Tuesday, September 29, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: Mission: Impossible— Rogue Nation

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation was written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie.

McQuarrie previously wrote The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack The Giant Slayer and Edge Of Tomorrow. He wrote and directed The Way Of The Gun and Jack Reacher.

Valkyrie, Jack Reacher and Edge Of Tomorrow all starred Tom Cruise. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is the fourth Cruise/McQuarrie collaboration.

The film is of course based on the CBS TV series that ran from 1966 to 1973.

Believe it or not this marked the first time I've ever seen a Mission: Impossible film in the theater. It's not that I've been deliberately avoiding them or anything like that— it's just that something always seemed to come up and I never got around to seeing them until they came out on home video.

Can you believe it's been a whopping NINETEEN years since the first film premiered way back in 1996? Amazing!

So far each film in the series has had a different director. Mission: Impossible was directed by Brian DePalma, Mission: Impossible II was directed by John Woo (complete with flying doves), Mission: Impossible III was directed by JJ Abrams (oy) and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol was directed by Brad Bird. Rather than harm the series, I think this revolving door policy has been good for the films. Constantly changing up the directors has helped give each film its own unique look and feel, preventing the series from stagnating.

Paramount wanted Brad Bird to direct this film as well, but he declined, choosing to helm the joyless flop Tomorrowland instead. Looks like he chose "unwisely."

Apart from the characters and the organization they work for, there's been little or no continuity between the various films. Again, I think that's actually a plus. They're not bogged down in decades of continuity and references to baffle newbies. Anyone can walk into one of these films without ever having seen the others and be up to speed in seconds. 

In the first few films, the Impossible Missions Force team had a rotating membership. With this film though it seems he's settled on a lineup, consisting of Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames. This permanent team is an all boy's club, as once again Cruise is paired with yet another seemingly disposable female spy. Is it part of his contract that he has to have a new woman in each outing?

So far this series is the closest thing America has to the James Bond films. Can the series keep on going the way Bond has? Hard to say. The Bond films have lasted for 53 years because the main character is recast every few years, much the same way as the Doctor on Doctor Who. Tom Cruise is most definitely the big draw in the M:I films, and it's tough to say whether the series could survive without him. They'd certainly be very different films without his intense presence.

The film was originally scheduled for a Christmas 2015 release, but was bumped up to July to avoid competition from the upcoming juggernaut Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I bet that's going to happen a lot come December.


The Plot:
Sit back, it's convoluted, and I'm going to do a lot of skimming. After intercepting a shipment of nerve gas, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (played by Tom Cruise) is convinced that the evil organization known as the Syndicate really exists. Ethan's captured by Syndicate agents, which would seem to confirm his suspicions. He's about to be tortured (giving Cruise an excuse to lose his shirt) when Syndicate agent Ilsa Faust (who's really working for MI6) helps him escape.

Meanwhile CIA Director Hunley (played by Alec Baldwin) shuts down the IMF, saying they're dangerous and irresponsible. He's not wrong. IMF Director Brandt (played by Jeremy Renner) objects to this. Hunley absorbs the IMF and its agents into the CIA. He plans to detain Ethan and make him answer for his actions. Ethan, now operating on his own, hunts down his only lead to the Syndicate-- a former MI6 agent named Solomon Lane.

Unable to find Lane on his own, Ethan recruits several former members of his IMF team, including Benji Dunn (played by Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (played by Ving Rhames). Ethan attends an opera in Vienna, suspecting Lane will be there. Syndicate operatives assassinate the Austrian Chancellor at the opera, and Ethan is blamed.

Now wanted by the CIA, Ethan and his group go to Morocco to infiltrate an impossible to enter (hence the title) computer server which contains a list of all known Syndicate agents. Faust steals the info and flees, now pursued by both Ethan's group and the Syndicate. Faust returns to London with the stolen list, hoping to finally end her undercover mission in the Syndicate, but her MI6 handler orders her to continue.

Lane's men abduct Benji, and Ethan vows to rescue him. Faust gives Ethan the Syndicate list. Ethan then infiltrates a London charity auction, attended by the British Prime Minster, as well as CIA Director Hunley. Ethan gets the Prime Minister to confirm the existence of the Syndicate to Hunley. Apparently the Syndicate was started as sort of British version of the Impossible Missions Force, but Solomon Lane hijacked the project and is using it to further his own agenda.

Ethan then meets with Lane's agents, including Faust, who have a bomb rigged to Benji's chest. He tells the Syndicate that he memorized the list (!) and then destroyed it. He tells them to release Benji or he'll order Faust to kill him, and then Lane will have nothing. Lane reluctantly orders his agents to release Benji.There's a big shootout/chase in the London streets between the Syndicate and Ethan's team. Ethan lures Lane into a transparent bulletproof box and gases him.

Hunley and Brandt meet with the Senate committee back in Washington. Hunley tells them he disbanded the IMF so that Ethan could go undercover, and now wants it reactivated. The Senators agree, and appoint Hunley as the new IMF Secretary.

• Say what you will about Tom Cruise's nutsy cuckoo personal life, but the guy definitely throws himself into his work. He practically kills himself to entertain us.

As the film opens, a huge Syndicate transport plane takes off, filled with nerve gas bombs. Ethan Hunt clings precariously to the side of the plane as it takes off, in an effort to stop it.

Amazingly that's not CGI that's really Tom Cruise hanging on the outside of the plane. He was wearing a safety harness that was digitally removed, but still... At times he was clinging to the plane at an altitude of 5000 feet. Cruise wore specially designed contact lenses to allow him to keep his eyes open in the strong winds. It took eight takes of the stunt to get the required footage.

Cruise also reportedly did all his driving stunts. And he trained with a diving specialist in order to hold his breath for three minutes so he could perform the "underwater computer chip switch" later in the film. The scene was filmed in one long take, but was unfortunately intercut with other scenes to make it appear longer.

• Cruise was set to play Napoleon Solo in recent The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie, but dropped out to star in this one. Good choice.

• The Syndicate, the villainous organization in this film, was regularly a foe of the IMF on the TV series.

• This time Ethan receives his secret orders via an LP in a vintage record shop. IMF agent Jim Phelps often received his orders the same way in the TV show.

• Kudos to actor Sean Harris as Syndicate leader Solomon Lane. His detached manner, high pitched, raspy voice and off-putting rodent-like looks make him one of the creepier screen villains in recent memory.

• The underwater terminal Ethan has to access is labeled 108. That number pops up quite a bit in every Bad Robot-produced film (like this one).

• This is the first Mission: Impossible film to not feature a "dangling from a cable" scene, which has become a trademark of the series. Ethan does jump into a vertical tunnel from a great height, though.

• At the end of the film, Ethan and his team capture Solomon Lane in a bullet-proof Plexiglass box and gas him into unconsciousness (or maybe to death, who knows?). A few things here.

First of all, the box is about the size of a phone booth (remember those?), so the capture depends on Lane standing in exactly the right spot. If he'd stopped even a couple feet short, or stood a bit to the side, the whole thing would have failed.

Second, when Ethan gives the signal, the walls of the box slide into place from somewhere, and assemble themselves into an airtight container in two or three seconds. How the hell did that happen? Where'd the walls of the box come from? How'd they slide into place so perfectly? Don't you need some kind of gaskets to form an airtight seal? I know, I know, it's a spy fantasy.

Lane doesn't take kindly to being trapped in th Plexiglass box, and fires at the bulletproof walls at point blank range. Luckily for him the bullets apparently disintegrate and don't ricochet back into his face.

• Lastly, I'd like to give a big thumbs down to the moth which invaded the theater at my showing. About half an hour into the film, a large black dot appeared dead center in the screen. At first I thought it was some flaw in the film, but everything's digital now. FIlm scratches and such are relics of the past. I finally realized it was a big ol' bug on the screen, most likely a moth. It was a big one— at least two inches long.

It sat in the middle of the screen for a few minutes, making Tom Cruise (and all the other characters) look like he had a beauty mark on his cheek. It was very distracting. I had a hard time concentrating on the plot because I kept staring at the moth.

Gradually the moth started crawling up the screen very, very slowly. It would crawl a few feet and then stop for a while before starting up again. It would seemingly disappear during the night scenes as it blended in. Then there'd be a daytime scene and it would show up again in all its glory. There was an alarming moment when it looked like it had turned around and was heading back down the screen again, but it righted itself and continued up again.

It took about forty five excruciating minutes before it finally, at long, long last, reached the top of the screen and disappeared. Whew! I felt like cheering when it finally made it.

I briefly thought about asking for a refund, but it would have been hard to prove. "Really, there was a big moth on the screen, and it was very distracting! It's not there now, but honest, it was there for an hour!"

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation is an action packed spy adventure, and a worthy entry into a series that shows no signs of stopping. Assuming Tom Cruise doesn't kill himself trying to entertain us with his ever-escalating stunts, I see no reason why it can't keep on going. I give it a B.

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