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WesternSFA
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Simon McBurney, Zhang Jingchu, Tom Hollander, Jens Hultén and Alec Baldwin
Running Time: 131 min
Rated: PG-13
DVD Release: December 15, 2015

We begin with comedy in Belarus. Marvel’s Hawkeye talks to Shaun of the Dead and Marsellus Wallace about a package. It’s on a plane and the plane needs to not take off. Fortunately Ethan Hunt is ready to leap onto that plane and rescue that package at incredible risk to himself. It’s telling that when we see Tom Cruise nowadays, we have no problem thinking of him as his Mission: Impossible character, while we’re not really ready to do that with any of these other very recognisable faces. This is his fifth Mission: Impossible movie, but he’s kept them spaced out, the first one dating as far back as 1996.

‘I’ve heard stories,’ says the record store girl, who gives him an LP to listen to in a booth. ‘They can’t all be true.’ Unfortunately the recording turns out not to be from the Impossible Mission Force but from the Syndicate, whom Ethan Hunt has been trying to prove exists for a year.

Back in the US, Jeremy Renner battles Alec Baldwin. Renner is William Brandt, fighting for the IMF’s survival in front of a senate committee. Baldwin is Alan Hunley, the director of the CIA, fighting to take over its operation. The latter wins and the IMF is history.

Cruise is Ethan Hunt, of course, whose job is now to take on the Syndicate solo. This experience proves that they exist, but he has very little to go on, just a former, supposedly dead, agent called Janik Vinter, better known as the Bone Doctor.

Baldwin pledges to have him in a day. Six months later, our story really begins, with Hunt setting up a wall of details for the inevitable CIA squad to find, details that show that he really hasn’t been inactive.

Pegg is Benji Dunn, Hunt’s tech genius, now playing Halo at the CIA and lying on his weekly polygraph. Hunt brings him back in by sending him tickets to Turandot at the Vienna Opera.

This is strong stuff. We’re in a classic setting, with a European head of state in attendance, the Austrian Chancellor. There’s a killer, of course, a big, tough killer with cool tech and a cool gun. There’s another shooter too, a stylish lady in yellow. And... well, let’s just say that things aren’t quite as simple as they might seem because this is intrigue as much as it is action.

Rebecca Ferguson is Ilsa Faust, part of that intrigue, and hers is a name I wasn’t familiar with, even though I’d seen her in Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules. She’s a Swedish actress who does good work here, with solid acting chops, impressive agility and a Charlotte Rampling meets Maggie Gyllenhaal look. Clearly she’s the key to the puzzle. She’s also the means by which the picture sets up all the usual impossibilities for Hunt and Dunn to find a way to achieve, beginning with an impressive underground and underwater datacenter in Casablanca that’s right out of science fiction and complete lunacy. It’s hilarious how impressively air gapped networks are set to allow USB keys to plug right in.

That leaves Ving Rhames for the good guys. He’s Luther Stickell, who resigned rather than shift from the IMF to the CIA along with Brandt and Dunn. Once we find out about Ilsa Faust and what she’s up to, Brandt brings Stickell back into the picture to find the other two and figure out what’s going on, without the CIA finding out in the process.

Of course, we’re set up from moment one to believe that Baldwin is clearly a major player in the Syndicate, if not the head of it. However, that’s too obvious and the last piece of the puzzle is Solomon Lane, a former British intelligence agent played by Sean Harris. This is a long way from his role as Ian Curtis, the singer of Joy Division, in the underrated 24 Hour Party People, though sadly I’d guess most people know him nowadays fromPrometheus. This reminds me that I really need to get round to watching Creep.

There’s a lot of good here, but there’s some Hollywood excess, of course. The Casablanca chase scenes are truly spectacular, for instance, but it’s a ridiculously empty city and the stuntwork has none of the impact of Mad Max: Fury Road because we don’t believe that almost any of it is real. It doesn’t help that, as ever, Tom Cruise appears to be entirely immune to bruises. And that’s just Casablanca. After that, as the web of intrigue starts to unravel, things get shouty as if secret agents all do their training on The Jerry Springer Show. And so it goes.

I enjoyed this mostly for the writing, because it ponders interestingly on ethics in espionage and weaves a complex web with move and countermove, and for the quality character acting in a surprisingly small supporting cast. Rebecca Ferguson impressed me most and Sean Harris was very interesting, especially vocally. Simon McBurney fills a brief supporting role with impressive gravitas. The franchise regulars are less impressive but they do everything they need to, even Ving Rhames who seems to act without acting. As for Tom Cruise, he ought to be getting too old for this shit but he’s actually getting more interesting. I liked this, in many ways, more than I remember liking the first few films in the franchise.. ~~ Hal C F Astell

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