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Friday, August 7, 2015

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

How the hell is this series still going so strong?!

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

As the MIF are disbanded as a government agency and Ethan Hunt is discredited by his superiors, Hunt and his team go rogue to stop a covert organization called the Syndicate and its shadowy leader, Solomon Lane.

What we thought

Four sequels in and the Mission Impossible franchise shows no sign whatsoever of slowing down, even as it has started to feel more and more like America's (very impressive) answer to James Bond, rather than anything to do with the original TV series. Rogue Nation may not quite be the best of series (its ludicrously mad predecessor still holds that particular honour) but it remains an exceptionally entertaining thrill ride that will have you clamouring for round six.

Sticking to the series' accidental tradition of having a new director for each film, Christopher McQuarrie takes the helm this time as both director and co-writer; teaming up for the third time with Tom Cruise after Jack Reacher and the criminally under-seen Edge of Tomorrow. McQuarrie doesn't exactly have a spotless CV as he his name is attached to such cinematic disasters as Jack the Giant Slayer and, heaven help us, The Tourist, but his work here, both as a writer and director, is incredibly assured and he easily fits right in where Brian De Palma, John Woo, JJ Abrams and Brad Bird left off. His directorial style is significantly less singular than those who came before him but there is still something to be said for the level of sheer solidness and professionalism he brings to the film, in everything from the intricate plotting to the strong characterization to the tremendously fun (not to mention coherent and easy to follow) set pieces.

Effectively a mix of the pure espionage of the first film and the over-the-top action of the later films, Rogue Nation may put off some of the series' newer fans with the way it leavens its thrilling action set pieces with more talky spy stuff, but I, for one, enjoyed the ebb and flow of the film's structure. Similarly, there have been complaints, both by my fellow South African critics and our overseas counterparts that the film is badly paced, with the film's stop-start final act being far less climactic than the really mind-blowing action sequences in the earlier parts of the film but, though I certainly understand that complaint on paper, I would be lying if I said I was ever bored in the film's undoubtedly indulgent 130-minute running time.

And why would I be when there's so much to enjoy? For a start, the film boasts by far the best female character in the series to date, in the very lovely form of Rebecca Ferguson as the aptly (too aptly?) named Ilsa Faust, a femme fatale whose allegiances are never all that clear but who is nonetheless a very sympathetic character and a kick ass counterpoint to Cruise and the boys. And, even if Ms Ferguson is the only truly novel addition to the series, it's hard to complain when all the Mission Impossible components that we're very used to by now, are executed as well as they are here.

The plot itself, for example, is very much par for the course for the series and has been used in countless other spy stories, but it still easily engages and even occasionally surprises nonetheless. Besides, there's a reason why it has been reused so many times: there's just something about veteran spies being basically betrayed by their country, even as they try and protect that same country that just... works. As, in fact do our by now quite familiar characters, who may never stray too far from cliché but are immensely likeable nonetheless - with Simon Pegg once again stealing the show and providing much of the biggest laughs as the ultra-competent but goofy and loveable comedy side kick.

But, of course, this film – like the rest of the series – is really all about Tom Cruise. He once again proves to be one of the few true-blue movie stars out there, while further disproving any preconceived notions of what a fifty-three year old man is physically capable of, as he once again performs some really breathtaking stunts. There isn't anything here quite like the Burj Khalifa sequence from the previous film, except for, you know, that bit where Cruise hangs onto the outside of an aeroplane as it takes flight! That well publicised stunt actually opens the film and though nothing quite reaches that level in the next couple of hours, there's still enough crazy driving stunts, daring escapes and surprise triple-crosses to keep fans more than happy – and that's before we get to the watery riff on the first movie's most famous scene.


And, really, being this effortlessly crowd-pleasing is nothing to sneeze at. Nor, for that matter, is the fact that this is a franchise where its fifth instalment is every bit as good, if not better, than its first. The non-converted may scoff at the very thought, but here's to the next five Mission Impossible movies.     

  

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