Before I get in too deep here, let me preface this review by saying that I have been a huge Tom Cruise fan since I was in single digits. And it's not because we share the same last name that is pronounced the exact same way. And it's not because I conned a few girls I had to have make an appearance at my Bar Mitzvah for street cred because there was a possibility that my cousin Tom, may be making an appearance at the event and the only reason my name was spelled differently was because my family wanted to avoid the publicity. I could care less about Cruise's affiliation with Scientology and do not think that we will see a showman like him for at least another generation. Whether as an actor or a producer, the guy's work comes first. I even read that after the Vienna premiere of M:I ROGUE NATION, he hopped a plane to the NYC premiere to sign autographs--two hours before he had to be there. Say what you want about Cruise, the guy is a consummate movie star.
It is hard to believe that it has been almost twenty years since the original big screen adaptation of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE debuted with director Brian DePalma behind the lens. Now almost twenty years later and Cruise looking barely a day older than he did back in '96, he returns as IMF Agent Ethan Hunt in the fifth installment of the film reteaming with his JACK REACHER director Christopher McQuarrie. From the opening scene, the audience does not have a chance to breathe. That crazy stunt you've been seeing advertised all summer? Yeah, that opens the movie with virtually no setup putting ticket holders smack dab in the middle of one of the most insane stunts I have ever seen on film. And yes, Cruise did it himself with the stunt coordinator even making contact lenses that would keep dust and dirt out of his eyes at that altitude and wind sheers. After my screening of the film last night, I randomly came across a video chronicling Cruise's journey as Hunt with the title, "How the Hell is Tom Cruise not dead yet?" It's a must watch about Cruise doing his own stunts for the MISSION movies, SO CLICK THIS LINK TO WATCH: http://on.fb.me/1hg6QhK
After Hunt saves the payload in fantastic fashion, the narrative of M:I FIVE begins. Back in Langley, CIA head Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin delightfully chewing the scenery) is going toe to toe with IMF Agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) in front of a committee that will decide the fate of the IMF. Hunley is vehemently against the IMF running as a no rules shadow company while Brandt, very funnily I might add, continues to answer each question with the same deadpan C-SPAN answer that had me immediately thinking that Renner should give comedy a shot.
When we return to Hunt in the UK, he retrieves one of his usual eyes only messages from a gorgeous doe-eyed record store clerk who is in awe that "it's really him, the Ethan Hunt!" While playing the message, it all goes to hell with the LP revealing it is from "The Syndicate" and the listening room is being gassed. One last glance out of the door and he sees a man off the beautiful twenty-something with a bullet to the head. It was the man's face that Hunt was locked in on before passing out.
When awaking, Hunt is literally hung out to dry by members of the Syndicate but escapes with the help of the stunning UK operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Whose side Faust is on is anyone's guess but it is revealed that the head of The Syndicate or "Rogue Nation" is former British Intelligence Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), quite possibly the most boring villain I have ever encountered. Not just in a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE movie, every movie I have ever seen. I dreaded every time he was on screen. He looks like a non-threatening Stephen Lang and speaks barely above an audible octave. He is not intimidating, savvy, megalomaniacal or crazy. He is just there. How he has people listening to him despite being in kahootz with the head of British Intelligence, this, to me, is the one big downfall of the film.
Since the Syndicate is basically the Anti-IMF enlisted of presumed dead elite special forces from all over the world (CIA, MOSSAD, MI-6, etc), they know Hunt and his teams moves. For six months Ethan is off the grid with one foot completely ahead of Langley. The sketches of Solomon Lane and Ilsa are all he has along with a truckload of Intel. The always affable Benji (Simon Pegg) has been playing HALO quietly at his CIA desk for six months when he is not taking weekly polygraphs asking if he knows of Hunt's whereabouts. On a whim, Benji says "eff it" and takes two tickets he appears to have won to the opera TURANDOT in Vienna. Unfortunately for Benji, this is not a weekend getaway but a gambit by Ethan to get some much-needed assistance. The opera set piece is quite grand but for me a little too similar to the TOSCA opera scene in the 007 film, QUANTUM OF SOLACE. That similarity aside, I liked this opera scene better in MISSION than Bonds because it illustrates how far The Syndicates reach goes. The tentacles of this organization has the reach in global shaping events that at first glance may just look like a coincidence but upon further examination, this is a group with billions at their disposal in a play for world domination. But besides my problem with Lane as the mastermind villain, we do not really see "The Syndicate," just faceless thugs all skilled in fighting, weaponry, motorcycles--your basic movie mercenary stuff. Without Lane to invest in and not really seeing any of his machinations, the bad guys, in general, are just bland but still formidable. If the good guys were not so hugely entertaining, I would not have given the film such a high rating.
After the attempted assassination of the Austrian chancellor and then the actual assassination of the chancellor, the noose on Hunt and Benji tightens. And it just so happens that the lovely Ilsa was one of the shooters at the opera house who is now in tow for a minute or so. This one is a wily minx and even an hour into the picture, I was flummoxed as to whose side she was really on. I have to say that I really enjoyed how much Pegg's character of Benji has grown in the film series. At one point, Benji stands up to Hunt snapping that once a week he has to lie that they are not friends nor knows his whereabouts and that he is not going anywhere even though Hunt encourages Benji to go back to Virginia and divulge everything. It is a well-orchestrated scene that illustrates Benji's really coming into himself as an Agent of the IMF.
While catapulting all over the map from London to Cuba to Virginia to Vienna to Casablanca and back to London, eventually the lawless and stateless Hunt brings in his most loyal compatriots with both Brandt and Luther Stickel aboard for the ride. Ilsa is in and then she's out, in, out, in, out so it's hard to keep track of what level she is on. But I absolutely loved watching her because she is just so beautiful, like a throwback movie star from the '40's. It is funny because Ilsa is instrumental in a dazzling underwater scene where she assists Ethan who must retrieve a passcode file in three minutes while Benji simultaneously has to pass a series of identity checks that look, well, impossible. Follow this up with a car chase in tandem with a motorcycle chase that is so insanely orchestrated, I was actually moving in my seat like I was a kid at an arcade on a motorcycle where you have to lean right and left to move. It is brilliant, seriously.
The finale of the film is clever but I had no investment in the villain at all. This guy is no Goldfinger or Hans Gruber; there nothing memorable about him at all. Not even intimidating for a single scene which I was disappointed in. Sans my distaste for the lack of a really hardcore villain in the film, ROGUE NATION is a fantastic summer popcorn movie with one of the biggest stars on the planet doing what he does best. It is no wonder that Paramount announced over the weekend that a sixth installment in the series is now on the schedule. To be honest I can see Cruise playing Ethan Hunt into his 60's considering that he doesn't even look 40 let alone 53. The fact of the matter is that CGI aside, it is hard to think of a film series that gives you pure action anymore with jaw-dropping stunts that top the last installment every few years. It is highly doubtful that even after M:I 6, this franchise won't self-destruct anytime soon.