Box Office Democracy: “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a very good spy action movie. It expands and builds on the previous entries in the series although sometimes in ways I’m not entirely sure are necessary but it’s consistently compelling and visually interesting, often funny, it checks every box I would put on a hypothetical action movie checklist. Unfortunately I think the landscape for these movies have changed and being very good might not cut it anymore. Movies need to either push the genre in new or interesting directions (like a Mad Max: Fury Road) or be so consistently excellent the movie becomes a non-stop delight to sit and watch (the approach taken by the last three Fast & Furious movies) or it feels lacking to me. Tom Cruise isn’t enough by himself and Tom Cruise: Movie Superstar is all that is being offered here.
Let’s not take anything away from Tom Cruise as a movie star, because he is a phenomenal one and this is a stunning showcase for him. He is charming and magnetic and because he’s willing to do his own insane stunts the movie looks more authentic. It’s not a very active improvement, though; it’s more like appreciating how it doesn’t look like bad CGI than being particularly amazing in its own right. Tom Cruise is good in a way that makes me think “Tom Cruise is amazing” but not in a way that makes me thing “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is an amazing movie” and that’s a problem. He’s appealing in the role but he never makes me think anything about the character, I know I’m watching Ethan Hunt but I never ascribe any character traits to him, he’s a stunningly blank character for the lead of a fifth movie in the series.
The plots haven’t advanced very far along in five movies either. For Rogue Nation the Impossible Mission Force is disgraced in the eyes of the government and Ethan and his team must work to stop the bad guys with no official support for their actions. This is exactly the same premise of the last entry in the franchise. All they did this time was change the particulars; it isn’t about stopping a nuclear missile, it’s about shutting down a criminal anti-IMF, and the force of government resistance are represented by Alec Baldwin who plays his part as director of the CIA and I can only imagine his process was deciding he was going to play Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock and the director would have to fight him for every bit of seriousness. This is not intended as a complaint; it works quite well. There are also some legacy problems due to the longevity of the series. In a world where good and evil intelligence operatives have been able to do perfect face masks to pose as others for almost 20 years, you would figure no important people on earth would have sensitive conversations without blood tests or some such. As it is you just spend the entire movie waiting for that iconic face pulling off shot and this time around I saw it coming a mile away. It hurts the credibility of the movie.
I’ve complained a lot here and while I think the film deserves it I want to emphasize that it was a perfectly enjoyable way to spend 2 hours and 20 minutes on a hot summer day. It’s fun to watch, the action spectacle is as good as Hollywood is capable of doing. Rogue Nation crosses the globe to incredible exotic locales and it’s fun to see motorcycle chases through Morocco. The supporting cast is a hoot and a half, Simon Pegg is delightful, Ving Rhames is wonderfully gruff and while he sometimes feels like he’s acting on autopilot it’s never distracting. Rogue Nation is a very good movie but I want it to be excellent, these days the genre almost demands it and it just isn’t there yet. I hope the inevitable sixth movie can push it in that direction, and with the track record of this franchise I wouldn’t rule it out.