Never mind that an agent changes from a loose shirt to a skin-tight biker jumpsuit without Ethan Hunt’s knowledge, dons a helmet, blocking all features except her steely blue eyes, and is still identified by Ethan as soon as he sees her, beginning a sensational motor chase through the narrow streets of Morocco. Never mind that the head of British Intelligence knows precisely where a hard drive containing valuable information is going to be placed on a newspaper, so that he can preemptively hide a data-deleting device beneath its exact spot. Never mind that the good guys magically conjure a glass box in the middle of an underground carpark to ensnare one of the bad guys. Never mind that there are more BMWs in this movie than there are people in the state of Bavaria. Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is still a high octane extravaganza of combat, unbelievable stunts, seductive geek-speak, plots so convoluted they can’t tell one from the other, and a masterclass of Tom Cruise doing what he does best: Defying all laws of physics, and in many cases, biology.
These movies have travelled so far from the siblings that inspired them. Remember when Ethan (Cruise) was a scrawny, short-haired spy who had to recover a data disk with the names of all America’s agents, and he ended up getting caught in a conspiracy that no one really understood? Now he’s older, heavier, with longer hair, and he has to recover a data disk that holds within the funds for a terrorist while realising that he’s locked up in a conspiracy that no one really understands. All these plots have one purpose — to link scenes of preposterous action stunts to passages of dialogue that act as kickstands to prevent the stunts from toppling on themselves.
What’s at play here? Nothing we haven’t heard of before, except it’s all shifted into new light. The IMF (Impossible Mission Force, absurd) has been disavowed, which is a major inconvenience because a global terrorist syndicate, called The Syndicate, has chosen this very period to attack landmarks across the world. They’ve even planned to assassinate the chancellor of Austria, no doubt to make the population think it’s 1914 all over again.
Ethan has gone rogue, believed to be an uncontrollable renegade by the CIA, led by Alec Baldwin. Ethan has to operate in secret now, even more secretly than he did before, and organises his loyal IMF friends via correspondence. They all arrive in Austria, just in time to uncover the fateful assassination attempt, and then — wait! There’s another agent!
But none of this really matters. What matters is that you have to know that Ethan must dive into a funnel that will lead to an underwater cyclone chamber thing that secures employee profiles for a company that deals in some stuff. The chamber also has mechanical arms that whirl around for little reason except to whack Ethan at the least opportune times. There’s an escape hatch, but it can only be opened from the inside, which makes sense. But then when it’s time to open it Ethan starts to drown. Shucks.
All this must be done — Ethan must switch the employee profiles — so that his friend Benji (Simon Pegg) can waltz into the computer room upstairs without triggering the alarm, so that he can download a file that contains the terrorist funds, so that the team can do something with the file that’s saved in a hard drive, so that they can protect the prime minister of the UK, so that they can save the world. Or something like that. It’s all very technical. At times even the team is at a loss.
What these Mission Impossible movies have always been about is the idea of a hero. Ethan is very Bondian in his work. His life is saturated with violence. He is issued cool gadgets that, for a disavowed team, seem to appear almost at will. Romance is welcome, but it’s a chore. He’s loyal to country, even when she tries to kill him. He is a Bondian hero reshaped, reworked for a new century. For a quicker, less patient crowd (to be sure, the new Bond film opens in November). Tom Cruise knows this role backwards, which is a good thing for cinema because it gives him space to explore the limitations of his mind and body. He has grown into a Hollywood Jackie Chan. In the previous movie, Ghost Protocol (2011), he crawled up the side of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. In this one, he clings on desperately to the outside of a plane as it zooms down the runway and up into the sky. He speeds along the highway on a motorcycle, weaving in between traffic. Roger Moore could barely land a punch on his own.
As action movies go, Rogue Nation is better than this year’s Furious 7 and Terminator Genisys, but it’s not as inward-looking as Ghost Protocol. It doesn’t have the same kind of humour, the ability to kid itself. It’s all crash bang boom. Sometimes it stops for talk, then it’s back to business. I didn’t care much about the plot, but I felt a strange connection to the characters. They gave me comfort. And I don’t think it hurts to admit the movie’s closing line made me feel a little warm inside.
Best Moment | The chase through Morocco.
Worst Moment | The ending of the chase through Morocco.