comfort zone where he's found a niche but isn't coasting. At this rate, he won't need to do a geriatric actioner in five or six years because he'll never have stopped doing stuff like this, and that's fine. Cruise is in top form here, and he's matched by a game Ferguson, who needs to return if there's any future M:I outings. Renner, Pegg, and Rhames all have their moments in the spotlight (Luther busting Brandt's balls about handling the 4x4 during the car chase gets a big laugh). Baldwin, with his blustery GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS delivery, benefits the most from McQuarrie's gift of wordsmithing, while Harris makes a decent if one-dimensional bad guy. Like the FAST & FURIOUS franchise, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE seems to be gaining steam as it goes along, with the last two being particularly strong (I even like the much-maligned second entry by John Woo, which has achieved almost HIGHLANDER 2 levels of loathing by fans in the decade and a half since its release). In short, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION is the most no-holds-barred actioner to hit screens since MAD MAX: FURY ROAD, and while it isn't the game-changer that George Miller masterpiece was and the second half isn't quite as rousing as the first, it gives you almost everything you could possibly ask for in a big summer movie, with enough real stunt work--one of the highlights of JACK REACHER, by the way--mixed with digital to demonstrate the difference. Strap Cruise to a parked airplane or on a motorcycle in front of a greenscreen and this is as forgettable as any generic action movie. Cruise and McQuarrie know the difference and audiences should, too. This and MAD MAX: FURY ROAD should be case studies in why the studios need to scale back their reliance on cartoonish CGI and start using it to enhance the action rather than being the action.

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