Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible-Rogue Nation (2015): Christopher McQuarrie

Have you ever wondered, does the Impossible Missions Force work missions deemed possible? Or are they just hanging out, working out, playing cards, and such, for years at a time, between impossible missions? The fifth installment in the Mission: Impossible series sort of answers these questions. But can anyone answer this question: why did the original show give the IMF the same acronym as the International Monetary Fund?

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: Ethan Hunt, disavowed by the U.S. government, goes rogue to destroy a shadow group called The Syndicate.

Hero (5/10)

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) returns for a fifth mission of impossible proportions. Hunt is a very active member of the spy community. He’s a guy willing to hang from a plane door just to save a few VX gas warheads. No big deal. When he receives the debrief from that mission, it turns out that The Syndicate set him up. Hunt is pissed, but he’s always a little pissed off. In most missions, Hunt knows what he’s doing, but in Rogue Nation he runs around seemingly at the whim of Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), nefarious leader of The Syndicate. This is unusual for Hunt, but he doesn’t seem to mind. And, we learn at the end, he knew what Lane was building toward, but we never learn when Hunt figured it out. Mysterious guy, that Hunt.

Hunt is even more machine-like in his pursuit than in previous outings. Consider his time Morocco. He nearly drowns in the water chamber/large hard drive. Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has to restart his heart with paddles. Only minutes later he gets behind the wheel of a BMW and starts chasing Faust and avoiding other motorcycles. Hunt tried to enter the vehicle by leaping over it, only to stumble. Still, a Hunt recently dead, as Benji (Simon Pegg) points out, considers himself a better driver than Benji, who did not recently have his heart restarted. The fact that we believe Hunt’s version is telling.

So they zoom along the streets until Hunt flies off a hillside and the car flips multiple times, landing on its top. Hunt gets out, and, barely saying a word to his buddies Brandt and Luther, who have just saved his life, fires up a motorcycle and speeds away after Faust. He dispatches/avoids the other goons, only to crash instead of running Faust down. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s one drowning, one car crash, and one motorcycle crash in about fifteen minutes. Is he injured? No. Any PTSD? What’s that? Maybe a thank you card for his buddies? Shops were closed.

Ethan Hunt, man AND machine. Tom Cruise is just the guy (and maybe the only guy) to pull off this character. Hunt exudes all the grim seriousness of James Bond without any of his playful banter. I like Hunt, I think, but I might really just be liking Cruise.

Villain (3/10)

The Syndicate strikes early in Rogue Nation and they strike at Hunt and with their best weapon. Solomon Lane, who resembles a cross between Steve Jobs and Grumpy Cat, shows up to a London record store to gas Hunt and force him to watch Lane display his distaste for the sonic recordings of the past by killing one of its sellers. He wears black turtlenecks and has a huge ego. Heck, maybe he IS Steve Jobs. Lane’s Syndicate consists of people officially dead. Just. Like. Jobs.

Lane’s motivations are, like his favorite knockout gas, unclear. We believe he needs money to continue his crusade against the Western world governments that created him and his brethren, but we only believe that because Hunt tells us. In all the scenes with Lane, we only know that he murders his men for little reason, but spares his women for every reason. Guy shows off like high school jocks running lunch rooms.

Lane is highly skilled in obfuscation. He needs the hard drive sitting in a digital vault in Morocco, but Hunt is the only guys who can steal. Lane manages to conceal the contents of the drive from everyone working on it, all while convincing them they absolutely need it. He even convinces Hunt to kidnap the UK Prime Minister in front of the Director of the CIA. Guy’s got balls, ones almost as big as Hunt’s.

Lane’s downfall comes when he believes that Hunt could memorize a billion digits in minutes. Hunt claims that he’s memorized all the bank account numbers for billions of dollars worth of secret funds. Lane’s seen too many movies. Hunt is just a man, man. How could he possibly do that? Hunt did memorize at least one account, and he writes it on a napkin, proving that he knows them all.

