About four years ago, my sister, my buddy, and I all went to the movie theater to see Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. I had almost zero expectations at the time, having not been invested in the series since, oh, 1996, and surprised myself by really enjoying it. So, of course, we had to go see Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. (Although, according to some annoying blogger and his wife, Shirtless Tom Cruise is the only reason we REALLY went.)
I’m not sure if I liked it more than Ghost Protocol or not, but one way or the other, I had a pretty great time.
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) believes there’s an evil Syndicate up to naughty, naughty shit, but unfortunately, Alec Baldwin shuts the whole IMF down. Rather than come in, Hunt is forced to stop the Syndicate on his own. Or. Well. With a little help from his friends. And with a lot of help from the mysterious, badass Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson).
1. Movie plots like this depend on someone in law enforcement being the Asshole. In Rogue Nation, it’s Alec Baldwin and the CIA, shutting down the IMF just when the world, naturally, needs them the most.
Here’s what should be said about this, though: Alec Baldwin? Yeah, he kind of makes sense in this movie. Like, sure, he’s a dick, no doubt, but . . . he’s also arguing that the IMF needs transparency and oversight, not to mention that lots of things tend to horribly explode on their top secret missions — and he has pretty good evidence to back him up, for example, the Kremlin from Ghost Protocol.
None of this is really a problem with the film, mind you, just — it always kind of amuses me when a story’s Chief Asshat is arguing for something you’d probably be all for in real life, but aren’t here because, well, Movie Logic.
2. I’m not going to focus too much on any of the actors who’ve already been in this franchise. Simon Pegg continues to be hilarious. Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner also continue to delight. (It saddens me that the more I hear about Jeremy Renner, the more he kinda strikes me as an ass. Guy’s got talent, though. Brandt’s habit of unhelpfully repeating the same information over and over again while stressed amused me in Ghost Protocol, and it still amuses me here.)
However, we definitely need to talk about Rebecca Ferguson because oh my God, she rocked.
Paula Patton was okay in Ghost Protocol, but . . . I don’t know, she was just The Girl, you know? I didn’t hate her, but she also didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. Ilsa, on the other hand, seems like so much more than that, partially because I buy her line deliveries a little more, partially because her character is much more interesting, and partially because she saves Ethan’s ass not once, not twice, but four times. Ilsa kind of makes the whole movie for me. (Well, Benji too. I am an unabashed Simon Pegg fan.)
3. We also have our villain, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).
I’m always happy to see Sean Harris in something, purely because I’m friends with a guy named Sean Harris and the coincidence of it just tickles me. This Harris, though — for the most part, I like him. Solomon Lane isn’t a hugely interesting villain — he’s the Evil Genius type that’s always six moves ahead of the hero, like, I am honest-to-God surprised that no one uses a chess metaphor in this movie — but I think the actor gives the role a certain creep factor that makes him a bit more distinctive. (It’s certainly a different performance than you get from Harris in Prometheus. Ugh. That fucking movie, I swear to God.)
4. Each MI movie has a slightly (or significantly) different feel to it, likely because each movie was made by a different director. I was a bit disappointed when Brad Bird left the franchise, but Christopher McQuarrie is a pretty decent replacement. The action in this movie is awesome, and there is a lot of it. Definitely some nominees for Best Fight Sequence of 2016.
There are also a lot of references and throwbacks to the past films, which is pretty cool. And I like that we continue to show glimpses of the movie in the opening credits — I’ve always really enjoyed how the MI movies have done that. (Also BSG, The Wire, and probably a few other movies or shows that I can’t think of offhand.)
5. Finally, the only trend I wish hadn’t continued? People walking away from — nay, jumping up and riding away from — what are clearly fatal car accidents, or ought to be. Jesus Christ. Two beloved characters are dead right now. Everything that happens after this car accident? None of it’s real. It’s all just a figment of your depressed imagination.
Seriously, guys. Airbags and seat belts only do so fucking much.
In our opening action sequence, Tom Cruise recovers some nerve gas. To do so, he has to hold on to the side of a plane as it takes off and flies through the air. Then, this:
This is a terrible job. Seriously, who would even want this job?
