Back Comments (7) Share:
Facebook Button

Feature


With his elite organization shut down by the CIA, agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames) race against time to stop the rise of a new global threat, The Syndicate, a dangerous network of rogue operatives turned traitors. To stop them, Ethan must join forces with an elusive, disavowed agent (Rebecca Ferguson), who may or may not be on his side as he faces his most impossible mission yet. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
If there ever was a franchise that succeeded through the sheer will of its producer and star, it is Mission: Impossible. The series survived a clunker of a first sequel, a six-year hiatus, an under-performing second sequel, and Tom Cruise’s (the aforementioned producer and star) very public meltdown. But the franchise soldiered on into a fourth entry, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), that revitalized worldwide interests, including my own. The only probleM was that the fifth movie, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, had a new high standard to live up to. Fortunately for Cruise and the small army that keeps making Mission: Impossible films, Rogue Nation is (arguably, of course) the best one yet.

Rogue Nation has its share of weaknesses, chief among them being the fact that the ‘rogue’ part of the story is getting a little old at this point. The first and fourth films both involve Hunt and/or his team being framed for something and having to work outside of the system, avoiding villains and good guys alike to save the day. It might be time to change the name of the organization from Impossible Mission Force (IMF) to the Rogue Agent Force (RAF). And this is just one symptom of the series’ over-dependency on the formula set by the first two movies. Rogue Nation revisits a number of plot points, from the mysterious female double-agent, to the popular “MacGuffin hidden in a heavily-guarded fortress” motif. At a certain point, one realizes that these formulas are being purposefully established in an effort to define the franchise as something more than ‘American James Bond starring Tom Cruise’ and that the repetition works more than it doesn’t, because Cruise and the other producers keep hiring such an eclectic array of filmmakers to put their personal stamp on the tropes. It’s sort of like we get a loose remake of the first film every four to six years, sometimes with a bit of leftover narrative baggage.

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
As the first Mission: Impossible director to have a solo screenwriting credit (he shares a ‘story by’ credit with Iron Man 3 co-scribe Drew Pearce), Christopher McQuarrie brings great storytelling to the table. He’s certainly not a technical artist on the level of Brian De Palma, John Woo, or Brad Bird, but he anchors Rogue Nation on stronger and smarter script than his forebearers. For those who don’t already know, McQuarrie’s original claim to fame was writing the twisty-turny screenplay to Bryan Singer’s Usual Suspects (1997). Since then, he has been mostly attached to either Singer or Cruise, including writing duties on Jack the Giant Slayer (2013), Edge of Tomorrow (2014), and the rare one-two Singer/Cruise punch, Valkyrie (2008). As a writer/director, he made two okay movies with bewilderingly vocal fanbases – The Way of the Gun (2000) and Jack Reacher (2012). Those films were too much like other, better movies to stand out as anything but well-made mediocrity, but Mission: Impossible’s patented lack of originality automatically negates McQuarrie’s greatest weakness and opens him up to unleash narrative tricks, snappy dialogue, and robust characters. He took the tonal lessons of Ghost Protocol to heart (don’t be afraid to be funny) and replaced that film’s nebulous and forgettable villain with the second most frightening personified threat in the series’ history (second to M:I:III’s ultra-terrifying Philip Seymour Hoffman).

McQuarrie’s action direction is certainly more utilitarian than Bird’s and I find myself missing the impressionistic qualities of Ghost Protocol’s Dubai scenes. However, there’s no denying the impact and impeccable pacing of Rogue Nation’s action. The mayhem compounds from set-piece to set-piece without numbing the audience. The suspense of a quiet underwater stunt is quickly proceeded by a show-stopping motorcycle chase that feels like a logical extension of the events, rather than another damn thing happening to our heroes. There is a tonal rhythm here that is missing from too many modern blockbuster action movies, not to mention a complete lack of unnecessary/obnoxious shaky-cam and speed-ramping. And the sense of geography – the single most important element in this type of action – is immaculate, especially during the crosscutting of the opera sequence, where we are constantly made aware of our location in the battle. Many of the Mission: Impossible movies, including Ghost Protocol, have a habit of overstaying their welcome, too. The climaxes often feel extraneous. For Rogue Nation, McQuarrie uses his skills as a screenwriter to build a narrative structure that facilitates increasing emotional stakes. With the most impactful action sequence (the motorcycle chase) already passed, the story continues to gain momentum and the emotional thrills of a well-laid plan coming to fruition replace the visceral thrills of fast vehicles and gunshots.

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
During my review of Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (a movie based on a contemporary/rival of the original Mission: Impossible television series), 2015 was a huge year for spy movies. This list, in release order, includes David Koepp’s dopey spoof Mortdecai (Jan 21), Matthew Vaughn’s Bond satire Kingsman: The Secret Service (Feb 13), Paul Feig’s sweet and silly Spy (June 5), James McTeigue’s mostly unseen Survivor (Jun 23), this film (July 31), Ritchie’s aforementioned The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Aug 14), Aleksander Bach’s video game-based Hitman: Agent 47 (Aug 21), Steven Spielberg’s real world-based Bridge of Spies (Oct 4), Sam Mendes’ classically-flavoured SPECTRE (Nov 6), and Bharat Nalluri’s Spooks: The Greater Good (Dec 4), based on the British television series (and retitled MI-5 stateside, seemingly to confuse consumers into thinking it was Mission: Impossible: 5). Despite cineastic fears that superhero movies are taking over Hollywood, there were only three wide-release movies in that category this year ( Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Fantastic Four).