Lane is forced to capture Hunt himself. He finally ventures into the field to hunt Hunt, exactly what Hunt wanted. Hunt runs around the streets for a little while until he approaches a hole in the ground. He “trips” and falls into a basement/loading dock area, where the IMF team has concocted a box of bulletproof glass. How do we know it’s bulletproof? Because Lane shoots it, wisely, to test its strength. The glass doesn’t break, so he shoots it a lot more, right at Hunt’s face, and inches from his own. Those bullets have to go somewhere, Lane! They don’t lodge in the glass, so they just ricochet inside the tiny box. It’s a wonder he didn’t shoot himself.

Action/Effects (8/10)

Ho ho whoa! Terrific action sequences abound in this movie. The film opens on a grassy field we are lead to believe is Minsk, Belarus, which serves as that nation’s capital, which means they have a strange sense of architecture in Eastern Europe. The IMF team is trying to prevent the takeoff of an extremely large plane with a certain “package” aboard. Team members are spread across the globe, but no one knows where Hunt is. The plane taxis down the runway, and I’m telling you this thing is gigantic, like if a passenger jet suddenly filled with pus. The package is aboard, and they can’t shut the engines. This is bad. But there’s Hunt! He’s running, wearing his best Tom Ford, and he’s jumping onto the wing. The plane is still going. Benji is trying to open the door. Hunt is gripping the door. The plane takes off. Tom Cruise is actually hanging from a plane flying in the air. This is awesome! Benji finally opens the correct door and Cruise flies inside, nearly falling out the cargo bay door. A goon comes back to check the doors, only to find Hunt strapping himself to the weapons package and removing it from the plane. Roll credits.

That scene had nothing to do with the plot. The producers (Cruise was one of them) decided, I guess, to have Cruise dangle from the side a plane because it was cool. Action scenes were copious enough that they could use one for no reason other than to see it happen.

Halfway through the movie, on the streets of Morocco, we are treated to a terrific motorcycle chase. Let’s narrate. Aptly named Ilsa Faust, MI-6 rogue agent, steals a special hard drive from Hunt, who stole it from a highly secure swimming pool. She uses a bike to zoom through Casablanca’s streets. Hunt chases her in a BMW. A bunch of Syndicate goons chase Hunt and Faust on bikes of their own. Hunt first has to fend off the goons, who shoot at him a lot, with some crazy driving tricks, including a 360-degree, high-speed turn in a narrow alley that pins two bikes to opposite walls. As soon as he’s rid the roads of the goons, Hunt careens over a canal, flipping the car several times and landing on on the roof. The camera, from Hunt’s POV, shows one last goon pull up beside him, step off, and saunter toward Hunt, gun drawn, until–BAM. IMF member Brandt (Jeremy Renner) smashes into him with the truck.

Brandt and Luther (under-used Ving Rhames) extract Hunt and Benji from the wrecked car. They all see Faust speeding away on the freeway, chased by more goons.  “Oh no, she got away,” everyone thinks. But not Hunt. Though he has endured a horrific car crash and nearly drowned in the last fifteen minutes, he has the presence of mind to nab the dead goon’s two-wheeler and take off after them. The freeway is full of cars and trucks, but these BMW bikes handle really well. Have you thought about buying one? Hunt dodges the gunshots from the goons and the cars and trucks. The road creeps into the mountains as he tails Faust. Throughout we are treated to terrific mounted camera shots of the bikes driving and even some POV shots. Once Hunt dispatches the goons he has only to chase Faust, until she rounds a bend, gets off her bike, and appears in the road, forcing Hunt to crash. Solid move, Ilsa. Now the scene is over.

Hanging from a plane is worth three points on its own. Add this chase scene, good fight sequences, and top-notch camera work, and you get a high score.

Sidekicks (5/8)

The IMF works outside the government in Rogue Nation. Renner reprises his role as William Brandt: agency spook/punchable face. I can’t stand Renner in these good guy roles. He looks like the sixth-year college senior who tried to steal your girlfriend, or the 28-year-old still hanging out a frat parties. I can’t handle him.