Well, the IMF agents seem perfectly happy with all their crazy, plane-jumping antics, anyway. Unfortunately for them, Alec Baldwin is not and manages to get the whole thing shut down over the protests of Brandt (Jeremy Renner). Everyone in the IMF gets absorbed into the CIA except Ethan, who’s having a bit of a trying day himself. While in London, he goes to a record store that’s secretly an IMF front and meets a charming young British woman who’s a bit awestruck at meeting such an infamous agent. As she’s nice and likable, you know that she’s either (a) secretly a bad guy, or (b) about to die.
Turns out, she’s about to die. Solomon Lane (who I keep wanting to call Solomon Kane, despite the fact that I haven’t even seen that film) traps Ethan in one of those listening booths that I’ve only ever seen in movies. Lane kills the young British woman, forcing Ethan to watch and gassing him unconscious.
Ethan wakes up in some stereotypical torture chamber. The Bone Doctor (Jens Hultén) is about to interrogate him. Thankfully, Ilsa comes in to save Ethan’s ass.
There’s a lot of back-and-forth intrigue about Ilsa’s loyalties, but I’m just going to tell you up front: she’s secretly British Intelligence, working undercover with the bad guys. See, it turns out that the British actually created the Syndicate, only for it to backfire on them spectacularly. Ilsa’s handler, Atlee (Simon McBurney), cares a lot more about keeping this embarrassing fact quiet than he does about stopping the Syndicate or keeping Ilsa alive. But we’ll get to that.
Ilsa saves Ethan’s life (for the first time) in a pretty badass fight sequence. Sometimes, I wish I had the proper vocabulary to talk about fight scenes. It was just, I don’t know. Muscular. Brutal. Awesome. Anyway, Ethan escapes, but Ilsa stays behind so that she doesn’t blow her cover. Ethan, already wounded, calls Brandt for an extraction, but Brandt has to break the unfortunate news that the IMF is no more. Ethan refuses to come in, though, because he’s determined to hunt down the Syndicate and the Man Who Bested Him. Alec Baldwin isn’t concerned, declaring that this is the last day Ethan Hunt will spend as a free man —
— aaaaand cut to six months later, where Ethan Hunt is still a free man, supposedly in Cuba but actually doing manly workout routines in Paris. (I think? I don’t remember for sure, but I think he was staring at the Eiffel Tower through his window. Man. According to movies, everybody in Paris is always really conveniently close to that thing.)
Ethan also has a truly hideous, hideous beard because, I don’t know, everyone’s so busy gazing adoringly at the Eiffel Tower that no one has time to buy razors? Seriously, we get a shot of Ethan’s Gigantic On-the-Run beard, and I’m like, “Why?”
Benji (Simon Pegg), meanwhile, is stuck at his boring desk job at the CIA, lying his way through weekly polygraphs to pretend he doesn’t know or care where Ethan is. (He doesn’t know, actually, but he totally still wuvs Ethan. Awww.) The two do meet up, though, when Benji supposedly wins opera tickets in Vienna. Turns out, Ethan invited him to help stop the Syndicate from assassinating some politician dude.
This was all pretty enjoyable. I couldn’t help but have Foul Play flashbacks, since there’s an assassination attempt in an opera house in that movie too. (Thankfully, Rogue Nation doesn’t have any albinos and dwarves as bad guys. I haven’t seen Foul Play since I was a kid, but from what I remember, yeeaaah. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s pretty offensive.) Simon Pegg gets in a lot of snarky funnies, as he is wont to do, and Ethan has a pretty fun fight sequence with one of the bad guys.
Turns out, Ilsa is only one of, like, three different contingency plans to take out this politician dude. Ethan manages to (temporarily) save the guy by shooting him, but it’s all for naught because he and his wife blow up in their car shortly thereafter. Ilsa also saves Ethan’s life once in the opera house and once outside as they make their escape. For those of you playing at home, that brings the ‘Saving Ethan’s Ass’ count to three.
Ilsa takes off again. Ethan tries to tell Benji to go home because staying around will only put him in danger, but Benji isn’t having any of that shit. He actually yells at Ethan, which was pretty good for me on a spiritual level. (Not that Ethan’s so bad — I actually like the guy well enough, especially when he’s silently reacting to how Benji downplays the very real dangers that Ethan will be facing in an upcoming op. Still, I generally enjoy any time anyone yells at a hero for unnecessarily acting like a godamn martyr.)
