If there is a mission which would be regarded as impossible, it is to create a film franchise in which each instalment maintains, if not supercedes, the quality of the previous. Part of the advantage of long running adventures of the Impossible Missions Force, headed by Tom Cruise’s very special agent Ethan Hunt is that, like the team itself, they do not operate by the normal rules of cinema, with long and irregular gaps between their appearances, Rogue Nation being only their fifth intervention in nineteen years.
Most surprising, the film itself was not scheduled for release until December 25th, matching the hugely successful Christmas market of 2011’s Ghost Protocol, but was pulled forward in an unprecedented move to avoid direct competition with The Force Awakens and Spectre, though the curtailed post-production period and rushed release have not in any way compromised the execution of the operation.
The decision to avoid going head-to-head with Daniel Craig’s fourth 007 assignment is understandable, for while both are successful international spy and action franchises putting a modern spin on their sixties roots, never before has Mission: Impossible so emulated the time honoured global sightseeing of the Bond films, with stops in Minsk, Paris, Vienna, Casablanca and London, with archive footage of their explosive 2011 Moscow visit and an unknown mission in San Francisco.
Opening on an airfield in Belarus, the film wrong foots from the outset; the “trailer moment” which has adorned posters since March is not a key scene of the film but is in fact the pre-credit teaser; from here on in, everything is open season and pausing only to confirm that Lalo Schifrin is responsible for one of the greatest television themes of all time it continues to defy format in the customary “your mission, should you choose to accept it” briefing scene, skewed in a new and troublesome manner.
Things are not good within the IMF, under investigation for misconduct with senior CIA agent Alan Hunley (The Hunt for Red October‘s Alec Baldwin) calling for the team to be disbanded and brought under his direct supervision. With the exception of Hunt, on the run and disavowed, William Brandt (Age of Ultron‘s Jeremy Renner), Benji Dunn (Star Trek Into Darkness‘ Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Surrogates‘ Ving Rhames) are brought into the fold.
In Hunley’s opinion, Hunt has become obsessed with a global terrorist organisation, the existence of which he has not been able to provide evidence for: “The Syndicate is a figment of his imagination he uses to justify the IMF’s existence.” But when Benji receives an unexpected invitation to the opera, the evening unfolds in a far different way than he anticipated.
Joining the established cast are The White Queen‘s Rebecca Ferguson and Prometheus‘ Sean Harris and the fifth director of the sequence, frequent Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie who directed him in Jack Reacher and co-wrote Valkyrie and Edge of Tomorrow, but as ever it’s a three ring circus of deceit, deception and double cross, yet despite the central theme of divided loyalties and there are never truly any surprises of allegiance or betrayal. It may be a surprise how the pieces fall, but who drops them is never in question.
Fortunately, in terms of narrative and daring McQuarrie’s script, from a story co-written with Iron Man 3‘s Drew Pearce, constantly twists from expectation and is never less than spectacular to behold, from the opera house sequence, the camera flitting about the audience, up to the Royal Box and through the labyrinth of backstage, the scenery docks and the lighting rig, all during a production of Puccini’s Turandot, to a car chase in narrow streets which is nothing to the screaming kinetic energy of the immediately following motorbike pursuit on the open highways of Morocco.
The film is not without problems, with fight scenes in dark rooms shot in tight focus so it’s difficult to follow the action, and blown up for IMAX projection at times the picture is fuzzy. The Syndicate apparently attended the Imperial Stormtrooper Academy of Marksmanship; as Hunt flees down a narrow corridor, two enemy agents armed with machine guns stupendously fail to kill him.
In particular, a needlessly complicated underwater sequence, which, though gripping and superbly executed, would in real terms be as self-defeating for any genuine users as it is for the infiltrators, nor is a sympathetic portrayal of a British Prime Minister with a glamourous wife a comfortable stretch of imagination, but if some (many) moments are contrived and far-fetched, it is forgivable; that has always been the IMF template, and we chose to accept the mission.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is now on general release and screening in IMAX