Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Critic
Your mission, should you choose to accept it: to believe a 50-something actor can retain his title as an A-list blockbusting action superstar without skimping on the practical kick-ass stunt work that earned him that title in the first place. With many former 80’s idols relying on CGI these days (I’m looking right at you, EXPENDABLES crew), audiences expect the bar to rise, not lower. And leave it to Tom Cruise to not only set the standard, but also raise the bar in co-writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION. And this ain’t your mother’s ROC or Rhythm Nation. Going rogue bodes well, setting itself apart from the four previous chapters in Ethan Hunt’s globe-trotting misadventures. Simply put, this must-see film of the summer is the best MISSION yet.
When we last left our darling Ethan (Cruise), he was first hearing of “The Syndicate,” an elite underground organization of rogue government agents hell-bent on world domination. Now, in London, while accepting a new mission for IMF, he witnesses their widespread corruption firsthand. He learns that the shadow group is onto him and his crew – Brandt (Jeremy Renner), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) – which puts their duties at a total standstill. And after the shenanigans the IMF team pulled in GHOST PROTOCOL, the CIA – headed by Hunley (Alec Baldwin) – wants to put an end to their unorthodox methods. As Brandt is absorbed into the CIA and Benji is forced into a desk job, Ethan goes rogue, eluding the authorities to uncover the endgame for the mysterious, elusive villain at the head of the Syndicate. Aiding and abetting his quest is the equally slippery Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), a dynamic dame who seems to be playing both sides.
Perhaps the best part is that the film allows Cruise to be Cruise. The fun is watching him push himself to the limit. He is our avatar, doing the seemingly impossible – whether it be dangling off the wing of a moving airplane, fighting an Alexander Gudonuv-esque henchman high above a Viennese opera stage, racing down Moroccan streets in a BMW, or speeding along curving mountain roads on a motorcycle (to which Maverick raises his fist in exultation). These electrifying stunt sequences, and the performer doing them, is absolute perfection and what we cry out for; more of this forever, please!
Though this doesn’t exactly re-invent the wheel in terms of series structure (it usually starts in the midst of an action-packed mission, leading to someone getting disavowed, having to fight their way towards exoneration), it does a great job building on what’s already there. References to the previous film are explained for those who’ve missed or can’t remember, but deepen the experience if you’re like me and marathoned the past chapters. McQuarrie and co-writer Drew Pearce find the crucial balance between the big action set pieces, spy dynamics and gadgetry, and international intrigue, all whilst rolling it into a digestible, smart (but not overly complex), highly entertaining package for the masses. They’ve also layered in subtle homages to CASABLANCA throughout. Not only does part of the movie take place in that very town, but Ilsa derives her name from Ingrid Bergman’s character in that classic. She’s a fitting tribute to Bergman’s style, elegance and grace in look and wardrobe. Plus, it features a far more imposing baddie than anything Bond has given us in recent years (since Mads Mikkelsen in 2006’s CASINO ROYALE).
However, I stop slightly short of calling this “the most feminist film of the year.” Like FURY ROAD, though Ilsa saves Ethan’s life a handful of times and is his equal partner in both fisticuffs and shootouts (hooray equality!), the male gaze is still there. She’s introduced twice through her beauty, in both swimsuit and slit dress. Sure, this is part and parcel of the spy genre. The filmmakers don’t seem too interested in deviating far from formula in this regard, though later, they do subvert the trope. Watching her use the same move, strangling an assassin with her thighs, also gets a little fatiguing after the second time it’s done. Let’s change all this up for the next go around, shall we? Nevertheless, Ilsa is one of the best female characters in the franchise.
Gripping, suspenseful and incredibly thrilling, this delivers more than we could ever ask for from a film in its genre, but also from popcorn entertainment in general.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION is playing in theaters today.