Sunday, 30 August 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (Film Review)

Yeah, this one's running a little late so let's cut to the chase shall we? If you're a fan of loud, fast paced action films, but are open to productions who balance out those elements with high tension and quiet moments, this is one to see. It's a little dumb at times to be sure, but still extraordinary fun and proves to be oddly intelligent in other regards.

Set several years following the events of Ghost Protocol, Ethan Hunt has become a driven man. Having seemingly gone rogue, he is hunting down a supposed network of M.I.A. spies and allegedly dead officers no working against their own nations. As a result of his actions, IMF is disbanded and its resources drafted into the CIA. With the Director of Intelligence determined to bring Hunt to justice and a deep cover MI6 agent involved, things quickly become quite complicated...

As a whole Mission: Impossible has often been quite a disjointed franchise. Even without going into how the classic tv series (sadly overshadowed by the films) is effectively in a world of its own, each production has been released years apart. Besides the odd returning actor or occasional callback, each film might as well more or less exist as its own entity. Ghost Protocol could have been seen as a kind of soft reboot as a result of this, with a stronger supporting cast and new roles, something solidified by how this film directly reflects upon its events. Given the collateral damage inflicted and the disastrous knife-edge solution, it was brought into question how an organisation so often winning almost purely by improvisation could possibly be held unaccountable. In this case they are called into account, their approach is brought up, but even the characters themselves seem to reflect upon this. Their approaches and solutions, while retaining the by-the-seat-of-his-pants planning the films are known for, are much more low key and with a narrower focus. Still destructive to be sure, but they don't blow up a major building this time.

The main action itself is carefully interspersed into individual sections, divvied up and contained into parts of each act. Ignoring the fantastic cold opening, the first second and third acts each focus upon an individual operation. These have always been the most entertaining parts of each film, and thanks to this oddly episodic structure things are made all the stronger for it. It's similar to what we saw in Ghost Protocol, but it doesn't flow from one to the next quite so directly. Strangely, this makes the later acts stronger as a result, with more focus placed upon the events then and there, and less direct reflection upon past ones. This means we get to see the planning, efforts and stages of each mini-heist in turn, but playing out in a different way. The first one with a plan only known to one character but quickly going wrong, the second with it developing and the group knowing but it being revised as events progress, and the final one pulling a very surprising twist. No, really, it's this last bit where the film's surprising intelligence shines through the most.

To top off the focus upon the missions, we also have some utterly great sequences. Foremost among these, and the highlight of the film, is one of the best car chases of the year and an extremely tense raid on a data facility. These show the rapid way in which director Christopher McQuarrie can cover fluid, unbroken shots and fast paced rapid-cut sequences alike, displaying an extremely careful eye for big, bold visuals. There's some very classic elements to certain sequences given how the film utilises shadows, lighting and staging, alongside some excellent tips of the hat to visual spy tropes. This gives it a surprisingly traditional feel at times, something assisted by other elements such as the villain's uncanny resemblance to Smiley from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Oh, and if you thought the villain in Ghost Protocol was weak, what we have here more than makes up for it.

The acting here is solid to top notch, but with the ensemble cast involved, what else would you expect. Despite his religious turns, Cruise is still an excellent lead in almost any role, and the likes of Simon Pegg and Jeremy Renner have proven themselves many times over. Add to that the return of Ving Rhames, then the new additions of Rebecca Ferguson and Alec Baldwin, and you have one hell of a group of characters working with the script. As such, even some of the more daft moments can be carried by their performances or their conviction to their roles, with Pegg in particular standing out extremely well.

If a flaw does need to be cited, it's in two particular areas. While you might not notice it at first, the gun battles have a very strange habit of using disjointed close ups on shots. While not nearly as bad as certain infamously bad examples of this (directors, you know who you are) the sequences suffer from an odd focus upon firing and impacts, but never quite hitting that point where everything flows without issue. Thankfully gun battles don't make such a critical part of the action here, but it's still an issue. The other key problem however, is that a lot of the old romantic tropes and ideas show up, along with a lot of spy related ones. As such, you can end up predicting what are supposedly a few ingenious turns long before they take place. This is most definitely a problem which undermines some of the drama, and can leave you more than a little dissatisfied with sections of the narrative.

Still, it's honestly extremely hard to give anything short of a glowing recommendation to this one. It's not going to stand out as some timeless classic or pillar of the entire action genre, but damn if it isn't one of the most fun films of its kind so far this year. If you're still waiting for Spectre or have been dissatisfied with Man from U.N.C.L.E. then definitely give this one a look.

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