Interestingly, Benji is almost treated like a love interest in this movie.
Not that the two share any long, lingering glances (unfortunately — although Ethan does point out Benji’s nice tux), but our big bad action hero trying to push Benji away in order to protect him is very much the kind of thing a hero often does to a love interest. But Benji refuses to go anywhere — because, you know, he’s spunky — and does, in fact, get abducted by the bad guy for the movie’s climactic third act, like, his life is used as leverage over the heroes and he gets strapped to a bomb and everything. He even gets too-closely menaced by our Big Bad! Honestly, I feel like I just watched an episode of Arrow or something.
After having saved Ethan’s life three times, Ilsa’s skating on thin ice with Solomon Lane. To prove herself, she has to steal some Important Ledger Thing. (It’s not really a ledger, though. Ultimately, it’s access to, like, All the Money, this big deal Red Box that can only be opened by the Prime Minister.) The mission to get the Important Ledger Thing has definite callbacks to the first movie and it’s a lot of fun. It’s less fun for Ethan, who kind of drowns, but no worries: Ilsa rescues his sorry ass again. Seriously, when Tom Cruise eventually steps down from this franchise, can Rebecca Ferguson take over? I like Jeremy Renner and all, but I’d sign up so fast to see Ilsa take the lead, I can’t even tell you.
Ilsa does betray Ethan and Benji soon after, though, because her mission is to take the drive back to the British government. You know this is going to happen the second Benji apologizes for misjudging Ilsa. He might as well be drop his pants and say, “Go ahead and kick me in the jewels, Ilsa. Kick me, kick me hard.”
Ilsa runs away from Ethan, from Benji, and from all of Solomon Lane’s henchmen. Ethan wastes no time getting up and following, despite the fact that Ilsa has just revived him via defibrillator. I suppose he at least has the decency to look dazed, a fact that Benji does not hesitate to point out, although he does not make any serious attempt to get in the driver’s seat himself. The car chase which follows is a good deal of fun, although again, less so for Ethan and Benji, as their car flips something like eight times at presumably 100 miles an hour and oh my God they would be so, so dead.
Only they aren’t dead because Ethan’s the hero, Benji’s beloved, and the only good guys who croak in these movies tend to go in the first fifteen minutes. So, yeah, they’re alive by the grace of God and bullshit physics. Ethan is stuck in the car for approximately ten seconds, and this time it’s up to Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames to save him. (They hit a bad guy with their car. It’s pretty funny.) Less than a minute later, Ethan’s free of the wreck and continuing the high speed pursuit on a bad guy’s motorcycle.
It is the most ridiculous thing ever. These movies are really named Mission Impossible because nobody could ever survive them.
You may be wondering — where the hell did Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames come from?
Well, the two partnered up, hoping to track Ethan down before Alec Baldwin and the CIA can manage to. (The CIA has Shoot to Kill orders now, as if people don’t regularly shoot to kill all the time in these movies.) Ving Rhames doesn’t fully trust Renner, not knowing where his loyalties fully lie, which is pretty much guaranteeing you that Renner’s loyalties will be in question at some point during the film. (And if you’ve ever seen a movie before, you’ll know that Renner’s supposed betrayal is actually part of the Plan. Honestly, why do people still do this? Was anybody really thinking, Oh no, that nice young man rumored to someday take over the franchise is actually betraying his team?)
The reason I’m actually bringing Rhames and Renner up, though, is to describe their investigative techniques. This is how they find Ethan: Rhames looks at a picture Ethan drew of Solomon Lane, then at a picture he drew of Ilsa, and finally decides to run Ilsa’s face through facial recognition. Why? Well, apparently just by looking at these two sketches, Rhames and Renner can tell that Ethan trusts Ilsa, and wherever she is, he’ll be. Because he . . . what? Drew her with kind eyes or something? Seriously, someone let me know if I misunderstood or missed an important line of dialogue, because that bullshit right there? That’s probably the worst example of Heart Knowledge I’ve seen all year.
Let’s see, where the hell was I? Right, so Atlee fucks Ilsa over, refusing to bring her in. She ends up meeting with Ethan’s team, telling Ethan that the two of them should just go away together, as their countries don’t give a shit about either of them. Which frankly, isn’t the worst idea. (Ethan and Ilsa never kiss or anything, but there’s a ridiculous amount of UST between them, only making me wonder . . . what the shit is up with Ethan’s wife?)
