10 August 2015

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation review

It's easy to be sceptical of Hollywood in the modern day, with 2015 marking the release of the seventh film in the Fast and Furious franchise, the fifth film in the Terminator franchise, the eleventh and twelfth films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and now the fifth film in the Mission: Impossible franchise, alongside a gluttony of reboots and spin-offs that leave little room in the release calendar for new intellectual properties to emerge. Hell, later this year we are going to be seeing the release of the seventh Star Wars film, the fourth Hunger Games film and the twenty fourth(!) Bond movie - critics of this system have a valid argument when they point out an over-reliance on pre-existing properties.

On the other hand, 2015 has been a great year for cinema so far, sequels and all, and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is no exception. Once again we follow IMF agent Ethan Hunt as he attempts to do a mission that some may describe as exceedingly difficult - this time, to prove the existence of The Syndicate, a rogue organisation ("An anti-IMF" in the words of Benji) that have been committing acts of terror all across the globe.

If there is one thing that can be seen as the most positive change that Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol bought to the Mission: Impossible franchise it is the introduction of the ensemble cast, a concept fully embraced by Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. Gone is the sole focus on Ethan Hunt that made both Mission: Impossible 2 and Mission: Impossible 3 so unremarkable, instead replaced by the team dynamic that made Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol the breath of fresh air that is was.

There is also an increase in the amount of thought given to the continuity of the Mission: Impossible franchise in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, the most obvious of which being that the IMF is under investigation after the Kremlin was destroyed in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. The return of Jeremy Renner as William Brandt really helps solidify that connection, meaning that Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation may be the first Mission: Impossible film that really feels like a sequel to other films in the franchise - a decision that may (or may not) have been influenced by the success and popularity of the cinematic universe in cinema recently, and one that only helps Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation feel like part of a much bigger world, the kind of thing I lap up like an over excited puppy.

But that connection to the other films wouldn't mean dick if Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation wasn't a well made film in it's own right, a mistake that we've seen franchise films make in the past when trying to set up a bigger world for sequels to take place in (I'm looking at you, The Amazing Spider-Man 2). Fortunately, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation uses these links to the previous film in the franchise to strengthen it's own story, not as an excuse for a lack of story, and helps make this instalment in the Mission: Impossible franchise one of the strongest yet, a celebration of what has came before in a film that is unabashedly a Mission: Impossible film in everything from structure to tone - and one of the best action films released this year.

From the potentially over advertised but still incredible cold opening to the genuinely tense underwater heist to the low key, high stakes finale in the back alleys of London, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation manages to weave it's narrative and sense of character into each and every one of it's many impressive set pieces, never having to put the story on hold in order to allow an action scene to happen. Interestingly, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is notable for forgoing the usual sense of escalation that action films usually obey, opening with the most spectacular scene in the film and getting slowly smaller from then on. Director Chris McQuarrie clearly understands the importance of action having meaning, giving each of these set pieces their own unique stakes as well as a real reason for them to happen which allows the film to thrive as it slowly scales down.

We all already know that Tom Cruise is great as Ethan Hunt (I don't think he's ever given less than 100% in any film he's been in), but it's worth mentioning the small amount of development allowed to the character in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. He isn't just the infallible super spy any more - he's still a living legend of the IMF, but we see him get nervous before attempting something dangerous, and we see him struggling as he tries to deal with the punishment he puts his body through after one particularly harrowing sequence. He feels more real now, more vulnerable, and that not only helps the audience care more about him but also allows newcomer Ilsa Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson) to feel like just as big a deal as he is - here is a character in the Mission: Impossible franchise who can finally go toe to toe with Ethan, actually upstaging him at least once during the films run time and being something of a bad ass in general.

I also really enjoyed the role that William Brandt and Luther Stickell end up taking on in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, becoming something of a second line support team for Ethan, Benji and Ilsa. The two of them work better as supporting characters than they do main members of the team, and going forward I hope the Mission: Impossible franchise recognises that. It's also worth mentioning how much I enjoyed Alec Baldwin as Alan Hunley, the Chief Director of the CIA, in this film - at one stage his character delivers a ridiculously over the top speech about how awesome Ethan Hunt is, and sells it completely.

Minor issues with the somewhat forgettable main antagonist and the films potentially lengthy run time aside, there is nearly nothing that I didn't enjoy about Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. After just 19 years(!) the Mission: Impossible franchise is finally finding it's feet for real, delivering two movies in a row that aren't just good, but excel at everything they attempt to do and feel elegant while doing it. Alas, Mad Max: Fury Road still holds the title of Best Action Film 2015 title for now (and realistically, the foreseeable future), but Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is still a great movie that is more than worthy of both your time and money, and a film that could single-handedly serve as proof that this age of the extended franchise doesn't have to be a bad one.

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