Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
By Ben Gruchow
August 4, 2015
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is a gloriously silly action movie, ceaselessly kinetic, populated by game actors. Its slow moments involve people sitting on triggers with bombs strapped to their chest counting toward zero. It has a pre-title sequence that would suffice as the climax in a more earthbound thriller: Ethan Hunt's IMF super spy, played by Tom Cruise, clings to the side of a jet as it takes off. Cruise is known for doing his own stunts, and this one seems designed more than ever to give the movie's insurance agents heart palpitations.
Its biggest problem - its only problem, really-is that it comes after Brad Bird's superlative 2011 series entry, Ghost Protocol. That film had the same confident chemistry between its players, a sharper narrative focus, and one of the all-time great set pieces in modern action cinema, with its climb up the side of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Rogue Nation is rougher around the edges. We get a basic understanding of the Syndicate, which functions as the new movie's antagonist: a sort of collector of disavowed agents of covert agencies like Hunt's IMF. We also get an intimidating villain in Solomon Lane, rogue Syndicate agent; he's played by Sean Harris with a presence that makes you want to lean back from the screen. We don't get much of an idea of his grand plan, though, beyond making the Syndicate bigger; instead, most of the movie's incident involves the acquisition of assets by Lane. I'm grateful for a movie that purports to investigate how the bad guys got to where they are, at least.
I was perhaps being a little overly charitable. Rogue Nation's biggest problem is still that it comes after Ghost Protocol; its next biggest problem is that the movie can't help but take a step down in urgency and clarity after its central action set piece, which occurs about halfway through the film. That sequence revolves around fooling a power station's security system so that an IMF agent can pass a series of intelligent cameras and body-language detectors and get into the top-secret control room and download encrypted data containing Syndicate names. Whatever.
The sequence is an excuse, as all of the big sequences in the Impossible films are, to show off the very limits of feasible technology to achieve exciting scenes of tension and agility. This one doesn't disappoint, although it's a notch or two below the Dubai sequence and the Langley break-in from the first Mission: Impossible. In fact, I'm pretty confident that the next appropriate obstacle for the team is going to have to be outright sorcery; that's the only thing that'd present much of a challenge (Cruise's facial acting when Simon Pegg's Benji describes the layers of security around the power station, and continually expresses confidence in Hunt's covert abilities, is a minor highlight).
So, not the best heist centerpiece in the franchise; the power-station sequence is still thrilling. Most of the action takes place in an underwater core that looks rather like the nexus of the Death Star. Ethan Hunt must swap out ID cards while dodging rotating mechanical arms and water current, all on a strict three-minute oxygen timer (he can't use oxygen tanks, because then there wouldn't be a scene). The team around him is mostly old faces: Ving Rhames returns as disavowed agent Luther Stickell, Jeremy Renner's Brandt spars with CIA director Alan Hunley (played by Alec Baldwin in the film's one completely superfluous and anonymous role), and Renner scores the movie's best punchline in these scenes.