Friday, July 31, 2015
19 years after Tom Cruise first appeared as super-spy Ethan Hunt in the first entry of the series, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation gives us one of the first indications that the box office star is getting a little old for action films. It's not that Cruise isn't capable of pulling off the abundant stunts littered throughout the film, or at least appearing that he does. Five minutes in, Ethan Hunt is hanging off of the side of an Airbus as it takes off, and the camera is firmly planted on a real-life plane's wing, trained on Cruise dangling from the plane's doorway, not some stunt-man. But it's a silly scene, related to the plot in only the most tangential way, as are most of the other stunt setpieces in Rogue Nation.
What most of these stunt scenes appear to be designed for are to bolster the image of the franchise's star. This is the first time Cruise's boyish visage looks pinched and bloated. Remember, he is pushing 53. Rather than face the prospect of aging head on, the way the Star Trek franchise did, Rogue Nation goes the way the Bond franchise went when Roger Moore began to get long in the tooth: pretend like it isn't happening to protect its hero's image. So rather than stay close to its espionage roots as the more satisfying first and third chapters of the series have, or at least blend the action and intrigue more naturally as the previous Ghost Protocol did, Rogue Nation goes full-on John Woo and mythologizes Ethan Hunt (and by extension, Tom Cruise) just like in the clunky Mission: Impossible II.
Jeremy Renner's character, William Brandt, introduced in Ghost Protocol as a more cerebral possible successor to Cruise's Hunt, is relegated here to comic relief and bureaucratic spats with Alec Baldwin's smarmy CIA Director Hunley. Ilsa (exotic new female lead Rebecca Ferguson), a double agent whose skills may possibly outmatch Hunt's, serves the secondary purpose of protecting Cruise's sex symbol image by inexplicably getting all dewy-eyed for the guy from the instant they meet. Well, not so inexplicably since, hey, this is Ethan F-in Hunt, and he can do anything, including escape from a room stocked with a dozen disgraced former agents that may be just about as talented at killing as he is. Rogue Nation's saving grace is a fine performance by Sean Harris as the baddie that heads up the IMF's antagonists, the mysterious Syndicate. Harris' lean, sharp features and quiet demeanor are a menacing antidote to the freewheeling Cruise's smirky take on his character in this iteration of Mission: Impossible. A thrilling underwater heist midway through Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation also makes it diverting enough to give it a watch, but only if you can ignore the ceaseless mythologizing of Tom Cruise.