Accomplished, by Tyler Smith
In the midst of all the superhero movies and James Bond reboots, genetically-modified dinosaurs and robots in disguise, there has been one action franchise that has not only remained, but has actually gotten more interesting in the near-twenty years it has existed. Mission: Impossible, a series that always seems right on the edge of becoming stale, has always managed to pull itself back into relevance, making itself both resilient and cutting edge.
It seems somehow sacrilegious to compare a film series as unabashedly-crowd pleasing as this in the same sentence as the hallowed Alien series, but I think the comparison bears itself out. By using the same protagonist- played by the same actor- work as an anchor from one film to the next, both the Mission: Impossible and Alien series have proven very malleable, able to accommodate the whims of very different directors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and their own desires to explore the material.
In the M:I series, we’ve gotten acclaimed auteurs like Brian DePalma, hot international directors like John Woo, and up-and-coming filmmakers like J.J. Abrahams and Brad Bird. Now, with Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation, the series continues its streak of being incredibly fun and efficient action vehicles, easily on par with- and often surpassing- even the most successful of modern action blockbusters. And it does it all with McQuarrie’s trademark sense of economy, always moving things forward at a pace that never seems rushed, but always urgent.
As always, the specific story doesn’t matter. An evil organization is trying to get something and Ethan Hunt and his team must stop them, all while ducking the government bureaucrats that simply don’t understand the importance of this work. Pretty standard procedure. These films aren’t about story, nor are they really about character. While Tom Cruise has invested a great deal into the character of Ethan Hunt, the character has always been something of a cypher- a man of will fighting on the side of right who will stop at nothing to achieve his mission. The character is intense, charismatic, and industrious; just what we want our action heroes to be. And, of course, Tom Cruise proves as solid an anchor as ever.
What these films are ever really about are their action set pieces, and Rogue Nation deserves to be ranked as one of the more exciting in the series. From the much-publicized plane sequence, which features Hunt dangling from a plane as it takes off, to a beautifully-realized assassination attempt at an opera in Vienna, every extended action sequence feels like McQuarrie really wanted to dig into what was happening and leave nothing unexplored.
Take that opera assassination sequence. As the suspense progresses, and we learn more and more about what our heroes are up against, the tension becomes so thick that it would seem suffocating, if not for the general sense of fun and excitement on the part of the director. From the backstage corridors to the lighting control rooms and eventually to the theatre catwalks, every aspect of the space is involved in this sequence, keeping the action fresh and keeping us eager to see what happens next.
And that is just one of many set pieces that are so eager to pull us in and thrill us that it’s hard not to smile as we watch them. Mission: Impossible- Rogue Nation doesn’t want to simply get our money for a solid weekend box office and then give us some generic milquetoast blockbuster. Like an attentive magician, it is always looking for opportunities to surprise and please us, but will always work like hell to do that. It reminds us that “summer blockbuster” doesn’t have to be a dirty word, but can be an extremely satisfying and engaging time at the movies.