Movie review: “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation”

This movie comes coasting into theaters on the goodwill generated by “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”, a shockingly good installment whose goodness becomes less shocking when you consider that Brad Bird was responsible for it. This sequel retains all the hallmarks of the franchise: elegant vehicle chases, Rube-Goldberg-esque gadgets, and a thorough distrust of anyone who is not Tom Cruise—or providing comic relief and vehicular support to someone who is. Would that it had retained Brad Bird and lost that last one. Because without a strong storyline to hold it together, this movie falls into chaotic globe-hopping set pieces, each diverting enough to make for a really great car or watch commercial, but not enough to make us care about how they fit together. This is the kind of movie where characters are endlessly recapping stakes to keep the audience aware of what the plot isn’t clear enough to communicate:

“That VX nerve gas was enough to start an apocalypse.”
“You would have had access to unlimited budgets and become judge, jury and executioner, with no oversight.”
“If we allow that disc to fall into Lane’s hands, he will unleash a shadow nation of terror.”

The bad news doesn’t stop there. Under Bird’s direction, gadgets were sources of fun and terror—they enabled incredible feats but also malfunctioned at critical moments, leaving a gap to be filled with pluck and ingenuity. Under Christopher McQuarrie, gadgets are expensive-looking beepy things that break glass and track suitcases and always tell you exactly how much time the bomb has left or what percentage of oxygen remains in your blood. Give it another year and you’ll be able to buy them all at Sharper Image, but like everything else bought there, they’re essentially joyless, signifying merely that A Lot Of Money Was Spent Making This Movie. And yet most thrilling surprise the movie offers comes courtesy of a rubber mask, which probably cost less than the fifty seconds of Tom Cruise’s time spent wearing it.

And let’s talk about Tom. Tom, we know you race motorcycles. We know you keep in shape. We know you do your own stunts. But there’s a fine line between an admirable commitment to the physical work of acting, and a vanity project. This is the latter, a fact never clearer than during the cringe-inducing monologue forced on Alec Baldwin, in which he actually has to say the words “Ethan Hunt is the personification of destiny.” Sorry, but no one named Ethan gets to personify a force, unless that force is constipation. Ethans may make fantastic soy lattes, but they do not turn the tides of history, and any movie that asks us to believe Tom Cruise as a Hard Man making Hard Decisions should try harder not to let us get a look at the lifts in his shoes.

So, should you go see “Mission Impossible: Rogue Terror Alert Magenta”? Actually, yeah, if you want to get out of the heat and enjoy a masterfully colored, spectacularly photographed series of gorgeous stunts performed by beautiful people in frankly awe-inspiring clothes. The price of admission alone was well covered by a Vogue-level interior shot of a Moroccan resort home, where the colors of the sky are reflected off a brushed concrete floor and picked up in a vivid blue set of trainers worn by Simon Pegg, who can wear a set of trainers. Men are as beautifully costumed in this film as women—pink and purple get busted out and used to staggering effect, not just on Cruise but on Pegg and Renner and Rhames. Unlike the Bond franchise that Mission Impossible is trying so desperately to be, everyone gets to look good here, and that’s refreshing. So is a scene shot in an underwater turbine—the space is clearly defined and frightening as hell, and I felt my attention skyrocket as I waited for each sweep of the turbine arm to knock Cruise ass-over-teakettle. (Let’s face it, I was kind of rooting for the turbine arm.) But if you’re wondering if everyone will be talking about “Mission Impossible: Crimson Threshold Heatwave Powersurge” on Monday at work? Rest assured they won’t be.

Talking would mean they’d have had to care.

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