Action films can get away with a lot. They can be derivative, silly, illogical and outright over-the-top; one could even potentially argue that these traits are actually a requirement for a successful action film. There is, however, one thing that an action film cannot ever under any circumstances be. To have this attribute will kill a movie faster than any number of unrealistic stunts or unoriginal plotlines. And it is, unfortunately, the best way to describe the latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is boring.
It seems incredible that a skilfully shot film about international spies with sharply choreographed fights, stylish car chases and tension-filled heists can be boring, but the evidence undeniable. Despite all this heart-pounding action, Rogue Nation fails to elicit even the slightest flicker of excitement from its audience. Then again, the action isn’t the problem.
Rogue Nation starts with the resourceful agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) doing his usual reckless work for the spy organisation IMF. This is when most films do the important groundwork, like establishing motivation and relationships, so when the action starts the audience actually gives a damn about the characters. But Rogue Nation skips all that in favour of an action sequence and feeds the audience the plot via exposition.
Apparently Hunt has come to suspect the existence of a rogue organisation spreading chaos quietly through out the world. Unfortunately, just as he stumbles onto solid evidence, the IMF is disbanded; largely thanks to Hunt’s habit of destroying scenic landmarks during his missions. And to rub salt in the wound, the CIA have decided – for some reason – that Hunt is the one behind all the chaos-spreading.
One must admire the filmmakers’ determination to streamline their movie by stripping away all that character-development clutter. Unfortunately, without any emotional hook, even the most beautifully shot and coordinated stunts have no stake. The audience is never given a good reason why Hunt should care so deeply about uncovering the Syndicate, and therefore no reason why they should care about it. CIA director Hunley (Alec Baldwin) throws out the vaguely interesting idea that Hunt has nothing left except his work, which the Syndicate is the ultimate validation of, but it’s just narrative window-dressing. Nothing ever comes of it.
Tom Cruise does his usual intense, slightly obsessive performance as Hunt, but without a solid script to support him; it’s just shiny gloss over a void of nothing. His relationships are empty space. His wife from M:I III might as well never have existed and while there’s a lot of talk about friendship, that’s all it is; talk. Hunt is never shown interacting with his team outside of a mission or sharing any little character moments that would illustrate why he inspires the loyalty he does. The only reason that his friendships don’t ring completely false is due to the actors’ performances, most particularly Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg, who provide ninety percent of the film’s snark and comic relief respectively.
The one character done absolutely right is ironically the role usually criminally neglected; the love interest, Ilsa Faust (played by the perfectly cast Rebecca Ferguson). Aside from having a refreshingly sensible approach to foot-ware, she is a compellingly unpredictable character, assisting the heroes one minute and betraying them the next, but always with a logical goal in mind and never ‘because the plot says so’. Her story arc has the only satisfying conclusion in the entire film, largely due it being the only one with a beginning, middle and end.
In a strange way, she takes on many attributes of the villain. Though the main antagonist, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), malevolently stalks through the background, hissing menacing monologues, he is an empty caricature. There’s nothing in him to make him a worthy adversary to Hunt or provide him with a dark mirror. It’s Ilsa who reflects many of Hunt’s less positive qualities, namely his ability to get burned by the people he works for, and it’s Ilsa who holds Hunt’s focus and manages to get under his skin. Lane’s breaking speech barely makes Hunt pause, whereas Ilsa’s quiet disillusionment regarding the system is what finally makes Hunt hesitate. It’s one of the few really human moments in the film, that telling silence as he struggles to come up with a reason to refuse her offer.
Apart from Ilsa, the film is an endless stretch of running and shooting for reasons that feel ultimately pointless. If it had either embraced the inherent silliness of the Mission Impossible world, or dived much deeper into the murky darkness of Hunt’s motives, there might have been some meat to it. As it is, it feels like removing the engine of a car to make it run faster; the car might be lighter, but it’s not going anywhere soon. Despite some respectable performances and impressive camera-work, Rogue Nation is sadly tedious and the only satisfaction it imparts is relief that it’s finally over.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10