Saturday, August 22, 2015

"Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation"

 4 / 5 

Everything you need to know, or not know, about Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (or is that Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation?  Or Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation?  Who knows about the grammar) is all right there in the first action-packed scene that opens the movie.

Evan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his Impossible Mission Force operatives are on an airstrip trying to prevent a big airplane from taking off.  Inside the fuselage of this cargo plane is a big, giant crate.  They tell us, over and over, that the crate is in there, and that they have to get it out.

It's a nail-biter of an action scene, a pitch-perfect way to begin an action movie.  It doesn't have time to stop for silly questions like, "What's in the crate and why do they want it?"  Crate=good.  Pilots≠bad.

It goes on and on like this in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation for more than two hours.  The bad guys have something.  The good guys want it.  But since the good guys have been doing some possibly very bad things lately, the CIA director (Alec Baldwin) has disavowed all knowledge of the actions of this splinter group.  Tom Cruise finds himself without a country, which is something a lot of gossip sites and maybe one or two religions would like to have actually happen.

But you think that's going to stop Ethan Hunt?  No, he's a man on an even bigger mission, because he believes that the recent calamities that have befallen humanity (there's some rather bold references in there to the fate of Malaysia Airlines 370) are not coincidental.

No, Evan Hunt and his operatives believe that assassinations, factory explosions, missing planes and all sorts of things that fill the headline are the work of an independent group of terrorists bent on -- what, exactly?  World domination, I guess.  Not knowing their motives hardly diminishes the enjoyment of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and casts their lead baddie, an oily blond guy named Lane (played by Sean Harris), as the ultimate baddie.  He wants to create havoc.  Sure, there's something in there about how he's bought politicians to fund his efforts, but the pacing of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation flagged just oh-so-briefly enough to have me wondering things like: Who pays them?  Do they have a payroll group?  Do their checks go to direct deposit?  Who handles things like making sure the lights don't go out at home or that the dogs get fed and walked?  I'm assuming the members of the Impossible Mission Force have some sort of home life.  Interesting.  But not interesting enough to show in the film (nor should it be).

Instead, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation careens at breathless speed from Germany to Austria, from London to Morocco, and it's the kind of film that should not be seen by someone with Wanderlust.  You want to hop right on the plane and see these places, where people with unlimited income do dastardly things.

The movie is one big action scene.  If it has time to slow down, I didn't really notice it. Even in its quiet moments, the film is trying to help us understand what this device or the other one does.  They're all in service of finding the Big Chief Bad guy and destroying his stranglehold on the ultra-rich donors who make offshore deposits to very bad men.

Apparently there's something about keeping the world out of balance, or political gain, but I confess I didn't listen much to the dialogue in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation, and I tried to follow the endless flip-flops of its gorgeous spy Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), and was hoping for an even deeper revelation about how and why she seems, at least, to work for the bad guy, whose aquiline nose makes him necessarily sinister.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation presents a slightly sweet, slightly backward world view that seems to say that despite the technology, despite the ever-persistent tension around the globe, all the really, really bad stuff that happens is because of this one guy, and if you can catch him, the world would be a better place.

It's a nice, if naive, little story to put at the heart of such a big-budget action-adventure.  But the big budget certainly shows, and the action and adventure shine through.  While it doesn't have the revelatory, eye-popping use of IMAX that made Brad Bird's last film truly transcendent -- Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation has everything you came to see and that much more.

As for the underlying "Macguffin" that everyone wants: It's perfect Hitchcockian work: It doesn't really matter what's on that 21st-century version of the "microfilm" that used to be so popular.  Whether it's found or not, whether what's on it can really save the world, all of that is beside the point.  You came for thrills.

That's a good thing, because Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation delivers lots and lots and lots of thrills.  It's perfect escapist fare for those days in which your own life might feel like something of an impossible mission.  You probably won't follow every detail of the plot, you may well get confused about who's doing what to whom, but it does't matter in the slightest.  See it anyway.

And pay attention to that opera scene -- though it's easy to criticize modern filmmakers for their lack of vision, it's one suspenseful set sequence that truly stands out by taking its time and making sure the audience knows what's happening where and what will transpire if one person takes exactly the right (or wrong) shot.  It builds tension in ways that would have made Hitchcock proud.

The rest of the film has a hard time living up to that central sequence, but if it can't hit the same highs, that's no matter at all.  As escapist, diversionary fare, you'll be hard-pressed to find any movie as utterly devoted to providing thrills and a little charm to go along with it.  Your mission, if you haven't yet, should be to choose to accept it.

Viewed Aug. 22, 2015 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks