1996. Tom Cruise was suspended 36 inches off the floor. 2000. Tom Cruise accomplished several impossible shots, including a free climbing scene in Moab. 2006. Tom Cruise is slammed into a car, along with many other stunts. 2011. Tom Cruise climbed the world’s tallest building at a height of 2,716 feet. 2015. At an altitude of 5,000 feet, Tom hung onto the side of an Airbus A400M. There’s a real sense of elevating the stakes and upping the entertainment ante for audiences that only Tom Cruise knows how. But with every Mission comes a new director. The fifth film, Rogue Nation, featured Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, The Way of the Gun, Jack Reacher) as writer and director and has given fans easily the most symmetrical and poetic of the Mission: Impossible films.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation opens with the remarkable Airbus A400M sequence. To say it’s impressive would be to rob the scene of how truly magnificent it is. It also establishes the tone for McQuarrie’s film, along with providing the first nod towards Hitchcock. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is seen running up to the Airbus in the same suit Cary Grant wore in North by Northwest. (It was all Cruise’s idea as revealed in the Q&A that took place after the Directors Guild of America screening). Ethan, along with Benji (Simon Pegg), Brandt (Jeremy Renner), and Luther (Ving Rhames) have to stop the plane from taking off with a payload of VX nerve gas. We don’t ever stop to question the mission, nor would we think to. The scene plays out, mainly as the trailers have shown, and undoubtedly succeeds. With the lighting of the fuse, the film’s intro plays to Joe Kraemer’s take on the Lalo Schifrin theme, and we see a mashup of the scenes from the movie akin to the opening for the television series. It’s also worth noting that only Brian DePalma and Brad Bird have treated their Mission films to a similar throwback intro. It’s one of the most rousing starts for a Mission film, by way of starting with a major set piece, and while it’s an exciting throwback to Woo’s Moab climb in M:i-2, McQuarrie makes this very much his own.
The Airbus A400M is one of the most visually exciting in the tradition of “Tom Cruise Defies Death” spectacles and plays as a smart nod to Ghost Protocol‘s Burj Khalifa sequence. More interestingly, McQuarrie gives the audience what was believed to be the signature moment right at the start as opposed to placing it later in the picture. It largely comes down to a matter of confidence as we begin to see that in order for McQuarrie to allow audiences to buy into his picture, he had to surgically extract the elephant out of the room, which was certainly “When will Ethan hang off of the plane?” With this scene out-of-the-way, we are now free to enjoy the current Mission and hang off of every word McQuarrie has written and each performer has brought to life. It also brings to mind an aspect of Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, which I previously made comparisons to in my “Mission: Review 5 IMAX Minutes of Rogue Nation!”, earlier this month. In Skyfall, Mendes chose to supply audiences with their familiar idea of who James Bond is in the opening, only to kill him off and dramatically redevelop him. With Rogue Nation, McQuarrie’s choice isn’t so much as to kill off Ethan Hunt, but to kill off the idea of what a Mission: Impossible movie already is, and present audiences with a film composed of everything it should be! Getting the Airbus A400M scene out-of-the-way is both creatively smart and stylish for Rogue Nation, a sequel arriving four years after Brad Bird’s lively Ghost Protocol.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation isn’t necessarily as complex and twisty as many fans have made the Brian DePalma original out to be, nor is it your summer action blockbuster that John Woo gave us in May 2000 with M:i-2. However, while Rogue Nation continues this year’s trend of following up an original with a send up of the original (or in this case originals), McQuarrie’s film plays more like a well written love letter to the time of classic cinema. Complete with Hitchcock references to Notorious (which we originally wrote about here), The Man Who Knew Too Much (which McQ never saw prior to making the Vienna Opera Scene), North by Northwest, and a Martin Scorsese short Key to Reversa, the current Mission: Impossible is absolutely Hitchcock-ian while maintaining a balance with being a McQuarrie film, though and through. The devil is in the details, or in Rogue Nation, The Syndicate is.
Ethan Hunt, continuing his mission from Ghost Protocol, is revealed to still be searching for the shadowy organization; the masterminds behind airplanes disappearing, world financial institutions collapsing, and various other real world headlines. The point is, The Syndicate is bad. Ethan knows this and we know this. Again, no questions asked. The Syndicate, while being the chief bad of the television series, is extrapolated here through a smartly written McQuarrie script. We are introduced to the enigmatic face of the organization in Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). He exudes a quiet menace and is undeniably evil, and while not as exciting as Dougray Scott’s Sean Ambrose or Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Davian, he could easily be argued as the best Mission villain. There’s no denying that this feeling may not be universally shared by other fans and critics, but near the conclusion of Ethan’s mission to stop The Syndicate, we truly understand why Lane has posed such a danger to the world and people Ethan cares most about. Seemingly the only party distrustful of Ethan and The Syndicate is the CIA, in the form of Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Baldwin is a great inclusion into the Mission: Impossible series and joins a list of actors such as Henry Czerny, Laurence Fishburne, and Vladimir Mashkov as authority figures hunting after Hunt. It’s not hard to accept that several years ago Baldwin could have been Ethan Hunt as he was Jack Ryan in The Hunt for Red October and Lamont Cranston in The Shadow. As times have changed and our perceptions on the action hero, it’s knowingly accepted that while Baldwin as Hunt would never have clung to a moving train such as what Cruise does in 1, he could have easily played the role of the IMF’s pointman for every operation. This is an aspect of the Mission: Impossible series that is so unique and has made it a part of the tradition of films such as Indiana Jones. Tom Cruise, having started the series in 1996, is now 53 and still performing all of his own stunts, along with providing great entertainment for all audiences. He does what not many other actors have done and has created a niche of entertainment for himself that he could rely on every couple of years. If there is one aspect that is certain near the conclusion of Rogue Nation, it’s that Mission: Impossible is still very much Tom Cruise’s.
While Tom Cruise does remain the undeniable star of Rogue Nation, Rebecca Ferguson comes pretty close to stealing the show. In the way Jeremy Renner was initially hyped by fans as the star set to take over the series after Ghost Protocol, the idea is easily quieted over the course of this film. Ferguson, however, from the moment she arrives on-screen brings a classic starlet presence that we have yet to see in a Mission film. (Think of Ingrid Bergman, another famous Swedish actress.) During the Q & A, one female audience member asked “How does one become Rebecca Ferguson?” and the question, while a bit of a throwaway one, does signify the strength of what McQuarrie wrote and Ferguson embodied with such life. There’s no denying that she will become a breakout star due to her role in Rogue Nation and it goes beyond her impressive stunt work in the film. (We’ve covered Ferguson and her work on Rogue Nation here.) Ferguson, much like Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow, is able to forge her character through the way she carries herself in each situation. She never betrays the script or film, and is a perfect match-up for Cruise. Her character, Ilsa Faust, is one of McQuarrie’s famously ambiguous of characters. We are introduced to her shortly after Hunt is captured by The Syndicate. He’s strapped to a pole and contends with a jarring interrogation conducted by The Bone Doctor (Jens Hulten). Completing the idea that Ethan Hunt is capable of super things, but is not a super hero is made very clear when fist meets bone. We seem him wince, but not give up, and we are invested so much so that even though we all know he’ll live to see M:i-6, we’re never quite certain if he’ll get there in one piece. It’s an idea that many feel could be traced back to Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark, such as in the Indy vs. the German Mechanic scene. We don’t just get that with The Bone Doctor, but in an extravagantly complex and remarkable Vienna Opera Sequence set to Turandot.
The Vienna Opera seems to be the scene most are focusing on and after you’ve watched, it’s hard not to see why. Outside of composition alone, the D.P. Robert Elswit gives a beauty to the scene with his camera techniques. It’s a tautly told sequence that, once again, reminds us of Hitchcock and would have easily been the way he chose to film such a sequence. There is one exception: there probably would not be a 500+ foot drop off of the roof. What makes Christoper McQuarrie such a talented writer and director is largely the same reason that makes Tom Cruise such a terrific entertainer – they love movies. They get movies. McQuarrie revealed that when he first met Cruise he was surprised to meet a someone that just wanted to talk about them. For those that have worked with both men or have had the opportunity to hear them speak, there is no denying that they are true fans and enthusiasts of the medium. for example, McQuarrie recounted of a moment during the filming of Rogue Nation that found them watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on silent. Having both Cruise and McQuarrie work together on a Mission: Impossible was extraordinarily exciting and the end product goes beyond what any trailer or poster could sell. It’s the ultimate film for a film lover.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation was the movie I most eagerly awaited this year. More so than Avengers: Age of Ultron; more so than Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which Rogue Nation was moved up to avoid.) Upon seeing the movie, I felt crippled when it came to crafting a review that would properly respect the film that Christopher McQuarrie, Tom Cruise and company made. I also was left unsure as to how to write something that felt appropriate to the tone of What’cha Reading. It was a hard process as I not only happen to be a massive Mission: Impossible fan, but have been a huge Tom Cruise fan since the 1996 original. Thinking back on the film, which it very much is in the greatest admiration for the word, is unlike any of the previous installments. While Mission 1 through 4 have all stood alone, Rogue Nation feels most like a Christopher McQuarrie film, despite the flowing love letter to cinema classics that runs throughout the 2 hour and 11 minute adventure. There are several trademarks of the filmmaker, most especially the cleverly staged twists and silent car chase scene, free of score. This sequence plays somewhat different from the online clips and IMAX footage screened weeks ago. While I originally felt that the Joe Kraemer score played more of a Bond angle than Mission, there is no evidence of that here. McQuarrie also favors substance and misdirection more so than previous those who came before. It’s this quality given to the film that makes it feel the closest to the original television series and is aided by the fantastically minimalist score by Kraemer.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation gets five stars!
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is a movie that will succeed and be admired by many of those that appreciate film. Strong word of mouth should easily usher this film to box-office heaven and I’m positive Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie will work together again. Just probably not on another Mission. On second reflection, here are a few stray thoughts:
- The original title that many believed this installment to be named was Taurus. Taurus is the sign for the fifth month of the year and was appropriately used as this is the fifth Mission: Impossible. There is a wildly devilish scene, set inside a vault (The Taurus) submerged in over 75,000 gallons of water. It’s a slick homage to the vault scene in Mission: Impossible, but should leave fans gripping their armrests and holding their breath. Please take note that Tom Cruise really did this.
- Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is a perfect companion/adversary/equal to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise.) In terms that should be recognizable to Sherlock Holmes fans, she is very much like Irene Adler.
- Fans of John le Carre should easily recognize ideas, tones, and themes within Rogue Nation. It’s only another aspect of how smart writer/director Chris McQuarrie is.
- Joe Kraemer delivers a beautiful score that easily ranks among the best of Mission: Impossible scores. Much more Danny Elfman than Hans Zimmer; Kraemer’s score, assisted by Ian Arber sounds closest to Lalo Schifrin, with a touch of Bernard Herrmann.