Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

I was thinking…

…just how rare it is for a franchise of movies to get better with each additional chapter. Mission: Impossible, for some inexplicable reason, is one of those rare franchises.

Since the Impossible Mission Force first flounced on the silver screen in 1996, the expectations for an improved sequel were high, considering the first film was not all that good.

In 2000, assigning a new director in the form of Hong Kong auteur, John Woo, resulted in an improved, albeit dove-laden and overly balletic follow-up.

Mission: Impossible III upped the ante once more, with J.J. Abrams attached and the ever-creepy Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the role of the–surprise, surprise–creepy bad guy.

With the fourth installment, and with Brad Bird directing, the numerical monikers were dropped and Ghost Protocol breathed new life into the franchise, which was, at that point, boasting a 15 year tenure.

And now, through some weird cinematic voodoo, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is already making Paramount Pictures stroke their collective symbolic beards as they plan a sixth installment.

Rogue Nation follows Ethan Hunt (Tom CruiseJack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow) on assignment while the face of the IMF, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner–Avengers: Age of Ultron), um, faces off against a Senate oversight committee. CIA director Hunley (Alec BaldwinStill Alice), convinced a terrorist group the IMF refers to as the Syndicate, is purely an invention designed to keep the IMF in business, calls for the cancellation of the mission force. Unfortunately, he is granted his request.

This is particularly bad timing for Hunt, who has been captured by the Syndicate and faces torture and eventual execution at the hands of the terrorist group.

However, with the help of the mysterious femme fatale, Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), within the ranks of the Syndicate, Hunt escapes. While in hiding and evading Director Hunley’s attempts to track him down, Hunt recruits his old friends Benji (Simon Pegg–Star Wars: Episode VII, Star Trek Into Darkness) and Luther (Ving RhamesPulp Fiction).

With his buddies on his side, he seeks out not only the leader of the Syndicate, an ex-British spy named Solomon Lane (Sean HarrisPrometheus), but a way to stop the man from fomenting worldwide chaos and destruction.

I will come right out and say: I am not a fan of Tom Cruise. His nose-talking, pompous, grinning, Davy Jones-from-the-Monkees face has irked me for years and years. That being said, he does seem to give his all in just about every project to which he’s been attached and Rogue Nation is no exception. In fact, the scene of Hunt running across the wings of the Russian military plane, which is featured so prominently in the movie trailers and marketing, is none other than Cruise himself and not a stunt man.

He is also becoming strangely more tolerable as he is aging. Maybe because the lines of imperfection are starting to show on his face and I can finally be assured that he has not struck some Faustian deal or that there is not a morphing portrait of him hidden away in his attic.

As for his co-stars, Pegg is entertaining as usual and Renner plays the very convincing level-headed straight-laced man. Rhames is not as prominent as he has been in previous installments, however. But the approachably attractive Rebecca Furguson adds sexual appeal to the movie without being over-the-top and eye-rollingly excessive.

Fancying myself a man of humor, I also appreciate whenever laughs can be woven into any action flick and Rogue Nation does a better than average job at this. Humor was almost non-existent in the first two movies, but it was certainly not kept out of the fabric of this fifth installment. The best moments are those poking fun at how imperfect even those born to a life of action can be when it comes to taking action. Note what happens before the chase when Hunt ludicrously believes himself capable of driving the car.

Said chase is a highlight of the film, incorporating a teeth and sphincter clenching motorcycle sequence which feels like Return of the Jedi‘s speeder bike chase, except on a crowded freeway.

Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, The Usual Suspects) also works with composer Joe Kraemer to funnel some symbolism into the film for the more, shall we say, erudite and urbane viewers. After a sequence involving the attempted assassination of the Austrian head of state at a performance of Puccini’s opera Turandot, the familiar music from the aria “Nessun Dorma” makes its reappearance. Every time Hunt and Ilsa approach the possibility of being together, circumstances and their respective life-threatening careers keep them apart. Just as with Calaf when he seeks the affections of the cold Princess Turandot, the closer he gets to her, the more his life is in danger.

And what Mission: Impossible movie would be complete without some sort of impossible break-in? Or an extremely lifelike mask? Well, rest assured, this one has both.

But fight scenes, break-ins and a spine-quivering antagonist that’s a cross between Lord Voldemort and k.d. Lang aside, Rogue Nation does drag on a little long. Shaving ten minutes off toward the back end might have helped the pacing of an otherwise fine action pic.

The title also feels a tad tacked on, as if the writers or producers thought the words “rogue nation” sounded cool, so they tried desperately to work them into the script and make them make sense somehow. I don’t really think they pulled it off.

Nevertheless, Rogue Nation does manage to continue the Mission: Impossible series’ formidably impressive crescendo and I am admittedly hoping there will only be a lengthy fermata at the end.

Ammo Dump rating:  8 out of 10 messages that explode five seconds after you hear them

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on Fridays on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com or the “iHeartRadio” app on your smart phone. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Rated PG-13
Run time: 131 minutes

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