Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Gone Rogue

A few years ago, I found the fourth installment of the Mission: Impossible film series (Ghost Protocol) to be a welcome redirection of a franchise I'd given up on. Now I've checked out the newest movie, Rogue Nation. I'm pleased to say that it continues the momentum.

One of the things Rogue Nation really has going for it is its plot. This story is considerably more focused and coherent than most of the past Impossible movies have been. It's almost James Bond-y, really, hinting at why the studio rushed up the release date to get ahead of the probably-similarly-plotted Spectre. An evil, shadowy organization is responsible for chaos all over the world. Ethan Hunt and his team, without the support of the American government, must prove the existence of this "Rogue Nation" and bring it down.

Many familiar faces return from past films of the franchise. It's a particularly good movie for Simon Pegg, whose returning character Benji Dunn not only serves as comic relief, but gets to participate in multiple field ops and figure dramatically in the movie's climax. And as always, there's plenty of crazy action featuring Tom Cruise. The "hanging off an airplane" gag has gotten a lot of attention in the press, but an underwater sequence in the middle of the film is even more tense.

The new additions to the franchise serve the film well. Rebecca Ferguson is a wonderful action heroine who also convincingly carries most of the movie's drama (though it's a shame she's the only significant woman in the movie; Rogue Nation is no threat to pass the Bechdel test). Alec Baldwin is given a rather one-note role as a bureaucratic obstacle, but he still has fun with it, channeling a sort of serious version of his 30 Rock character Jack Donaghy.

The action falls perhaps a bit short overall of the high thrills of Ghost Protocol. Nevertheless, a backstage-at-the-opera fistfight does entertain, the aforementioned Tom Cruise set pieces definitely work, and a motorcycle chase in the middle of the film is quite exhilarating. Things sometimes do slow down a bit too much between the action pieces, but it's a price I for one am willing to pay for the sake of having a reasonable story.

The movie's main weak spot is in the size of its cast. There aren't exactly a ton of people here (certainly not more than the average superhero tent pole film these days), but it does seem to be more than the movie can handle. The motivations of the main villain are never explored. Ving Rhames feels like he's in a glorified cameo. And Jeremy Renner is wasted for most of the movie behind a desk at HQ.

Nevertheless, the whole comes together pretty well. In fact, I'd say this movie is actually the strongest of the Mission Impossible series by just the smallest of margins. That's more than can be said for just about any franchise on its fifth film, particularly one that's changed writers and directors with every installment. It might have taken them a while to work the kinks out here, but they have something pretty good going now. I rate Rogue Nation a solid B.

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