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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Review-ish: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (spoiler-free)

mission_-impossible-rogue-nation_still2

It’s good.

Christopher McQuarrie wins the “Best Written Mission: Impossible Movie” title. The story is clear. The characters are appropriately hyper-real, but grounded and their behavior follows logically. There are mysteries that keep unraveling. And it doesn’t choke you with details that can’t be deciphered without 27 watchings.

Cruise is good. Pegg is great. Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson has a very real chance at being a part of our cinematic conversation for decades to come. Sean Harris is just right and just weird enough. Really excellent casting all around.

Joe Kraemer does a terrific job with the music, mixing the original theme with Turandot and his own stuff. Robert Elswitt is consummate.

So what is keeping this film from greatness?

My take is that it’s McQuarrie’s direction.

It’s not horrible. It’s not even bad. And I don’t know how things went in the cutting room. But, for instance, there is one terrible habit in the film, which is cutting away from most of the big action beats just before the exact thing that the audience is ready to see happen.

You’ve seen the ads with Mr. Cruise hanging off the side of the plane. “Open the door, Benji!” Cool enough. But Cruise getting from outside to inside when the door finally opens? We don’t see it. Likewise, when he later exits the plane… cutaway before he is fully out and free from harm’s way.

For me, this happened more than a half-dozen times in the film and took me out of the moment of what should have been glorious each time. A few of them could be attributed—though I have not heard any discussion of them—to a PG-13 issue. Seeing where the knife goes in during a scene might have been enough for an R. But not all of them.

In some cases, I thought maybe the CG just wasn’t good enough when it got completed. Or maybe it was sliced for budget. Don’t know.

But what I love about McQuarrie’s The Way of the Gun, for instance, is just how willing McQuarrie is to linger in the discomfort. Not here.

And honestly, as I recall Jack Reacher, which was good, but similarly, it was so close but so far from the glory to which it aspired. Some filmmakers are gifted at pulling punches. It’s almost like McQuarrie would rather leave you feeling something missing than to work around what he isn’t allowed(?) to show.

As I watched M:I-RN, I thought a lot about Billy Friedkin and how he would have made this movie. A little less big. A little more real. And in my imagination, more satisfying… based on this really smart script.

The other thing – and again, I haven’t see the raw footage, so what do I know? – but this film relies on editing a lot for pace. Too much. And along with that, way too many close-ups… always. Punching into a close-up now and again is one thing, but this film felt like they were punching out to the occasional two-shot. And even most of the two-shots were composed close-ups, but not as stylized overall as The Thomas Crown Affair.

And yet… I do like this movie.

Good villains. Did I mention Rebecca Ferguson, who is a chameleon whose face easily holds the screen in a tight, make-up-light close-up? She is a winner. Baldwin and Renner are best as a comedy duo here. Simon Pegg is aces. And the big action sequences generally work… except for the shorted punchlines.

One last comment. Ferguson and Pegg look way too much like Michelle Monaghan and this film’s Sean Harris for this to be a coincidence. But it remains part of the film’s subtext, never really spoken to out loud, But it has to mean something to McQuarrie. I mean, it is so close. There is even a direct close-up with Pegg and Harris that invites us to make the facial comparison close-up. They looks so similar that I really considered the idea that Pegg was playing both roles, with prosthetics to turn him into the other character. I don’t know what it means. But I am fascinated. I will be interested to see if it becomes a conversation as the film rolls out.

41 Responses to “Review-ish: Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (spoiler-free)”

  1. movieman says:

    Damn, Dave.
    My Paramount rep sent out an email yesterday telling us that our “MI” reviews were embargoed until opening day.

  2. Pete B. says:

    McWeeney has a review up on HitFix too, so I guess he didn’t get the email either.

  3. KrazyEyes says:

    This is the first film of his I’ve seen where Tom Cruise is starting to look a little too old and even haggard for the part. He’s had an amazingly ageless run but he’s going to need to start finding different types of projects soon or this is going to become a real problem for him.

  4. EtGuild2 says:

    MI has to be the strangest franchise ever made in terms of its longevity, combined with the fact that you could make a solid argument that each installment is better than the previous one. Gun to my head I’d go:

    ROGUE
    GHOST PROTOCOL
    III
    I
    II

    But there is very little separation between ROGUE & GHOST and between I/II in terms of quality. There was, for me, a clear step up in quality from the second to third chapter, no matter how badly it was maligned at the time for the couch jumping incident–and from the third to fourth.

