The Mission: Impossible movie franchise has allowed each director to bring their own personal style to an impossible mission, and Rogue Nation is decidedly the most Christopher McQuarrie Mission: Impossible we’ve seen. It’s got all the action spectacle of a Mission: Impossible but gives the spectacle more weight.
Considering Tom Cruise hanging from the plane is the climax of the trailer, and is the film’s poster image, you might be pleased to know it’s actually the opening of the film. That’s how badass this movie is. They can start with Tom Cruise hanging from a plane and have every confidence that the rest of the movie is even more awesome. Even James Bond movies sometimes show their hand in the pre-title sequence (cough Goldeneye cough).
The mission is an old school terrorist plot with some added complications. Government oversight has empowered the CIA led by Henley (Alec Baldwin) to absorb the IMF and call for Ethan Hunt (Cruise) to come in. Hunt’s used to being disavowed though, so the bigger complication is Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a British agent who has infiltrated The Syndicate, and her cooperation may only be setting a deeper trap for Hunt.
These duplicitous elements lead to action setups where McQuarrie lays out all the Hitchcockian suspense players. The setup is sexy and stylish too, like Ilsa in a leggy Mrs. Robinson pose as she sets up a sniper position. Everyone is there to do something, and Hunt can’t take out one without setting off a chain, and he couldn’t take them all out in time. The choice he does make allows us to see the critical thinking Hunt employs. I mean, you know his choice is going to be right because if he’s wrong there’s no movie, but it’s still fun to mess with Ethan Hunt.
Action with memorable choices is better than any CGI. Whether performing opera parkour, underwater hacking or vehicular tag, the set pieces come down to the choices the characters make. It’s not just breaking out of cuffs, it’s he gets a key and still can’t reach the lock so he has to do some Jackie Chan moves. Actually, a lot of Rogue Nation is a testament to Cruise’s upper body strength. Most of us would be dead if we had to depend on our arms to pull ourselves out of those perils. I’m sure there could have been some CGI assistance or wire removal. The point is it’s constructed to look like a human feat, not a superhuman one.
Most of the action is not scored by music. It’s scored by Hunt’s heartbeat, or the revving of engines. The opera parkour scene is scored by the opera, which isn’t a first, but here it’s not even a juxtaposition so much as the opera gets drowned out by the action. Very cool.
In addition to questioning the very nature of the IMF, Rogue Nation also explores the physical toll these exploits take on Ethan. Often when an action movie tries to show real consequences, it means they get dour and show psychological turmoil. McQuarrie and Cruise are able to show consequences to the hero’s heroics and still be fun.
The frame doesn’t open up to full IMAX this time but that’s okay because McQuarrie uses the 2.35 frame so brilliantly. There’s a lot of looking over the shoulder espionage so that’s what the empty space is for, but the space is often filled with just the elements that will convey the scene more powerfully than simply showing it all in a wide shot.
It’s great to see all the IMF team get something to do and do their usual best, but Ferguson is a revelation to me. Usually when a character plays both sides they really show their hand which side they’re really on. Ilsa is a true wild card and an equally vital asset to both sides. Tom Cruise is at his best having fun at high stakes. Franchise Fred approves big time.
Since Rogue Nation was shot on film, you can still see the gritty film grain in the HD picture. It’s still sharp and establishing shots are clear, like in Cuba and Minsk. The whole film maintains a golden brown tint, like a desert epic. Rebecca Ferguson is on fleek in HD.
There are several bonus features, all under 10 minutes and all fairly standard as it goes with big studio blockbusters. They isolate a few standout sequences and recap the plot in others. McQuarrie and Cruise give a detailed commentary scene by scene. I respect McQ’s reluctant philosophy about handheld photography, given I rarely can stomach the style and his use of it was good in Rogue Nation. I’m happy to hear there’s as complicated a story behind Ferguson’s shoes which are so central to the action!