I’m sure that there’s a wonderful essay out there about the socio-political dread of modern counter-terrorism and the NSA scandal, and how they lead audiences to crave escapist entertainment about good government agencies, but I don’t think I’m going to be the one to write it. What I find more interesting are the key plot elements that some of these recent spy flicks share. I understand that inside threats are an oft-used trope for espionage fiction (both M:I and M:I:II revolve around rogue agents within the IMF), but the frequency with which these tropes have been implemented this year is sort of staggering. And even more interesting than that is the fact that three groups of screenwriters working on three different espionage-themed blockbusters – Captain America: The Winter Soldier, SPECTRE and Rogue Nation – came to generally the same conclusions on how to deal with the introduction/reintroduction of nemesis organizations. I’m not interested in spoiling all three movies, so I will merely suggest to the people that have seen them that HYDRA, The Syndicate, and SPECTRE have similar world domination plans and that they execute those plans from within the ranks/under the noses of their counterpart organizations.

(P.S.: I’m probably going to talk about this again if they send me a copy of SPECTRE to review next year. Sorry in advance.)

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Video


According to specs, Rogue Nation was shot using a mix of digital HD and 35mm sources. It was shown on digital IMAX screens, but, assuming that the imdb.com specs are accurate, there was no large format footage shot (perhaps some of the Arri digital stuff was that big?). The overall look of this 2.40:1, 1080p image is consistent enough that I honestly didn’t suspect that multiple formats were used. Now that I know, I do notice some uptakes in fine grain, slightly fuzzy hard edges, and other film-based artefacts (edit: during the commentary, McQuarrie points out some of the digital shots and most of them are tight close-ups). Fortunately, while in motion, the hallmark differences between formats aren’t really noticeable. There are no sudden appearances of ghosting or overly sharpening effects, just a relatively even overall cleanliness and uniform gradations. McQuarrie and cinematographer Robert Elswit grade the footage, which creates further consistency between the film and digital images. The palette is quite eclectic, including natural browns and blues alongside more stylish greens, reds, and lavenders. The biggest delineations between normal and abnormal colours is usually found between exterior and interior shots – exteriors are merely heightened (the sun is a little yellower, clothing is a little bluer), while interiors are graded to almost duochromatic qualities, usually orange & teal or pink & cobalt. Black levels are strong, but do lighten up a bit at times, seemingly during the shot-on-film sequences.

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Audio


Rogue Nation is presented in Dolby Atmos sound with a typical core Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track, which is what I am reviewing here. The opening airplane stunt at the beginning of the movie gives the speakers a nice early workout, flooding the channels with roaring engines and wind. After that, things alternate between subtle dialogue-heavy sequences that are underscored by mood music and punchy, directional movement-heavy action spectacle. The interplay between silence and noise is regularly instituted to create the widest possible dynamic range. Fisticuffs pop, car chases rev (oh boy do they rev), gunfire bursts, and that terrifying underwater scene has a delightfully immersive swirl. Joe Kraemer, a relatively obscure composer that also scored Jack Reacher, picks up where Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, and Michael Giacchino left off. Kraemer’s original score is great and he recycles Lalo Schifrin's indelible Mission: Impossible theme in exciting ways. All of the music is nicely edited, but the opera sequence, which covers almost all other sound with rich tones of composers Puccini, Adami & Simoni.

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Extras


  • Commentary by producer/star Tom Cruise and director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie – This is more or less a standard-issue producer/director/screenwriter-type commentary that tends to focus on the technical logistics of big budget filmmaking – shooting, stunts, storytelling, and the efforts of the cast. There are laughs and both men are reasonably personable, but the general tone is down to business. Cruise does mention stunts and acting from time to time, but is so ingrained in producer mode that it is sometimes as if he’s talking about an asset or co-worker, rather than himself. McQuarrie spends a lot of time describing the mix-and-match reality of cutting together footage from multiple sources (i.e. “We shot this two months later in a parking lot” or “We stole this establishing shot from Clear and Present Danger, then added digital leaves to change the season”), which is a bit boring at first, but becomes a highlight, because it nicely illustrates the invisible hardships of movie magic.
  • Lighting the Fuse (6:00, HD) – McQuarrie and Cruise discuss story-breaking and improving on the narrative devices of the first four movies.
  • Cruise Control (6:30, HD) – The cast and crew discuss Cruise’s work as producer.
  • Heroes (8:10, HD) – A featurette on the cast and the characters they play.
  • Cruising Altitude (8:20, HD) – A breakdown of the design and execution of the opening plane stunt.
  • Mission: Immersible (6:50, HD) – A look at the design and execution of the more technically demanding underwater stunt.
  • Sand Theft Auto (5:40, HD) – The final stunt breakdown covers the car/motorcycle chase.
  • The Missions Continue (7:10, HD) – The cast and crew look back at the franchise as a whole, including continuing themes and easter eggs.

Target Stores are also releasing a version of Rogue Nation with an exclusive booklet, packaging, and a 50-minute stunt featurette.

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Overall


Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation might be the best movie in the franchise, though I’m open to arguments to the contrary (I know for a fact that even M:I:II has its defenders). The biggest problem I had with the whole movie was that, without his beard, lead villain Sean Harris looks too much like lead goofball Simon Pegg for it to have not been a plot point. I just kept waiting for that shoe to drop. This Blu-ray release features typically top-notch A/V (the DTS-HD MA soundtrack might even be demo-worthy) and a fair assortment of extras, though only the director/producer commentary really has a lot of meat on its bones.

 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


Links: