In the opening scene of Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), leading man and superspy for the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), jumps onto the wing of a jet and hangs on for dear life as it takes off. A shot of this, incidentally, is featured on one of the promotional posters for this movie. And what a shot it is. Knowing that Cruise did his own stunts for not only this scene but the rest of the film made me appreciate the moment all the more. As Hunt and the jet fly increasingly higher, the landscape slowly recedes. This shot is a clever way to draw the audience into the action. Anyone who’s looked though an airplane window while it’s taking off will recognize that feeling of both terror and exhilaration as the world starts to tilt away.
Mission: Impossible‘s strongest suit is its visuals. The varied sets and locations manage to positively distract from a muddled plot. Who are the people chasing Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), lead woman and possible double agent, on motorcycles? It doesn’t matter, we’re in Casablanca. Why does Faust’s MI6 handler, Attlee (Simon McBurney), ask her to go so deep under cover that she’d put allied spies at risk? Who knows—but Faust looks resplendent and somber in a dark green trench, conversing with Attlee on a bridge overlooking the Thames. Indeed the occasionally slow or confusing moments in the plot don’t really matter; ultimately the film’s aesthetic supersedes its narrative.
The great thing about the most recent installments in the Mission: Impossible franchise is its light, spirited, self-deprecating tone. Once Hunt finally gets on the jet, he retrieves a stack of missiles from the cargo hold. Right before he parachutes away with them, he shrugs at the crew of the plane with a look that says, “What’re you gonna do?” In a later scene, Hunt listens to what he thinks is a mission briefing, but is actually a death threat from primary antagonist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
Hunt suspects that Lane is the mastermind behind The Syndicate, an underground criminal organization that’s been influential in shaping global politics through terrorism and various assassinations. The timbre of Lane’s recorded voice actually reminded me of the vocoded messages that real-life hacker group Anonymous likes to send. Lane’s overly-serious “this mission will self-destruct in five seconds” at the end of the recording is a jab at one of the franchise’s most iconic—but ultimately cheesy—lines. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation constantly reminds us of its self-awareness.
Tonal inconsistencies distract from the movie, however. In one scene, Faust revives Hunt after a harrowing Mission: Impossible-style stunt. Fellow IMF spy Benji (Simon Pegg) kneels over Hunt concerned for his well being. Hunt is silent throughout the scene save for a bemused smile and a confused “What?”. I wondered if he had actually suffered brain damage or memory loss as a side effect of his derring-do. Yet within minutes, he’s on a high speed motorcycle chase, and all evidence of his brain injury is gone.
Yes, I was on the edge of my seat for a minute—but the fleeting thought of Hunt suffering permanent brain damage made me uneasy. Maybe I felt this way because movies generally don’t acknowledge the physical tolls that death-defying scenarios can have on a human body. Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation gets points for at least trying to show that almost drowning has a momentary effect on Hunt’s capabilities. That being said, scenes where the movie hints at the dark, permanent consequences of Hunt’s physical injuries seem out of place in a fun summer action flick; we know the world of Mission: Impossible isn’t anchored in grim reality, so the moment feel disingenuous.
The members of the IMF team are all supremely talented spies, but they’re also humble and aren’t afraid to laugh at themselves. This is what makes them approachable in contrast to more straight-laced characters like Jason Bourne. I also appreciated Faust’s treatment as a female protagonist whose narrative arc didn’t exist solely to further the leading man’s character development. Faust is torn between serving her country and working for her MI6 handler Attlee, who refuses to extract her from deep cover once she’s completed her assigned task. The movie offers plenty of scenes without Hunt that instead focus solely on Faust’s arc.
That said, Faust is still the only female character in the movie with a story arc or significant amounts of dialogue. Also, it’s disheartening that Faust is needlessly sexualized. There’s a tracking shot over her bikini-clad body when she emerges from a pool in Casablanca. There’s a shot of her stripping out of a wetsuit after she rescues Hunt from drowning. Although both shots serve to forward the plot—both instances relate to a major action scene in the film—these plot points could have been conveyed without featuring Faust’s semi-clothed body as the prominent visual component of each scene.
Despite these issues, the film lives up to the expectations of charm and humour established in the franchise’s last entry, Ghost Protocol. I was enthralled by Rogue Nation‘s gorgeous settings, happy to spend time in both the lavish Vienna State Operato and the lived-in market in Casablanca. Call me a pleb, but I appreciate a funny, action-filled romp where I can shut my brain off for two hours. In my mind, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is what summer movies are meant to be.
Movie Verdict: Win