Somewhere in the middle of loud action, threatening dinosaurs and pixilated activities in films ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, Tom Cruise managed to release the latest film in the Mission Impossible series. Rogue Nation is one of the more intelligent in the series, and is a refreshing combination of action and Cold War spy thriller. It’s full of twists and turns, and features one of the best leading ladies in a recent action film.
Cruise just manages as an actor to get away with being an action star at this point. While he’s been slow to age, is still in shape and moves well, his face tells us that all the fighting and running has a certain shelf life. As a producer, though, he and his team have given us a great example of how to keep the energy and life in a franchise that could easily have lost its identity. It has elements of James Bond, but MI is not that series. It’s full of action, but is not any of those other mindless offerings. It’s opened and kept at number two, but has managed to entice a large number of viewers drawn to its more adult sensibilities.
The strongest asset in the film, and one that attests to the series’ attempts to address a more mature audience, is the presence of Rebecca Ferguson as the lead female. She’s pretty, of course, but far more interesting looking than that, and tougher than she is pretty. She isn’t 20 and scatterbrained, but 30-plus and a serious participant in the fight scenes. She’s easily Cruise’s equal in every scene, and it’s to the film’s benefit that there is no sex scene, and (spoiler alert) the expected kiss turns into a heartfelt hug that enriches the entire film.
As a film nerd, I was delighted to note that her striking resemblance to film legend Ingrid Bergman didn’t go unnoticed. Her name here is Ilsa, the same as Bergman’s in Casablanca, and some scenes take place in Morocco, specifically Casablanca. She never went to Rick’s, but I think we get the nudges.
Cruise also wisely shares the screen with accomplished actors who both hold their own, and likely bring out a stronger performance from their leading man. Jeremy Renner, who can’t seem to manage a successful lead in a film, does solid work, as does Simon Pegg, who pulls off the serious aspects of his character without losing his comic persona, not an easy task. Cruise underplays at times, offering a less intense performance, one punctuated by moments of his character’s being dizzy or suffering the effects of the previous scenes’ exertions. It adds a reality to the film and keeps Cruise from too much thespian couch-jumping.
One element worthy of more study than my mere mention is Cruise’s expected “can-you-top-this?” scene. Last time it was crawling on the outside of the world’s tallest building. Here he is “really, really” holding onto a plane as it ascends. There has been a great deal of press about this event, so we all know it’s real. Yet it is less than dazzling or tense. That’s because CGI had reached a point of simulation so real that the “reality” of the stunt doesn’t have the punch it should have. It just seems like a modern-day version of a matte shot. Let the cinematic speculation begin.
Renée Zellweger might have had Tom Cruise at “hello” in Jerry McGuire. MI:RN had me at “Nessun Dorma,” my favorite classical piece. It not only is featured dramatically a la the Albert Hall sequence toward the end of Hitchcock’s 1956 The Man Who Knew Too Much, its main theme is used throughout as part of the background score. It lends the entire proceedings an elegance that enhances the entire film.
Cruise’s character of Ethan Hunt is not as exciting or iconic as others (e.g., Bond, nearly any action hero), but this latest offering keeps things exciting by all the questions consistently raised in the plot. Is she with us, or against us, or both? What is the Syndicate—is it real or fictional, and if either, what might that mean? Has the IMF really been canceled? Is the data, captured at such a cost, really worth anything? Is Ethan going to die? (OK, that last one is really never in doubt.)
Released July 31, this film is the perfect segue from summer action to more serious and thoughtful films that come in the fall. More intriguing than dazzling, providing more thought than action (of which it provides plenty), MI:RN is smart, full of quick turns, and introduces us to a fascinating new action star in its leading lady. For those waiting impatiently for Spectre (November 6 in the U.S.), try this in the meantime.