3.5 stars. Rated PG-13, for dramatic intensity and action violence
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 7.31.15
While not quite the exhilarating thrill ride of 2011’s Ghost Protocol, which so spectacularly revived the stalled franchise, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation nonetheless delivers plenty of action and suspense, leavened with just the right soupçon of droll wit.
Although star/producer Tom Cruise’s guiding hand continues to be felt, he wisely has retreated from the camera-hogging antics that marred the series’ second and third entries. I’d like to think he bowed to the wisdom of co-producer J.J. Abrams — absolutely the 21st century wunderkind, when it comes to chaperoning beloved pop-culture properties (most notably Star Trek and Star Wars, in addition to his work here) — who astutely revived the formula that creator/producer Bruce Geller exploited so well, during the show’s initial seven-year television run.
Which is to say: teamwork, teamwork, teamwork. Along with way-cool tech, and the signature locked room-style assignments that require ingenious solutions ... hence the whole reason behind that “impossible” moniker.
Cruise & Co. introduced the increasingly crazed physical stunts and, yes, the welcome humor. (Geller’s show, for all its appeal, always was a bit dry.) The result has blossomed into an engaging blend of Bond, Hitchcock and other action/suspense sources.
Cruise also deserves credit for what has become another Mission staple: genuine stunt work by actual performers, as opposed to Hollywood’s increasing reliance on CGI and green-screen trickery. It really does make a difference, in terms of our emotional engagement; when Cruise roars pell-mell into a motorcycle chase, taking curves at suicidal speeds, our heart-in-mouth response is that much stronger.
San Andreas may have been larkish fun, but it was a cartoon: computer-driven artifice, from start to finish. At no time did we think Dwayne Johnson was in danger. Not so with Cruise, and his increasingly legendary Mission stunts. Safety straps and concealed rigging notwithstanding, there’s no question of his physical involvement in crazed, hazardous stuff ... in part because it’s clearly a point of pride. Like Burt Lancaster back in the day, Cruise wants to match or exceed the authentic antics of his various stunt colleagues.
Unfortunately, writer/director Christopher McQuarrie front-loads this newest film with all the best action scenes, resulting in a noticeable letdown during the third act. Ghost Protocol climaxed, midway, with the dog-nuts Burj Khalifa climb, but that film’s director (Brad Bird) wisely held an equally audacious sequence for the finale: the breathtaking chase amid the shuffling vehicles in a multi-story car park.
McQuarrie, apparently wanting to suck us in right away, opens with the perilous stunt that has made media waves for the past several months, with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hanging for dear life on the exterior of an A400 Airbus, as it taxis down a runway and then roars into the sky.
It’s just like the best James Bond pre-credits sequences — the one opening The World Is Not Enough being a personal favorite — and, no question, a true attention-getter.