Movie Review: Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation (2015)



by Alan F. Zundel

“Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation” harks back to the cliff-hanging movie serials of old, with cartoony characters, a few spectacular stunts, and a story so thin you could thread it through the eye of a needle.

It was eerie sitting in a theater watching previews for James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. movies while waiting to see a new Mission Impossible installment. Had I somehow been transported back fifty years to my adolescence?

The 1960s were the transition point when the serial format invaded prime time television. The serials had been popular since the silent movie era, with stunt-packed short episodes ending in a metaphorical (and sometimes literal) “cliff-hanger” meant to provoke the audience into returning the following week to see how the hero or heroine escapes.

They lasted all the way to the television era of the 1950s, the last one probably being “Commando Cody: Sky Marshall of the Universe,” released in 1953 as a movie serial and a couple years later as a syndicated TV show. I remember watching it when I was a tyke. Ten years later brought “Batman” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” to television, both, if I remember correctly, with cliff-hangers at the end of every other episode.

But a format that can sustain attention for a short movie episode or 60-minute TV show ain’t necessarily going to work in a two-hour movie. “Mission Impossible—Rogue Nation” is a case in point.

Little needs be said about the plot. Ethan Hunt, the leader of the Mission Impossible team, is out to foil the evil mastermind of a secret terrorist organization and must contend with a beautiful but deadly double agent along the way. That’s about it, folks.

Aside from doing some of his own stunt work, including a terrific opening scene with him hanging off the door of an airplane as it lifts off the ground, Tom Cruise is on cruise-control in the “role” of Ethan Hunt. Hunt has no identifiable life or past outside of his heroic exploits, and relies on a tepid Tom Cruise imitation—lifted chin and raised eyebrow to convey insouciance—in a half-hearted attempt to exhibit a personality.

Simon Pegg plays the standard role of the young sidekick, except that he’s kinda old, but he does bring a modicum of comic relief to his scenes. Jeremy Renner is the boss who shouts a lot. Ving Rhames collects a paycheck for showing up. On the plus side, Simon Harris makes a memorably creepy villain and Rebecca Ferguson is gorgeous and one of the few principals who seems committed to entertaining the audience.

But you go to a movie like this for the action, and in that it does not disappoint. In addition to the plane-hanging stunt, which is already becoming famous, there is a jaw-dropping escape that Hunt manages while handcuffed around a big stake in the ground. I also appreciated the well-executed tribute to the assassin-at-the-opera scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1934 classic, “The Man Who Knew Too Much.” (Which, needless to say, was a much better movie—rent it if you haven’t seen it.) And of course there’s lots of fight scenes—heck, the stunt crew was as big as the entire cast.

But what was the fighting all about? Instead of fighting criminals on behalf of law enforcement or spies on behalf of our government as the good guys of old did, the M.I. team was fighting for Hunt because he was their “friend.” Hunt himself was out to stop the bad guy because the latter killed a young woman that Hunt barely knew. None of the M.I. crew had any loyalty to any larger community; in fact, they were suspicious of the very government that had employed their services in the first place. And the villain, it seems, was committing terrorist acts because he was mad that British intelligence made him do bad things in the past.

This stuff does not make sense even in a comic book universe.

About an hour in I was glancing at my watch. Hunt creates an elaborate plan, it almost fails in the execution, and he barely escapes with his life. Over and over and over. Fights. Chases. More fights. More chases. I may have loved this kind of stuff when I was a kid, but even then I took it in small doses.

Enough already. Give me a character I care about, or at least stakes that seem worth the frenetic action.

But still I gotta admit, my heart skipped a beat when that iconic theme music first broke out: bump-bump BA-DUM, bump-bump BA-Dum…

Nostalgia, I suppose.


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