Tom Cruise goes Tom Cruise all over this Tom Cruise stunt-filled Tom Cruise movie.
It’s bizarre to think that that Tom Cruise managed to will an old TV series into a film franchise that’s kept trucking for 19 years and counting. Yet, here we are with a fifth Mission: Impossible movie that’s really starting to show it’s franchise fatigue. Thus far, the series has thrived on hiring distinct directors like Brian DePalma, John Woo, JJ Abrams, and Brad Bird to each bring their own unique take on Cruise’s cartoon espionage adventures. Unfortunately, this time Cruise saddled the franchise with Christopher McQuarrie, a talented screenwriter without much of a directorial voice. Aside from piling plot twists on top of plot twists and taking everything far too seriously, McQuarrie doesn’t have much of a stamp to lend to Rogue Nation. As a result, the latest episode in the Tom Cruise spy show feels a little tedious.
Things kick off with that big Tom Cruise-tied-to-a-plane stunt that you’ve heard so much about. There’s no denying that the stunt is impressive, but the sequence drops with no set up or pay off. It’s just a cool idea that everyone had to start the movie despite the fact that it has nothing to do with anything else. That’s sort of the problem with Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation as a whole. The set pieces are fun and intricately designed, while the plot is just a bunch of espionage gobbledygook barely holding it all together. Granted aside from the first Robert Towne scripted movie, the M:I flicks haven’t exactly been renowned from their intricate plotting. But given that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie has an Oscar for screenwriting, you’d hope the movie would play a little smoother than this.
Nope, not so much. The plot is something to do with an international rogue organization of former spies called The Syndicate, which Tom Cruise (well, he’s named technically named Ethan Hunt, but let’s be honest the character never had a personality beyond being Tom Cruise) know exists and is determined to stop. Unfortunately, the big CIA boss man Alec Baldwin won’t hear of it and after a series of mix-em-ups, Tom Cruise ends up having to go rogue to save the world (you know, like the other Mission: Impossible movies). He stumbles onto an agent within the syndicate played by the delightful discovery Rebecca Ferguson (seriously, she’s great) who helps give him info on super-duper Syndicate baddie Sean Harris. Then one-by-one Cruise collects his teammates Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner to help out. Crosses turn into double crosses, which then turn into triple crosses until eventually the only person who knows what’s going on is Cruise, who has to both save his reputation and the world (but oddly, not get the girl in this weirdly asexual spy movie).
The good news is that the set pieces never cease to deliver, whether it’s a wild motorcycle chase through the mountains or an underwater spin on the dangling list-stealing sequence from M:I 1. There’s a great deal of fun to be had there, mixing some fantastic stuntwork with just enough CGI to bend reality without breaking it. Cruise does his thing fairly well, furrowing his brow either comedically or dramatically when required and pulling of some pretty great action n’ fight scenes for a 50something. Simon Pegg tosses in some befuddled British comedy charm, Ferguson delivers a sexy and tough as nails spy companion, Renner stands around in the frame with intent, and Ving Rhames tilts his hat sideways while sitting in front of a series of laptops (so you know he’s cool). Beyond that, everyone in the cast just spits out dialogue without emotion or wit, going through the motions because this movie requires a plot between all of the chases, explosions, star-gazing, and sight-seeing.
It’s no surprise to learn that Rogue Nation went into production without an ending. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if all that had been decided were the set pieces and cast list before the cameras started rolling. There’s a dry and dreary functionary nature to all of the dialogue and plotting that’s a real letdown. It’s not just meaningless, but executed without joy. Sure, there are dramatic speeches and plot-twists a plenty, yet none of it adds up to much. That was true of Ghost Protocol as well, but at least Brad Bird gave the whole movie such a heightened cartoony zeal that the plot didn’t matter, it was just a necessary excuse to continue the zaniness. In Rogue Nation, McQuarrie attempts to give the movie the dour feeling of a Bourne movie, only without any of the pointed politics or paranoia required to pull it off.
This M:I fivequel is still fluff, only now its sombre and stern-faced fluff that’s hard to take seriously. By the time Alec Baldwin earnestly delivers one of the most ludicrous lines in blockbuster history near the climax, the audience is guaranteed to burst out laughing. Not because they should laugh at that line, but because they’re desperate for an excuse to laugh at such a silly spy movie wrongfully pitched with po-faced sincerity. Hopefully if the Mission: Impossible franchise continues Cruise will spend a little more time developing the script and hire a director who knows it’s all supposed to be fun. To be fair, there are times when Rogue Nation is quite fun, it’s just a shame that none of the filmmakers or actors get a chance to share in that fun with the stunt guys.
While I might not have loved Rogue Nation as much as most critics and audiences seemed to, I can’t deny that the Blu-ray is a stone cold stunner. From that crazy Cruise-on-a-plane opening on, the images explode off the screen. The palate is muted, but the colors allowed into the frames pop, while depth and clarity are absolutely stunning. Even better is the lossless soundmix, which will make even a pair of headphones feel like an immersive theatrical experience. Love or loath the movie, the disc is undeniably a home theater showpiece.
The special feature section also comes through with some great additions, serving up separate featurettes for each of the major physical action scenes, as well as backslapping featurettes for McQuarrie, Cruise, and the franchise as a whole. Once again, this could have easily been compiled into a single 40-minute making of doc, but that’s just not how major studio Blu-rays work anymore. However, for those looking for something with a bit more meat on it, there is a fantastic audio commentary with Cruise and McQuarrie that answers virtually every question one could have about making their film. It’s rare for a star like Cruise to record a commentary, so that makes the track worth a listen for novelty value alone, especially when he goes off on his patented over-enthusiastic rants.
Does it Deserve a Spot On Your Dork Shelf?
A fantastic disc that those who loved Rogue Nation should drool over, even if I’m sadly not one of those droolers.
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