Rhames is almost a forgotten man this time around. He shows at just the right moments to provide just the right amount of help, and only if he cares enough. Luther has checked out of the spy business, it seems, and is only in it for Hunt. But does Hunt ever say, “Thanks, gang, for all you do for me. I’m having a barbecue at my house Saturday, if you can stop by.” No, he doesn’t, so I can see why Luther might have lost interest in hanging out with Ethan all the time.

Benji Dunn receives much more screen time in Rogue Nation. He’s the tech guy, so he spends a lot of time in closets and back rooms. But, in a surprise reversal of roles, he infiltrates the secure digital vault in Morocco, while Hunt hacks the security profile. Benji cracks the jokes as before, and he delivers the humor we need in the silly exercise this movie is.

The real star is Ilsa Faust, played by Swedish actor Rebecca Ferguson. Faust’s character is as impenetrable as that famous CIA vault from Mission: Impossible. Faust is a member of the MI-6, something we don’t learn until after she has helped Hunt escape from his London torture chamber and after she tried to kill the Austrian Chancellor. Whose side is she on? That question could function as the subtitle of this movie. Faust was sent to infiltrate The Syndicate by a defence minister named Atlee, the man who created it, where she would gain the trust of Lane and get some names out of it. Lane of course figures this out, and he sends her to gain Hunt’s trust so they can steal the money Lane needs to fund his acts of kind-of-state-sponsored terror. So Faust is forced to lie to everyone and have everyone lie to her. The surprise is that she actual feels remorse for the course of her life, and is not simply a goon or killing machine. Told you it was a hard role.

Henchmen (3/8)

Lane is a man with a plan, and a lot of goons to carry out his dirty work. Many of these men were your classic nefarious big guys with good fighting skills. Janek Vinter seems to be Lane’s No. 2, and he has the strong chin for the role. He fights Faust in London, with a knife, but she outwits him and kills him. I can’t remember if he has any lines. The other guys are even more forgettable, except for having really evil-looking faces. Such guys often come from the ruined states of Eastern Europe, and rarely do we know more than that.

Stunts (5/6)

Tom Cruise is famous for his stunt work. “He does all his stunts,” goes the common refrain. Well he does ‘em again in this movie, and he doesn’t let you down. His stunts soar over the rest, because he literally soars. I’ve already discussed that opening scene, in which he leaps onto a plane wing, slides down it, and grips a side door. Hunt yells at Benji the whole time to open the door. (You have one job, Benji. One job!) The plane takes off before the door opens. The camera work excels. Affixed to the wing, it never blinks during the plane’s takeoff and ascent. That really is Tom Cruise dangling from a plane and that really is a plane flying. I remember pictures surfacing of Cruise practicing this stunt early in 2014. It’s great advertising, and makes for a hell of a great scene.

As the plane ascends, Hunt bellows for the door’s opening. Benji succeeds…in opening the cargo bay door. “The other door,” Hunt screams, still clinging to the side door which, when opened, flings our hero into the plane’s hold and nearly out the cargo bay. The goons get wind of these open doors, and one checks the hold to find Hunt strapping himself to the weapons onboard before releasing them, and him. All this for an unnecessary scene. The door-hanging stunt required eight takes, and only a strap secured to his waist prevent Cruise form falling to one of the most expensive write-offs in insurance history.

Just as praise-worthy are the fights. Standing out is the sequence in the Vienna Opera House. Hunt follows (chase is too hasty a word in this case) an assassin through the Authorized Personnel Only areas of the building. As you might expect in a five-story building, the Opera House uses many nooks, crannies, alleys, and spiral staircases that can obscure assassins. Hunt, with Benji’s help, locates the goon atop a row of lights, as he prepares to kill the Austrian Chancellor. Hunt leaps onto the swinging platform, one or two feet wide, and picks a fight. The man then rises to his full height, and he’s a Jaws-like head-and-a-half above Hunt (showing his shortness is something Cruise NEVER does in his movies). They engage in fisticuffs, all on a narrow, swinging platform high above the stage, and they must remain quiet so the show can go on. Hunt uses a curtain to stop a knife thrust, and somehow manages to jump on the guy’s back on the swinging balance beam.

