In Hot Fuzz, director Edgar Wright’s attempt at both satirising and making a worthwhile entry to the action movie genre, Simon Pegg’s character Nicholas Angel is frequently bemused by his new colleague’s obsession with action movies, that couldn’t be further from representing the truth of their job fighting crime. In real life, Simon Pegg has gone from supporting player to an integral part of the Mission: Impossible franchise. Rogue Nation, the fifth instalment, is one of the most ridiculous (and ridiculously enjoyable) action movies of recent years, one that will likely join the pantheon of movies ranging from Point Break to Bad Boys 2 that his Hot Fuzz character should be ashamed for not only having not seen, but not idolising in all its realism-free glory.
After infiltrating a plane to retrieve nerve gas sold by terrorists, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, slowly starting to look like a 53 year old man) calls to get the orders for his next mission, only to find that the IMF have been shut down by the director of the CIA, played by Alec Baldwin, who is yet again channeling his inner Jack Donaghy. Hunt is then captured by “the syndicate”, a worldwide terrorist organisation who he now aims to take down, despite being on the run from the CIA who want to question him for his destructive crimes. After escaping with the sort-of help from syndicate member and undercover MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), he enlists the help of old friend and now CIA office drone Benji (Simon Pegg) to meet him in Vienna to try to find the leader of the syndicate, who plans to kill the Austrian chancellor with a car bomb. They don’t succeed, leaving them with no option but to go on the run on a globe-trotting trip. From there, the mission gets increasingly impossible, even if the franchise still should be filed alongside The Never-Ending Story in movie-related false advertisement lawsuits.
Realism has been thrown out of the window altogether- nothing in this movie would happen in real life and it is all the better for it
In all honesty, I haven’t been a fan of the Mission: Impossible franchise- although the previous entry, the Brad Bird-directed Ghost Protocol, was a step in the right direction for prioritising ridiculous action set pieces over narrative. The first three movies (directed by Brian De Palma, John Woo and J.J Abrams respectively- how can three directors of that calibre make forgettable, generic action movies?) didn’t offer anything remotely original to the spy movie genre, yet contained some glorious action moments that you wish were driving the film instead of the uninteresting narrative. The problem with the original trilogy, especially the third outing, was the aspirations towards realism, something that seems at odds with the innate ludicrousness of the spy genre and at odds with the kinds of movies all three directors made before. Finally, realism has been thrown out of the window altogether; nothing in this movie would ever happen in real life and it is all the better for it. At times I was reminded of Mad Max: Fury Road and how it managed to stay unpredictable despite being faced with the most straightforward narrative possible. In the best moments here, it is thrillingly unpredictable- the running joke of the franchise is that no mission proves impossible, due to Ethan Hunt’s quasi-superpowers and an endless stream of gadgets that seem to solve every problem.
Causing mayhem on this scale that can be easily solved by that screenwriter favourite tool, “bullshit science”, is usually irritating- here, it is just an easy way for the filmmakers to get a free licence to do whatever they want. They aren’t shackled by narrative demands or pretensions to realism, so why not have fun and make it as silly as possible? This is, after all, a movie that opens with Ethan Hunt climbing onto the side of an aeroplane as it takes off, holding on to the cabin doors as it ascends higher into the sky- this would be a climactic moment elsewhere, here the movie seems to be in a game of constant one-upmanship with itself. Director Christopher McQuarrie, who previously directed Cruise in the underrated Jack Reacher, realises that as he hasn’t made a name for himself in the way every other director in the franchise had done before they took the reins, he should use this film to make his name synonymous with world-beating action. Other directors strive to make scenes that could be described as “operatic”; McQuarrie takes this literally and stages a central moment at a Viennese opera, climaxing with a shootout soundtracked by Nessun Dorma IN IT’S ENTIRETY.
Any new homeowners looking to furnish their house with a kitchen sink will be disappointed to hear that there is presumably a worldwide shortage, as McQuarrie has pretty much thrown every one he can find at the screen here. There are record store assassinations, car chases, underwater sequences, motorcycle chases, kidnappings and a plot to kill the British prime minister; luckily, it is a fake prime minister played by Tom Hollander (not reprising his role from In the Loop, sadly) and not David Cameron, whose assassination would be greeted by many British audiences with the hope that Ethan Hunt’s attempt to stop his murder being a mission that would prove impossible. In the best of these sequences, it achieves the thing all action movies should strive for- it becomes impossible to write about them coherently after viewing, as they all possess a deranged logic that has to be seen to be believed.
That isn’t to say the sequences aren’t coherent, as McQuarrie manages to pull off the trick of shooting action scenes in a way that actually lets you see whats happening, without fast edits that attempt to show action from all angles but just provoke confusion as to what is going on. Although the material is as trashy as movies can be, it is shot with an element of class, understanding that intelligent audiences equally demand popcorn escapism and should be greeted with a technically efficient action movie that favours coherence over “money shots” from all angles that cut into the next shot in less than a couple of seconds.
Far more fun as it embraces its own silliness
This isn’t the only reason Rogue Nation as far removed from the Michael Bay school of action filmmaking as you can possibly be; here, we have equal opportunities shirtlessness, all of which makes sense in the context of the film- you aren’t left with the queasy feeling that the director is just trying to appease the horny, slightly sexist attitudes of teenage boys. In this respect, it also seems to be correcting the mistakes of the pre-Daniel Craig Bond films (the ones that, controversial statement alert, are outdated and frankly, quite shit), that only ever included central female characters in order for Bond to sleep with them. If the Bond franchise rights it’s outdated wrongs and gets better the more serious it gets, then Mission: Impossible, the far more ridiculous spy narrative, is far more fun as it embraces its own silliness and stops taking any insights into the spy game seriously. The spy movie genre is famously easy to parody, yet I had a sour taste in my mouth from Kingsman: The Secret Service, due to the fact the movie was embracing the outdated tropes of Roger Moore-era 007 films, instead of satirising or subverting them; when a major franchise blockbuster, in a franchise close to two decades old, feels more like a revitalisation of the spy genre than the one that is trying its hardest to be subversive, you know something strange is happening.
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation realises that you don’t need to be subversive in order to be entertaining; in fact, it is thrillingly old school, realising all the adventures that likely would have happened in old Bond movies were the budget and the technology available to filmmakers back then. Better still, it rights the wrongs (mainly the gender portrayals) of old action movies whilst still paying tribute to their spirit. Yet you are so in the moment whilst watching Rogue Nation, you never think about any of this whilst watching it; it is filled with so many plot holes that many cinemas are going to need to pay for scaffolding to make sure any screens playing the movie don’t collapse into them- yet it moves so quickly, you don’t have time to stop and dwell on the details. Rogue Nation is the acceptable face of braindead filmmaking and is all the better for it.