    Fast & Furious it’s hard to say the same because of the execrable 4th, and the fact Five is clearly better than Six if not Seven as well.

  5. YancySkancy says:

    ETGuild2: I haven’t seen Rogue Nation yet, but think I generally agree. II was so lame I avoided III for a few years, but loved it when I finally saw it a few months ago. But I think maybe Ghost Protocol is only better than III in technical areas; III’s script is more emotionally involving. If Rogue is anywhere near the league of III and GP, I’ll be happy.

  6. leahnz says:

    re: krazy eyes’ T cruise comment: sort of tangentially related my boy and his mate were watching ‘the outsiders’ last night and i happened to come in during the bit towards the end where they’re all in the house getting ready for the rumble with the soches (clearly i don’t know how to spell ‘the soches’) and i made some offhand remark about baby-faced cruise and his not-yet-hollywood teeth and they hadn’t even really realised it was cruise and kind of lost their shit (which set off a rather hilarious internet session looking at cruise’s teeth over the many years); he’s had a long and at times bumpy run, it’s a trip watching probably one of the last remaining ‘movie stars’ getting old, it kind of freaks me out

    ETA i find the above rankings of the MI movies baffling, de palma’s OG one the best and the only one that feels at all like an actual Mission: Impossible movie reflective of its source material rather than a bond wannabe

  7. movieman says:

    I thought the couch-jumping/Oprah incident occurred during the “War of the Worlds” press rollout, Et.
    Whatever, I guess.

    Pete- Maybe there are different review-blackout rules in NE Ohio than in “cities that matte,” lol. Ridiculous. But it’s not the first time it’s happened.

    Krazy-I think Tom has been looking a little haggard for awhile.

  8. Hcat says:

    It might be a little premature to state a preference since Paramount hasn’t done their expirement yet with the shortened VOD window triggered by a screen count threshold…..but I have to say I prefer the strategy for Rouge better where they MAKE A MOVIE PEOPLE WANT TO SEE AND SELL THEM TICKETS TO IT.

  9. EtGuild2 says:

    @movieman, believe it or not it was technically AFTER MI:III debuted by a couple weeks, but May 2005 was a month of pure TomKat hysteria that topped every media/couple creation up to that point with the exception of Bennifer I.

    @leah, the MI source material never did anything for me to be fair. In fact it seems like to me Bond became Bourne, and Hunt became Bond over the course of the last decade. Which I’m totally cool with.

  10. leahnz says:

    interesting ETG (re: “In fact it seems like to me Bond became Bourne, and Hunt became Bond over the course of the last decade”), can’t really argue with that.
    i think it’s a pity though that ‘hunt became bond’ because the premise of the MI tv series is rather unique and could have had some really imaginative, creative applications within a movie format. bond and its ilk has been done

    (hcat sorry if i’m being thick but to what are you referring above?)

  11. EtGuild2 says:

    Maybe I’m off base here due to lack of true familiarity, but I wonder if the critical failure of the obviously more tongue-in-cheek revivals of Maxwell Smart and the Pink Panther kept Bird and McQuarrie (Abrams and Woo seemed determined to use the franchise as they saw fit) from tapping into the series’ more whimsical elements…PROTOCOL’s first break-in-scene (the fake hallway) made me think it was going there, but the scale just got bigger. But the larger scale was well done in a way (this was before SKYFALL) that I hadn’t seen in a long time in a straight action movie.

    On another note, as a fan of Ed Woodward’s “Equalizer,” I was horrified by the Denzel/Fuqua adaptation, so I kind of feel where you’re coming from.

  12. Hcat says:

    Leah, paramount has some minor titltes coming up that they are shrinking the window for VOD to a couple of weeks after their theatrical premiere. It’s just an example of a them circling the drain instead of actually getting a decent slate together.

    And yes the couch jumping was War of the Worlds but it took a year of tabloids and late night punchlines to do him under, though its not like MI3 bombed it was just soft. It was Redstones throwing him under the bus that really damaged his rep, leading to all the Cruise is Fired articles.

