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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) Review

Updated on July 31, 2015

I thought going in that this would be another fun, over-the-top, globe-hopping grab bag and not much more, but I was unprepared for the absolute cartoonishness of this installment. I’m talking full Tom & Jerry. Like, if Animaniacs had a Mission: Impossible segment, the writing and action would probably fall somewhere within this range.

The franchise has never been known for its spectacular writing, of course. But this time it’s like there was a writer’s strike, so the studio grabbed whichever random hack had seen the most Mission: Impossible movies and forced a script out of them. Not only is the dialogue heavy-handed and on-the-nose—insisting on explaining every plot point and every character’s motivation straight from their lips—but the plot itself is thin and asinine in its logic. There is never a moment of mystery, of feeling like we’re right there with the characters trying to figure out whodunnit or how they’ll get out of this one. There is never a moment of actual tension because there are all these magic gadgets that happen to perform the exact needed function (I realize this is a trope, but the fun has always come from figuring out how to use these gadgets creatively—having a little device that opens any ultra-high-security lock does not match the fun or surprise of an explosive stick of gum at just the right moment, or a faulty pair of climbing gloves). This is a portrait of a bunch of supermen who can do whatever the plot requires without question. Locating a missing person who could be anywhere on earth, armed with no identification information besides a sketch? No problem, found her in five seconds flat.

I say “supermen” because, once again, there is no doubt who is the focus here. Men run the CIA and IMF, men perform the missions, men run the evil Syndicate and hire men to carry out their dirty work. The one female character here is treated like masturbation material. If she has to snipe a world leader, she is stroking the gun’s barrel between her bare legs first. If Ethan Hunt has to search her for weapons, she arcs her back and gasps as if he’s shoving his fingers inside her. Hunt has to perform an underwater mission in full diving gear, but she only needs panties. None of this sexuality is balanced with the empowerment of a strong, or even a slightly engaging, personality. What year is it?

On the other hand, it’s obviously still this year, because this is the first installment in which humans have noticably been replaced by those sad, weightless CGI models in several shots. Yet all the action seems to be dialed back much farther than before: fight choreography is rote and passionless, big stunts are mild and poorly shot—the two exceptions being the opening plane scene and a later motorcycle chase sequence—and even the standard mask reveals seem like an afterthought.

But what really takes the wind out of my sails, what I can’t, for the life of me, understand is the incessant orchestral music. This is what brings it to Tom & Jerry level. What is this cloying need to underscore every emotion, every moment with blaring brass? Is it possible to come up with something besides a variation on the main theme that plays literally every five minutes? It’s like it’s screaming at me “I AM AN EPIC ACTION FILM! HEY, WE ARE NOW IN MOROCCO! HERE THEY LISTEN TO GENERIC WHITEBREAD MIDDLE EASTERN VARIATIONS ON THE M:I THEME! THIS WOMAN IS SAD!”

Who is to blame for this disingenuous car wreck? Is it production’s fault for pushing the film up five months so as not to compete with James Bond or Star Wars? Perhaps, but I have an inkling that even with more time the film wouldn't be saved from its unstable foundation. So is it the writer, or the director? Well, seeing as those both happen to be the same person—Christopher McQuarrie—I think we’re getting warmer. It definitely isn’t the fault of Cruise the actor, who does his best and remains infinitely watchable for his surprising athleticism and daring at his age.

Now, come to think of it, that would be a mission I would watch. How do films like this make it this far? Who is responsible for sabotaging the operation? Who is the mastermind, who is the money behind such calculated avoidance of substance? Who pays these critics as allies to rave about the merits of this garbage so that those involved don’t lose money? The truth just might be impossible to find.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

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