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Monday, August 3, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (Release Date: 7-31-2015)

        Hollywood's annual summer blockbuster season isn't exactly known for showcasing crackling dialogue, but the last few months have turned that stereotype into a manifesto. The Avengers: Age of Ultron, the assumed champion of the 2015 box office upon its May 1st release, tried to jest, jab, and joke its way to the financial throne, only to be usurped by a flick with nary a clever line to its name. Inside Out, Pixar's magnanimously thoughtful, philosophy-spewing exploration of the adolescent human mind, is certainly a monetary success story, but it's presently being outpaced by those gibberish-spouting motormouths known as the Minions. The critical darling of the season hardly had time for anything besides the grinding of engines and the burning of gasoline, least of all being small talk. There's been a Silent Film quality present in many of our most treasured offerings of the last 100 days, and Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation is here to carry that trend even further.

        Since the film does manage to make time for a plot, I suppose I'll go ahead and carve out space for its description. Picking up where 2011's gloriously imaginative Ghost Protocol left off, Rogue Nation finds Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise playing Tom Cruise, Tom Cruise with a different name, Tom Cruise playing a character who's not named Tome Cruise, but is clearly based on Tom Cruise, Ethan Hunt (played here by Tom Cruise) still on the lam from the CIA. The Agency's director, played by Alec Baldwin, is hell-bent on dissolving the Impossible Missions Force from which this series gains its name, citing 'wanton brinksmanship' and 'disregard for protocol' as the group's primary characteristics. He has it out for Hunt especially, but so does The Syndicate, a mysterious group of terrorists whom Ethan's been tracking for months, getting closer and closer by the day. His investigation leads him to Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a mysterious, lethal beauty whose true allegiances she might even be keeping secret from herself. Cue that irrepressible, decades-old Mission:Impossible theme song, and so, so, so much running.

        Prior to Rogue Nation, I wouldn't have described myself as an avid Mission: Impossible fan. Yes, Ghost Protocol is an action picture that can confidently stand next to the best in the genre's history without batting an eye, but the third entry didn't exactly knock my socks off, and the first two are simply too far in my personal rearview mirror to state an informed opinion. All of this to say, the prospect of yet another MI picture was strictly a modest curiosity when the lights went down at my screening, and yet, less than 48 hours after walking out of the theater, I feel fully confident that I will never miss another entry. With the exception of a dragging 15-minute stretch that starts around the 80-minute mark, this movie slapped a smile on my face that was big enough to make my cheeks ache by the time it was finally over.

        If there's any complaint to be made about Cruise's newest savior-complex-enabler, it's to be found in the previous sentence, specifically in the word 'finally.' Rogue Nation is non-stop in a fashion that borders on insanity, and while its set pieces might not match the awe-inspiring glory of director Brad Bird's previous installment, the minutia of how our characters get from point A to point B is immediately more white-knuckled, and pulse-pounding. These are, of course, compliments for a movie that aims to serve as a roller coaster first, and a proper film second, but its 131 minute runtime insures that you feel at least slightly weathered by the time the credits roll. It's an odd complaint given that none of the individual sequences is anything less than captivating, but if we're picking knits here, the picture could have better maximized its impressive impact by trimming the runtime by just a hair.

        Other than that, everything is gravy. The convoluted plot, while immediately as thorny and undulating as each of the previous entries, is easier to follow than its predecessors due to writer/director Christopher McQuarrie's graceful deployment of plot points and pertinent information. But something tells me it's not his pen that will cause film fans to view the helmer differently upon viewing his latest film. Excluding that aforementioned 15-minute stretch, Rogue Nation is downright obsessive about not wasting your time, powering through one intense action sequence after another with its hands firmly on the wheel, and its foot pushing the gas pedal to the floor. Editor Eddie Hamilton also deserves credit for the rousing manner in which it all goes down, slicing through the mania without losing the audience for any prolonged stretches of time. The newest Mission: Impossible is a blast, filled with fun actors, technical prowess, and an emphasis on practical effects that's capable of dropping jaws while computer animated mayhem is busy drawing yawns. Sorry, no Tom Cruise think-piece here; you could google almost any other review of Rogue Nation and find innumerable explanations of how the film works in conjunction with the actor's damaged public persona. There's certainly a lot to absorb in that arena, but I want to keep this write-up clear and precise, as to not lose the only MI5 argument I personally feel any dire need to get behind: Rogue Nation is freaking awesome, and if you haven't seen it already, go buy a damn ticket.

Grade: A-

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