    As for the franchise, I would put it 1, 4, 3, 2. Even though it was the least action packed of the franchise there was a tension there that hasn’t been replicated since.

    I cringed to learn they gave him a wife in 3, one of the things I liked was how he kept falling for women he couldn’t trust. They worked around it nicely in Ghost but am curious how its addressed if at all this go round.

  13. EtGuild2 says:

    “And yes the couch jumping was War of the Worlds ”

    Err…no. It was May 22, 2005. A year after WOTW. MI3 was under pretty much constant attack by the time it came out because Cruise was exhibiting weird behavior…but it culminated then.

    Dave’s Monaghan theory is pretty great. Hadn’t thought about it; hope the 6th is the final, and they wrap this up with Pegg as well.

  14. YancySkancy says:

    ET: WOTW was released in June of 2005.

  15. YancySkancy says:

    leah: Actually, I haven’t seen the first M:I in a long time, but I really liked it, and I have to allow for the very real possibility that I would rank it higher upon a re-watch.

  16. movieman says:

    Adding Renner to the franchise was a smart move.
    His natural intensity as a performer helps balance Cruise’s innate goofiness (more pronounced as the years go on–and add’l Scientology stories are added to the Cruise-ian mythos).
    Still have a weakness for the DePalma original (Vanessa Redgrave!), but the last two “M:I”s have been very, very good.

  17. Pete B says:

    What?!? No love for MI:2 and Woo’s use of pigeons? Not sure if Hunt did the gun in each hand as well (I can’t remember). That one did have the Metallica song too.

    I don’t think anyone hates MI:2 more than Dougray Scott. Who knows what career he’d have had if he could have been Wolverine in X-men instead of Huge Ackman.

  18. Mike says:

    Cruise timeline:

    Couch Jump was May 2005
    WOTW was June 2005
    MI:III was May 2006

  19. EtGuild2 says:

    Whoops! Good call guys, my bad.

  20. Bulldog68 says:

    “I don’t think anyone hates MI:2 more than Dougray Scott. Who knows what career he’d have had if he could have been Wolverine in X-men instead of Huge Ackman.”

    I just can’t imagine it anyone else as Wolverine now.

  21. Hallick says:

    “I just can’t imagine it anyone else as Wolverine now.”

    Really? I think Russell Crowe would have been spot on in the part, especially with berserker Wolverine. I don’t think he would have stuck around for nearly as many films as Jackman has now.

  22. Bulldog68 says:

    He was considered and from what I understand it was Crowe that recommended Jackman for the role.

    Funny enough, I heard at one time they were considering Bob Hoskins, because his body type was closer to the heavy set comic book Wolverine than Jackman’s was.

  23. MarkVH says:

    MI2>MI3. MI2 is a highly watchable if very ridiculous piece of action filmmaking that gets unfairly shit on nowadays. MI3 is an episode of Alias.

  24. Tuck Pendelton says:

    Frankly, ghost protocol was the first one that i really, really enjoyed. MI2 insults your intelligence, MI3 is a snooze. One has two great sequences, but so convoluted and the attempts at humor is dreadful.

    Can’t wait for Rouge Nation.

  25. Stella's Boy says:

    Sign of the times. In a Variety article, a box office analyst suggests that due to strong reviews MI: Rogue Nation could have legs, saying it could play “well into August.” Not a huge deal, but sort of amusing what is considered having legs at the box office nowadays.

  26. palmtree says:

    Everyone’s calling it “Rouge” Nation. Now I have this image of Tom Cruise in makeup. Thanks.

  27. Geoff says:

    I do not get all of the hate for MI2, am I the only one who really misses John Woo? It’s actually not a bad sorta “To Catch A Thief”-type thriller until it goes COMPLETELY nuts in the third act….and does it! I was watching it the other night for the first time in years and I don’t know but once Cruise goes into that lair to steal the serum, the movie just GOES for it – flying motorcycles, spin kicks, doves, doves, and more doves!! Completely ridiculous but fun to watch – give it to Woo, he knew how to film this stuff way better than Bay ever could!