This is when Benji gets kidnapped. To get him back, the team has to kidnap the Prime Minister (Tom Hollander), or at least get him to open the Red Box drive. Ethan wears one of MI’s signature masks (you know, the ones that are so high-tech that they fool people into looking past completely different body types) and impersonates Atlee. This isn’t revealed right away, although you kind of have to figure Tom Cruise is impersonating someone in the room, since Alec Baldwin is hilariously talking about what an immense danger Ethan is, like I think he basically up and says, “Ethan is the incarnation of SWIFT, TERRIFYING DEATH.” (Okay, the line is actually “living manifestation of destiny.” Honestly, that might even be worse.)
Atlee and the Prime Minister (who I will henceforth be calling Prime Minister Collins because Pride and Prejudice 4ever) are the only people with Baldwin in the room, and as it wouldn’t make any sense for Ethan to be impersonating Prime Minister Collins, I should’ve known immediately that he was Atlee. However, I fixated on the Prime Minister anyway, maybe because PM Collins surprised me by seeming to be a reasonable person, but probably because Hollander and Cruise are both short people named Tom.
Anyway, Prime Minister Collins reveals to Alec Baldwin that the Syndicate is totally a real threat (up till now, Baldwin has assumed it was all conspiracy nonsense). Ethan makes his Big Reveal, doses the hell out of Prime Minister Collins, and gets him to unlock the Red Box. Later, he essentially out bluffs Solomon Lane, saves Benji from his bomb vest, and traps Lane in a big glass box — not unlike the listening booth Lane trapped Ethan in. (This movie has a very fine sense of balance when it comes to set-up, foreshadow, and reversals, like when it points out Brandt’s divided loyalties, or when Benji firmly declares that he and Ethan aren’t friends, only for him to just as firmly declare that they are later in the film.)
The team gasses Lane into unconsciousness, although I have to admit, the evil little bloodthirsty part of my brain was immediately like, “How do we know they’re just knocking him unconscious? Dude, there should totally be an alternate version where they just killed this asshole. The gas is toxic, Lane is dead, Ethan’s a sociopath, and Alec Baldwin was the hero all along!”
Also — because I forgot before — Ilsa gets into a pretty badass knife fight with the Bone Doctor and kills the hell out of him, which was awesome. Have I mentioned that I like Ilsa?
And — well, that’s about it. Ilsa takes off, but with an invitation for Ethan to follow, presumably for more dangerous/sexy shenanigans. Alec Baldwin, meanwhile, gets the IMF opened again so we can watch another sequel with another new director in a few years.
Benji: “Yes, the package is on the plane, we get it!”
Brandt: “I can neither confirm nor deny any specific action without the Secretary’s approval.”
Benji: “Well, we have a European Head of State here at the same time we’re looking for a nefarious terrorist. And I’m sure the two things are completely unrelated.”
Benji: “Join the IMF, see the world! On a monitor. In a closet.”
Ilsa: “Shoes? Shoes, please.”
Benji: “She tried to shoot me!”
Ethan: “That doesn’t make her a bad person.”
Benji: “That’s not your decision to make, Ethan! I am a field agent! I know the risks! More than that, I am your friend, no matter . . . what I con a polygraph every week. Now you called me because you needed my help. And you still do, so I’m staying. And that’s all we’re going to say about that.”
Ethan: “We’ve never met before, right?”
Benji: “Whoa, whoa, whoa, are you okay to drive? A minute ago, you were dead.”
Ethan: “What are you talking about?”
Benji: “This isn’t going to end well.”
Benji: “Important note: the profile is in Slot 108. And a slightly more important note: if you haven’t switched that profile before I reach the gait analysis, I’m dead.”
Brandt: “It’s a high speed chase! You just had to get the 4×4, didn’t you?”
Luther: “Don’t blame me, you chose the car — ”
Brandt: “You just had to have it!”
Really solid popcorn flick. Lot of enjoyable action scenes, some fun gender reversals. Some plot conveniences that kind of drive me crazy, but I’m mostly willing to forgive them because Rebecca Ferguson was so awesome and I love Simon Pegg in all things.
Nothing is impossible, if you’re Tom Cruise and you have a strong woman to save your ass, like, all the time.