Written and Directed by Christopher McQuarrie / Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner and Rebecca Ferguson
Ilsa Faust: We only think we’re fighting for the right side because that’s what we choose to believe.
You know that scene from the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION trailer where Tom Cruise hangs on for dear life to the side of an airplane as it takes off into the sky? In the trailer, this is the pinnacle of excitement designed to most entice you to see the film. In the film itself, directed by Christopher McQuarrie (JACK REACHER), this is literally the very first scene. It’s a bold move to put it mildly. Where do you go from there? Does every other stunt pale in comparison or do Cruise and company keep you exhilarated for the next two hours? You think to yourself, “They can’t possibly keep this level of energy up for the rest of the film. That’s impossible.” And then you remember that it is specifically their mission to do just that.
ROGUE NATION is the fifth instalment in the nearly 20-year-old franchise and lead actor Cruise, reprising the role he plays best, Ethan Hunt, is now 53 years old. Despite this, the franchise shows no signs of slowing in the least. The opener was just a teaser for the real mission, which involves bringing down a covert terrorist group known as The Syndicate. Ethan and his crew (Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames all returning) have yet to collect any concrete evidence that The Syndicate even exists and, after causing mass destruction to property of import the world over, the C.I.A., as led by Alec Baldwin, call for the dissolution of I.M.F., the fictional Impossible Missions Force that Ethan works for. Worse yet, Ethan is branded a danger to society and the C.I.A. makes it their primary mission to find him and bring him in. Naturally, Ethan is having none of this. He has a terrorist organization to bring down single handedly after all. The question as to whether Ethan is an asset or a liability runs throughout.
As exciting and entertaining as ROGUE NATION is, I do have a couple of minor complaints. The first stems from the hearings that take down the I.M.F. In doing so, McQuarrie takes a moment to laugh at the implausibility of these impossible missions. Baldwin is a master humourist as we all know but while using his talents to point out how outlandish some of the destruction the I.M.F. has caused in past missions (like a slide show that presents the Kremlin before Ethan broke into it, looking majestic, and the Kremlin in total shambles after Ethan broke into it) is amusing, yes, it also runs the risk of going too far, turning the film itself into a farce. I’m all for a little self referential nudging here and there but McQuarrie goes there a few too many times, which nearly derails the seriousness of the mission at hand.
It wouldn’t be a MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie if there weren’t a beautiful woman to make Ethan question himself or his next moves. Rebecca Ferguson plays double agent (or triple agent maybe) Ilsa Faust. At a time when the question of what a strong female character in Hollywood really is, I believe Ilsa is the perfect example of how strength can very easily be undermined by how a woman is both shot and used to forward the plot. Sure, Ilsa can kick some serious ass, which is Hollywood for strong woman, but until she can sit in a room with the rest of the boys and not come out of the pool in a bathing suit first, she is still inferior. When you frame a woman’s body as she walks up the stairs in an elegant gown so that we don’t see her face and are encouraged to stare directly at her ass, or when you have her get into position to shoot someone by raising one leg so the slit in her gown exposes every inch of the other leg, you remove whatever power she had by making her nothing more than an object. It doesn’t help matters either that she is not at all trustworthy and beguiles the hero with her beauty so he doesn’t know what to think anymore. In the end, her sexuality becomes her strongest suit, her greatest weapon and her ultimate undoing.
McQuarrie’s penchant for the increasingly dated male gaze aside, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION is a stirring adventure and a worthy successor to the last instalment, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, directed by Brad Bird, and first instalment directed by Brian De Palma, which remains the greatest of the bunch. It stumbles in its approach when it strays away from the actual mission at hand but when the action is in full force, ROGUE NATION truly achieves the impossible – which is giving an audience that thinks it has already seen it all, fresh and original feats that genuinely seem inconceivable but still somehow end up totally believable and just plain thrilling.