Faust engages Janik in a knife fight in the misty, column-filled streets of London. She, and her knife, are outsized by Janik and his knife. Agility is her key to victory, and she uses it to dodge the slashes and swipes of Janik. Finally, in a move echoing Hunt’s dispatching of the tall assassin from the opera, she leaps onto Janik’s shoulders and plunges her knife into his chest.

One key scene has Hunt free-diving into a large cooling chamber full of water to exchange a security card for another. The whole process shuts down if any metal gets inside. “No oxygen tanks,” Hunt muses for the audience, er, the other two people planning the heist. He has to hold his breath for three minutes, and only his Nike Fitbit Adidas Apple Body iSkin can tell him just how much oxygen remains in his blood. Lemme tell y’all; he goes in the red. But not before we are treated to some extended takes of Hunt swimming in the chamber. I thought a lot of CGI was used, but I’m no expert.

Climax (4/6)

It all started in London for Hunt, and so there it ends. Hunt has captured the red box, a flash drive so encrypted that only the voice, hand, and retinal scans of the Prime Minister of the UK can access. Most Redboxes cost $2/night; what do you think this one costs? Hey-oh! The IMF does not know what’s on the drive, only that Lane will kill Benji if he does not receive the information.

What’s a disgraced IMF agent to do? Kidnap the Prime Minister. The job is easily done, if you have the right face mask printing tools (unveiled in M:I3) and a little patch to put on your throat that exactly mimics the voice of the person you are impersonating. Hunt has these tools. He poses as Atlee, who we know to be a big ol’ jerk. With Renner’s help luring the CIA director to London, Hunt-as-Atlee lures the PM to a secluded room. He shoots him with a truth-serum dart and gets all the scans he needs to break into that red box. Some people just want to watch Marine 4 without paying for it. Meanwhile, the real Atlee arrives, as summoned, into the room. The guards are a little daft about the whole thing. Everybody goes in and gets shot with some more truth darts. The real Atlee admits that he created The Syndicate, and has been trying ever since to eradicate the evidence. Too bad Hunt has that evidence now, nearly 2.4 billion pounds of untraceable funds scattered across the the world’s most nefarious banks. There’s a lot of these banks.

Red box open, PM alive, CIA convinced of The Syndicate’s existence. Bing bang boom. All that’s left now is to pick up Benji. Hey, there he is, sitting at an outdoor restaurant chatting with Faust. Hunt asks, more or less, “Benji, how ya doi–oh my God, is that bomb strapped to your chest?” It is, and if he moves it’ll blow up. And if the time runs out, it’ll blow up. That Grumpy Cat is VERY angry. Hunt is given two choices. In each he dies, but if he gives up the cash to Lane only he dies. Tough bargain. Our hero looks solemnly into Benji’s camera-covered eye. And he brings down the hammer. (Following quotes paraphrased.) “You see, Lane, I always knew we’d get to this point,” he says. “I memorized the disk. here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you $50,000,000 to let Benji go.” Hunt scribbles one of the codes and shows it to Lane. It works. Lane disarms the bomb and everyone is saved. Hooray! Did Hunt memorize the codes? There were dozens of codes, each dozens of digits long. Lane must have known that, and, despite Hunt’s superhuman abilities, I don’t think he can flash memorize thousands of digits. But he DID destroy the red box with a drill.

That would be the movie’s end, but they still need to catch Lane. Hunt is bait, with the billion-digit codes in his head, and he leads Lane right into a glass box, which he gases, sealing Lane to his fate.

Jokes (2/4)

The IMF’s major crime is taking itself too seriously. Part of this is the fault of having Cruise, the least funny movie star, maybe ever, as the lead. Grantland, during its Rogue Nation-inspired Cruise Week, asked, in the lead sentence of an article concerning his humor, “Is Tom Cruise funny?” He ain’t funny in this one.

But that’s why they brought in Simon Pegg. He shines in this installment. He echoes John McClane, lying in an air duct, when he says, “Join the IMF and see the world. On a screen. From a closet.”

Hunley toes the line of comedy when he tells the Prime Minister, “Sir, Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny.” That’s right, after two hundred years of searching, America finally has its true Manifest Destiny–Ethan Hunt.

