After all, it's just a ride….

Mission Impossible V – Rogue Nation (2015)

MI1Welcome ladies and gentlemen to our briefing bunker, while the facilities are modest they should satisfy our urgent intelligence requirements. Please make yourself comfortable and avail yourselves of our refreshments, the cognac and cigars are the best we could muster at such short notice I’m afraid, and…what’s that Agent Bracken? No (chuckles), no the Havana you are nursing is not a lethal prototype from our Cuban CIA cell, and I assure you our chemical sensors would have alerted us to the presence of any clandestine explosives, no matter how miniscule. Now…what’s that? Oh, yes, that’s right Agent Mendoza, this is the cognac we secured during the Pegasus Exfiltration, our  success in that cryptozoological incursion almost made the whole Tangiers fiasco worthwhile didn’t it? Yes, 1988 was a particularly tough year for the department wasn’t it? Now, please let me begin,  we don’t have much time as our position is immediately compromised, but a swift contextual revision is critical so please pay attention. In the first Mission Impossible picture – and for urgent brevity we will paraphrase this sobriquet as M:I going forward – the espionage super-agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) faced a terrible dilemma – his elite squadron had been compromised by an antagonist arms dealer, forcing his crew to divest themselves of their secret operation and go rogue. Four years later we recruited a primary asset from an oriental cell but his skills didn’t translate well to the North American theatre, as he wove a routine tale  of an IMF turncoat arms dealer forcing Ethan Hunt and his crew to divest themselves of operational oversight and go rogue. With the threat neutralised, with equilibrium restored six years later a promising new cadet from our directors guild manufactured a new dossier, where the M:I crew faced an indiscriminate threat, forcing them to go off-line in order to defeat a cunning foe – a black market arms dealer who manipulates the team into going rogue. Enshrined in domestic bliss in 2014 Ethan suddenly faced a deadly new challenge – his team had been compromised, forced to go off grid and battle a Soviet nuclear expert turned arms dealer, their only hope of success to detach from central command and….erm…and go rogue.

MI3The dossier for our next mission, should we decide to accept it, features Ethan Hunt and his clandestine colleagues facing a secret terror cell of arms dealers known as the Syndicate, forcing them to go….well, I think you get the gist. Returning to the fray alongside the devious daredevil is deadly British buffoon Benji (Simon Pegg),  support specialist Luther (Ving Rhames) interference running operative William (Jeremy Renner) and honey-pot Swedish siren Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a character with the most blatant  foreshadowing moniker since Count Alucard fluttered in from Transylvania. The latest franchise instalment is directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the highly regarded writer of The Usual Suspects and Edge Of Tomorrow, who also helmed Jack Reacher and the underappreciated The Way Of The Gun which has quietly gleaned some cult movie fandom in recent years. This film opens with a blast, with that stunt sequence which has been the central frame of the marketing push, and on-screen it is quite the heart pounding hymn to practical effect techniques. After achieving such giddy heights in the opening salvo I’m not sure the remaining two hours completely matches that adrenalized overdose, but the picture’s pacing and momentum rarely gives you a chance to catch your breath, with a tensile travelogue narrative that hustles from London to Marrakesh, from Austria to Cuba.

MI2Yes, yes, I understand that time is of the essence Agent Domino and that you are expected in Amsterdam in three hours as part of our Baccarat gamble, and if you’re not there to oversee the diplomat’s mistress dead-letter drop then our whole  European nanotechnology containment strategy is in mortal jeopardy. So let me be clear – this is one of the finest entries in the franchise, possibly the best, a fine addition to this years multiplex missions  after a few misfires and aborted operations which should have been abandoned at the blueprint stage – yes I’m looking at you Terminator Genisys and Jurassic World. The screenwriting ingenuity that McQuarrie mustered in his earlier efforts is replicated in Rogue Nation, with a pleasing blend of intrigue and action, even if he can’t quite maintain the high-wire act of devious plotting and seizure inducing manoeuvres all the way through to a mildly anticlimactic third act post-mortem. Nevertheless two sequences individually are well worth the price of admission alone, the first a heavy Hitchcockian homage set against an Austrian opera sourced assassination, a brilliant melange of camera movement and simultaneous axis of activity, underlined with a masterful deployment of sound and silence. The second is a North African aquatic insertion, synchronised against the IMF team’s blend of specialised infiltrations, barely letting the audience come up for air before diving into a pulse pounding motorcycle chase. One curious omission in the film though is that Ethan’s wife Michelle Monaghan has been completely liquidated from operations, a rather clumsy decision as the entire point of the third film was her rescue and she even had a cameo in the last picture. This absence was presumably engineered to provoke some sexual chemistry between Ethan and the darting duplicity of MI6 asset Faust, she’s been closely modelled on the Ingrid Bergman icon of Notorious, her manipulative motives and shifting allegiances a major proponent of the film’s narrative nuance. Sean Harris is the movie’s villain pitched with a quietly retrained revulsion, moving through exposition laced scenes like a venomous turtle necked Gestapo officer, ruthlessly dispatching malfunctioning henchmen with barely a snake coiled blink of regret. That said Rogue Nation’s overall tone is danger lightened with a few controlling bursts of sharply clustered humour, as the Syndicate’s ideological ethos is never fully explained nor entertained.

MI4No need to raise your hand Agent Popov, we are quite informal here and we don’t stand on ceremony like that Kremlin fronted seduction gulag you were raised in. Oh, you wish to understand the equipment manifest? Well, our initial data scourge indicates that the franchise is deploying the latest retinal capture technology, shot on the Alexa 65 6k digital camera the craftsmanship of crisp cinematographer Robert Elswit is simply exquisite, retaining an element of grain in certain blast shield bludgeoned interiors, giving him an energetic break from his usual conspiracies with Californian chimera P.T. Anderson. Our economic analysis also excavates some intriguing backers, with primary funding for the mission sourced from Asia-based investors China Movie Channel and Alibaba Pictures Group, an intriguing sign of the changing manifest of modern movie funding financiers. Apart from the genre fun of scheming spies and ingenious subterfuge what I like about this franchise is how individual directors bring their baggage to each assignment. I’ve re-watched I and III and they are individual action movies with a personal imprint, from the opening frames of I it’s an atypical De Palma deconstruction of on-screen identity and deception, of the act of seeing and the contorted consumption of visual intelligence. III takes things to a personal level with an emotional crutch for Ethan’s efforts – saving his wife – and although I can’t speak for II I’m guessing there is heroic bloodshed aplenty and acrobatic aerial wildlife as per John Woo’s mercurial modus operandiRogue Nation shows wilful disavowal of the Snowden revelations, of the troublesome tendency of asymmetrical monitoring  and the existential crisis of raping citizens privacy rights in order to protect them, it doesn’t trouble itself with these real world worries preferring instead to maintain a cover story of pure entertainment and action movie antics – an Obama era  picture if ever there was one. So I hope you’ve found this info-dump useful ladies and gentlemen, my contacts have just advised me that it’s wheel ups in T-Minus three minutes for the North Korean helicarrier extraction, and we can debrief  on the finer details of the chimera sub-orbital weapon when we penetrate the airspace of that continually troublesome peninsula. I understand that agents are already scoping the fieldwork for an MI:6 shoot next summer, until then the recently decrypted Spectre should keep you spooks sustained, but until October Rogue Nation is a big budget blast, a successful rear-guard defence of 2015’s major studio investment in tent-pole tenacity;

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