Review – Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation

MIOnce is chance, twice is a coincidence, and the third time is a pattern.  We’re at the coincidence point in 2015 with blockbusters featuring a female character as the genuine lead while the male is splashed across posters.  It began with Mad Max Fury Road and continues with Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.  The difference is Fury Road found harmony in the imbalance.  Rogue Nation flounders its time by focusing on the male
B-plot of a lady spy movie glimpsed through a masculine perspective.

The lady of the moment is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an unknown operative whose loyalties map out like a spider weaving a web on acid.  She’s part of an organisation called The Syndicate – led by Sean Harris, whose evil extends to a turtle-neck shirt, that’s it – which Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is tasked with ending using his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) buddies (Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames).

Co-writer and director Christopher McQuarrie’s dedication to showing the meandering male perspective of Rogue Nation is tiring despite his eye for Cruise driven action.  Rogue Nation embraces Cruise at his peak Cruise-ness: the running, the magnificent hair and a crazy eyes shouting scene.  McQuarrie feigns a self-awareness as if attempting to emulate the Fast and Furious franchise’s dedication to dumb fun, but Rogue Nation lacks the confidence to commit in fear of sacrificing Cruise at the altar of self-parody.

The opening sequence is the closest McQuarrie gets to something tangible with Cruise introduced in full sprint, jumping onto a moving aircraft, dangling off it, and then, with a shrug, parachuting out the back of the plane strapped to a payload of nuclear weapons.  With composer Joe Kraemer’s wonderful take on the Mission: Impossible theme added to this sequence, it’s bliss, but short lived.  Everything that follows is lethargic and repetitive for a spy franchise five films deep.  A majority of the heavy lifting is done by Kraemer’s theme that would make the live-feed of your uncle doing his tax return seem thrilling.  There are car chases that turn into motorcycle chases (drink if you’re playing Cruise bingo) as well as an opera sequence that evokes imagery from filmmaker Eugenio Mira’s Grand Piano.

Out of action mode the men stand around talking, and planning, and taking, thanks to an exposition heavy script from McQuarrie and co-writer Drew Pearce.  At one point during a conversation, the head of the CIA (Alex Baldwin) says, “I don’t understand”.  Using a character to telegraph the audiences’ thoughts has never been lazier and made worse when everything has already been over explained.  If action is pure cinema, which is the big selling point of Rogue Nation, then McQuarrie and Pearce’s script is the antithesis to it.

Adding vibrancy is Ferguson who provides intrigue and touch of effortless old school Hollywood glamour to every scene – Jen Yamato from the Daily Beast has already crowned her the Second Coming of Lauren Bacall.  The echo chamber of the male dominated action when she’s absent is deafening.  One extended underwater set-piece shows Hunt complete his mission but he nearly drowns and is rescued by Ilsa.  Again, this is hinting at that alternate universe female spy movie shining through the cracks of Rogue Nation.  There’s not even a moment for Hunt to have an existential crisis over his new status as a dude in dire straits.  Rogue Nation constantly reverts the perspective back to the male gaze and we see Ilsa’s actions through the veil of masculinity.  Ferguson’s Ilsa provides the spark while illuminating the stale elements of Rogue Nation; it’s a blessing and a curse.  There’s a compelling thought that Cruise, the embodiment of all-American hero, is becoming redundant within his own film but it’s never explored or is it tabled for compassion.  The spectacle is the gloss, and it’s an enticing honeypot, but Rogue Nation is a dog-eared, virile action film that’s lucky to have Ferguson as a saving grace.


Cameron Williams

The Popcorn Junkie