Movie review: Tom Cruise meets his match in the senseless but satisfying Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation | Arts

Movie review: Tom Cruise meets his match in the senseless but satisfying Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

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Great balls of fire: Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation - PHOTO COURTESY OF PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
  • Great balls of fire: Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
★★★ ½
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Last year, in an LA Weekly article entitled “How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star,” Amy Nicholson contended that the action roles Cruise has taken in recent years are urgent attempts by an aging actor (he just turned 53) to reclaim his evaporating popularity, much of it built on skillfully chosen dramatic roles.

Indeed, Cruise, a three-time Oscar nominee, hasn’t headlined a non-action film since 2008. With the Mission: Impossible franchise, he has produced a durable action serial in his own image: entertaining, bankable, polished, wacky, a bit generic and more appealing than many would admit in mixed company.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the fifth entry (the first was almost 20 years ago!) and the closest Cruise has come to crafting a full-fledged American James Bond, starting with a pre-title sequence that has Cruise, as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, clinging to the outside of an Airbus A400M during takeoff. Cue Lalo Schifrin’s Pavlovian theme song and we’re on to a disapproving M, a comic Q and the revolving love interest. There’s a shadowy SPECTRE-esque criminal organization led by a Blofeld-ian baddie and his deadly, idiosyncratic henchman.

This time around, Hunt goes rogue to root out the villains and save the world … just like he did in two previous M:I movies. After CIA chief Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) successfully lobbies Congress to defund the Impossible Mission Force, Hunt, tech guru Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and porkpie-wearing hacker Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) hopscotch the globe to battle the Syndicate, the multinational terrorist group led by Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), a cold-blooded ex-British agent.

The plot, a twisty John le Carré knockoff, is strung together with the usual tentpole suspense sequences, starting with a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse game amid the rafters of the Vienna State Opera during a performance of Puccini’s Turandot. Another intricate incursion into an impenetrable fortress, for which Cruise reportedly held his breath for six minutes inside an underwater centrifuge, is followed by a hairpin motorcycle chase down the Marrakesh Highway. Director Christopher McQuarrie, who helmed Cruise in Jack Reacher but still got another chance, keeps the action lively and insistent until the somewhat muted climax.

With poor Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt mainly consigned to the bureaucratic background, Cruise shares the spotlight with Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, a sexy, supremely skilled spy who confounds Hunt with conflicting allegiances and her confluence of allure and mistrust. There’s probably an allegory here for Cruise’s ill-fated marriages.

Late in the film, when gun-toting cannon fodder encircle Hunt and Faust at a sidewalk cafe, the music drops as the two gaze at each other, quietly formulating the shootout to come. It’s a moment worthy of Sergio Leone that confirms Faust as Hunt’s equal. While the love interests in this sort of action thriller—whether they’re called Bond Girls or, let’s say, Mission Maidens—are cast aside before the next sequel, Ferguson’s compelling Faust merits a recurring role in the M:I milieu. But make no mistake: Cruise remains the alpha agent of this group.

Rogue Nation makes little sense, but that’s not the point, is it? Instead, it’s industrial, adrenal action with a visual panache that has been missing since Brian DePalma’s first Mission: Impossible movie. Cruise struck his Faustian bargain, trading thematic depth and the power to control his personal reputation for exhilarating escapism, professional acclaim and, apparently, eternal youth. He’s now a virtual S1mOne-like algorithm, assimilated into the mechanized moviemaking matrix. Just keep feeding us blue pills and we’ll be happy.


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