Movie Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
By Ben Gruchow
August 4, 2015
Rebecca Ferguson is Ilsa Faust, a spy just as capable in infiltration and combat as Hunt; her surname would lead you to guess the character's true nature well in advance, but the movie doesn't take advantage of that opportunity. I've already mentioned Pegg, who functions nominally as most of the movie's comic relief; I say “nominally," because the whole enterprise operates at such a heightened pitch that it's rarely anything other than comic, anyway. What's impressive is that the sequence still manages to generate tension, despite the objective sense of danger being slight-to-nonexistent.
The security-system subterfuge is followed by a series of vehicle chases, followed by more subterfuge, foot chases, et cetera. The masks from earlier films make a return, and this time they come with a neat added feature: the voice of whoever's wearing the mask somehow alters to flawlessly match the voice and tone of the person being imitated, regardless of nationality, accent, or age. The first movie's use of masks, where the agent had to get by without speaking in order to keep the disguise going, seems quaint now.
I mention the logistical stone-skipping as observation, not as criticism. In truth, this is all great fun, and very nicely constructed; the movie is about as far from realistic as you can get without resorting to animation, but it doesn't behave that way scene to scene. It appears that director Christopher McQuarrie has mostly used real locations for his sets, and he gets a lot of mileage out of exploiting that naturalism as a grounding backdrop for truly impressive stunt work and action choreography. When CGI and compositing are so commonly used to create an environment, it's a pleasure to watch real actors cover a scene in a real location against real lighting.
Aiding immeasurably here is Robert Elswit, cinematographer for Paul Thomas Anderson going all the way back to Hard Eight; he also shot Ghost Protocol and 2010's Salt. His trademark is clear-eyed, handsomely textured compositions, which almost always communicate a heightened sense of reality; that's perfect for this franchise, and arguably better-suited here than in the last film. There's an extended set piece at a Vienna opera house that's delightful in its exploration of the theatre space, and a backlit shot with Ilsa and a sniper rifle that proves without doubt that a Mission: Impossible film can sell mature and seductive with the best of the Bond films.
That's possibly the most amusing achievement of Cruise's series; it's reinvented itself from dry espionage thriller in its first outing into a snappy Americanized version of Ian Fleming's superspy, complete with outsized technology and stuntwork. This one also reminds me of a better Fast and Furious movie, in its willingness to throw absolutely anything at the wall when it counts. There's a more literate voice here than in that franchise, but no less playfulness.
It's not perfect; in the spare instances where CGI is used, it's obvious (a highway motorcycle chase with digital cars and trucks looks appalling, like something mid-budget from 2003). The climax is too hectically cut to make as much of an impact as it should, and Ferguson's Ilsa is convincing within the narrow demands of a role that doesn't let us into her mind nearly as far as it needs to in order to sell the character's development. Still, Rogue Nation is a confident and decisive success as action, as espionage, as chemistry between actors, as an effects piece. It's about as good a film as you could hope for in late summer.