Setting (4/4)

The IMF gallivants about the world in Rogue Nation like never before. Vienna, Casablanca, Minsk, London, Washington, Malaysia, London again: all these locations appear in the film. It’s a bit exhaustin3g, and I only watched them in the movie. No one ever gets jet lagged.

The movie’s best setting is the Vienna Opera House. Hunt pursues some leads for the Syndicate’s next plot, to a showing of Turnadot. He coerces Benji to join him, making him think he’d won tickets to the show. Hunt and Benji both arrive in sharp tuxedos. But guess who else is there–nefarious bulky men in uniform. Yeah, and guess who else is there. The Austrian Chancellor. Bum bum BUM! He isn’t supposed to be there. But that’s OK, because the IMF team, or rather two members of the team, or rather two rogue members of the disavowed team, are on the scene.

If you are thinking of the Tosca scene from Quantum of Solace, that’s no accident. They are both Puccinis, for crying out loud. That was a terrific scene in an average Bond film that the producers of Rogue Nation were wise to mimic. Tosca was a brief scene, but Turnadot is long, and in a beautiful building. With Benji’s help, Hunt follows one particular goon who carries a rifle disguised as a flute-like instrument. And follows. And follows. Hunt does a lot of following during the opera. Such scenes challenge a director, because who cares about some guys walking around? But if the walking around is set to an opera, well, now things are more interesting. As Hunt tracks his prey, a large uniformed man–Lookout, babe in yellow dress alert! She distracts Hunt, because she might be the same woman who helped him escape The Syndicate in London. It is her, and she’s creeping around backstage as well, like maybe she wants to shoot the Austrian Chancellor. (What did this guy do?)

Hunt confronts the tall guy on a swinging light mount dozens of feet above the stage. While Hunt battles the tall guy, Faust (it is the woman from London) sets up inside a piece of the set and prepares her disguised rifle. Meanwhile, the uniformed man from much earlier in the scene enters the production room and kills the sound and light geeks. He sets up a machine gun. He’s gonna kill the Chancellor too. Everybody has it in for this guy. All the while sopranos and tenors are bounding around the theater, singing about Turnadot. Operas are terrific for heightening tension, and the filmmakers used that tension perfectly. Hunt dispatches the tall guy, only to finally notice the other two assassins in the theater. Who will he shoot? He shoots the Chancellor on the climactic note, saving his life. Great scene.

Much like the series’s fourth installment, Cruise swings from a famous building. The Vienna Opera House is a tad shorter than Burj Dubai, yet still high enough for him to die. Also an easy place to die: enclosed water chambers. The sound in that scene was terrific, like listening to a fetus in the womb.

Commentary (1/2)

Brandt and CIA Director Hunley twice meet with a Congressional Subcommittee on Spy Shit, a group of old white men who do not look unlike the Nine Kings of Men who accepted Sauron’s rings of power. Hunley wants to shut down the IMF, based on the group’s reckless actions from the previous Mission: Impossible movie. Hunley, and perhaps most Americans, believe such tactics are unnecessary in today’s cyber threat, terror cell world. Hunley succeeds, but to the detriment of America, because Our Enemies are still out there, still trying to do us harm. Hunt tracks them down, foils their plot, proves that the world still needs the IMF, and Hunley agrees. America, we need the IMF!

Offensiveness (0/-2)

I think this movie came off pretty well.

Others

  • (-2) Awful shooting from bad guys. At one point Hunt escapes down a narrow corridor. Two goons approach him, firing machine guns, and miss. Hunt was barely twenty yards away, and these guys were former secret agents, supposedly every bit the equals of the IMF’s. This is 2015; I expect and demand better shooting from bad guys. If this was the original TV show I’d let it slide. But I could have killed Hunt easily in that instance, and I’ve never shot a gun in my life.
Summary (38/68): 56%

The impossible missions keep piling up, and the crew continues to set the bar in stunts. I love it. Cruise is a terrific actor, one who gets less credit than he deserves. He’s one of Hollywood’s all-time great stars, and we should remember that while he’s still out, working his butt off, protecting our homeland.