    And I get the love for the first Mission Impossible, I do – it’s pure DePalma having his goofy way with a spy blockbuster and the twistiness and team aspect makes it closer to the original series but……..I don’t remember if there was an uproar back then, but how did they get away with making the character of Jim Phelps the actual VILLAIN of the story??? I remember I used to watch the reruns with my parents as a kid – they loved the show – and I saw it with my mother, we could not have been the only ones pissed off by that.

    I get that you need to deviate from the source material but has there every been another case of taking a major property like that, adapting it to the screen, and turning the main protagonist from the source material into the villain?? I still don’t get why they did that….would it have been that much of a stretch to just have Tom Cruise play Jim Phelps himself? I’m still at a loss as to why they did that – we’re not talking a parody like Starsky and Hutch or 21 Jump Street but a straight-up adaptation – it would have been making a Star Trek movie where Captain Kirk has now aligned with the Klingons.

  28. Hallick says:

    “Funny enough, I heard at one time they were considering Bob Hoskins, because his body type was closer to the heavy set comic book Wolverine than Jackman’s was.”

    That idea is insane, but it sure was fun to stop and take seriously for a minute or two.

    You know who else would have made a pretty good Wolverine from times past? “Cutter’s Way”-era John Heard, before the healthy appetite took charge.

  29. martin says:

    Sinise, Crowe, Scott, Jackman

  30. leahnz says:

    “I get that you need to deviate from the source material but has there every been another case of taking a major property like that, adapting it to the screen, and turning the main protagonist from the source material into the villain?? I still don’t get why they did that….would it have been that much of a stretch to just have Tom Cruise play Jim Phelps himself?”

    Geoff i think the M I film adaptation is unique in that regard, it’s a bizarre and inexplicable choice (and very at odds/incongruous with the character of phelps of course) has anyone ever asked keopp? oh davo keopp you got some ‘splainin to do.
    i know i wondered why they didn’t just have cruise play phelps ‘younger’ – but the film-makers seemed hell-bent on destroying the tv show ethos and team IMF aesthetic practically from the get-go with the whole mass-murder/frame-up/phelps betrayal to set up ethan hunt as a lone operator beleaguered spy at odds with the tight team aesthetic of the original, so it all seems part of a deliberate choice to start an ‘american bond’ franchise with cruise rather than an actual M I franchise

  31. Hcat says:

    It’s possible that this was depalma’s way of raising the stakes and unsettleing the audience. His opportunity to kill off Janet Liegh 30 minutes in. Depalma’s likely seen Psycho, right?

  32. palmtree says:

    “I saw it with my mother, we could not have been the only ones pissed off by that.”

    How fitting. Their motive for making Phelps the villain was probably the idea that this ain’t your mother’s Mission Impossible.

  33. leahnz says:

    yeah fuck your mom. what we need is another white spy dude against the world, how fresh

  34. Hallick says:

    “yeah fuck your mom. what we need is another white spy dude against the world, how fresh”

    Hey, you don’t know he’s a cis-dude! Until one of these movies hangs him by his junk from a 747 or the grand canyon or a low orbit satellite, that is just pure speculation.

  35. palmtree says:

    Hey, at least they brought Ving Rhames along for the ride.

  36. “Mad Max Fury Road” put in perspective all action films in 2015.

  37. palmtree says:

    ^Word.

  38. samguy says:

    First, KrazyEyes – aptly named because I thought Cruise looked better than he did last time when he was overly chiseled. He still looks great – just not freakishly great. But, yes, even movie stars age and sometimes play to that a la Clooney in The Descendants.
    What makes the movie so fun are the apparent and not-so-apparent homages to other movies including The Man Who Knew Too Much, Dr. No, a dash of Bruce Lee and of course, the series itself.

  39. YancySkancy says:

    palmtree: It’s a known fact that 99.9% of internet users can’t spell “rogue.” Though I guess we should allow a couple percent for incorrect Auto-Correct.

    Geoff: I would really miss John Woo if it weren’t for stuff like M:I2.

  40. Hallick says:

    “Rouge Nation” would have been a lot more intriguing and exotic than the drug store paperback-worthy “Rogue Nation” at least. Especially if nothing in the movie bothered to explain the title to audiences.

  41. YancySkancy says:

    I haven’t seen Rogue Nation yet, but man, I’d be thrilled if even half of these blockbusters achieved the level of a good drug store paperback. You know, stories that were gripping and made some kind of sense.

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