Saturday, August 15, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Alternate Title:  Exactly What I Deserve

One sentence synopsis:     Ethan Hunt and the IMF must stop a group of international terrorists from destroying the world.

Things Havoc liked:  So... some of my long-time readers will remember that a couple years ago I reviewed the fourth film Mission Impossible series, a movie called Ghost Protocol for reasons that I doubt even the scriptwriter remembers now. If you don't recall this film, you shouldn't feel particularly bad about it, as the movie was an entirely forgettable affair, one of the most by-the-numbers action jobs I've ever reviewed, along the lines of movies like Killer Elite or The Equalizer. The film wasn't awful, just entirely forgettable, to the point where, absent a handful of moments and shots, I don't remember a damn thing about it, something unusual for me and my movie-watching. Middling films like MI:4 are difficult ones to review and to collate in my mind, not in the least because of the question of what to do when their sequels inevitably come out. Movies I love or hate are easy to decide upon when the next installment arrives, but with the prospect of MI:5 on the horizon, I was uncertain as to whether to see it or not. Ultimately it was the request of others that drove me to give it a chance. And so here we are.

So let's start, as is customary, with the high points. I don't recall exactly when Simon Pegg got into the Mission Impossible business, but he was the best thing in MI:4 and he remains the best part in its sequel, with a role that is considerably enhanced over the last time. Yes, he's still sort of comic relief, but he gets to play his role a bit straighter this time, with less stupid pratfall bullshit and more of a sense that, yes, this is supposed to be a superspy, despite everything. Pegg's hallmark has always been a very everyman sort of straight-man comedy (Hot Fuzz aside), and he seems to be almost aware of how absurd this series is, even as he plunges headlong through it. Pegg is also at the heart of the super-tech gadgetry that Mission Impossible has always been heavy on, a sort of combination of Q and the plucky sidekick. I won't call this Pegg's best role or anything, but it's a welcome sight to see entering a movie like this.

There are newcomers this time as well, both new to me and simply new to the series. Rebecca Ferguson is one of the former, and her role is that of the femme fatale, the female assassin/love interest of our dashing hero, Ethan Hunt, though admittedly the Mission Impossible series has always been a bit lighter on the seduction than the Bond films they clearly wish to be. All that means though is that Fergusson actually gets to act, which is a shade more than Halley Berry got to do during her turn as a Bond Girl. Fergusson is perfectly decent in the role, one that actually requires her to engage in her own action set-pieces at times (a knife fight between her and a giant bruiser late in the film is a particular high point), and while I'd hardly write her in for Scarlett Johansson, the field of actually effective action heroines is not so immense that I'm prepared to look gift horses in the mouth, as it were. And speaking of gift horses, we also get Alec Baldwin this time around, whom I love, and have always loved, even in the bad, bad movies that he made a habit of making during his misspent youth. Baldwin plays the director of the CIA, a man determined to get the IMF under some approximation of control by any means necessary, and though this does mean that Baldwin is simply reprising his douchebag-authority-figure role from such films as Glenngary Glenn Ross and The Departed (and 30 Rock), this is a character type that he is good at playing, and that I enjoy watching him play, irrespective of the circumstance.

Things Havoc disliked:  The fact that I keep using phrases like "irrespective of the circumstance" should probably give you a hint.

No, Mission Impossible 5 isn't awful, and no, I don't outright regret seeing it (Pixels was my alternative), but if I'm being brutally honest with myself, I should simply have known better. I went to see this movie because, of all people, my mother wanted to, as she wanted to see Tom Cruise and I had no better idea to suggest instead. As such, the results I received were entirely predictable from the get-go, given that the last movie, while also not receiving a properly failing grade, was so irrelevant to my greater moviewatching career that I announced at the conclusion of reviewing it that I would likely never think about it again, and proceeded to do just that until it came time to write this review?

So what's actually wrong here? The film is just boring. Long and boring, despite a two hour runtime and about eighteen different action setpieces. How this happened is beyond me. Christopher McQuarrie, whose writing and directing credits include The Usual Suspects, Edge of Tomorrow, Valkyrie, and Jack Reacher, all good films, most of them starring Tom Cruise. So what happened here? Was the weight of the mediocrity of this series so immense that McQuarrie couldn't do anything about it? Was Cruise ghost-writing the thing? Did everyone get swallowed by Scientology? I have no idea, and yet here we are.

Part of the problem is the returning cast, particularly two men I'm typically great fans of, Ving Rhames, and Jeremy Renner. Rhames hasn't been in a whole lot recently, and is more or less in this movie just because he was in the first one. He looks tired, uninterested, and simply bored, or perhaps I was simply projecting my own state. He does, however, manage to do better than Renner, who has a fairly comprehensive pedigree for action movies nowadays, and seems to have decided that this was the moment to channel his turn in the fourth Bourne film. I love Renner, but he's awful in this movie, having apparently mistaken the plot for one that is reasonable and speaks to deep truths in our modern world. He speaks in breathless tones on the phone and to his colleagues as though trying to put together the prosecution of the Nuremberg trials, and otherwise does more or less nothing except provide a cardboard cutout for Alec Baldwin to yell at.

But the cast is secondary in a movie like this, even in a good one, so if I'm being properly honest, the real problem here is the action, which is formulaic in all the wrong ways. Setpieces involve the usual Imperial Stormtrooper Academy of Marksmanship bullshit wherein our hero, running in a straight line down a hallway away from the enemy, cannot be hit by bullets, despite the six goons with machine guns firing at him for a minute and a half from ten yards away. A single motorcycle chase through the highways of Morocco manages to generate some interest, due to clever cinematographic tricks to highlight the speed our heroes are making, but all of the other chases, on foot, in cars, underwater, all of them suffer from the same old boring problems that they had in the previous film, fights without stakes, chases without purpose, a gratuitous swimming scene that is padded out by contrivances so obvious that the audience laughed at them before they happened. You know the feeling you get when you're about to get out of an unpleasant situation, a boring conversation or a staff meeting, and then, right at the end, someone does or says something that guarantees you are stuck there for another half hour at least? Half a dozen of the scenes in this movie contained elements that gave me that same reaction.

Final thoughts:   It's hard to write about movies like this, ephemeral movies that have no purchase on one's memory, better or worse. And yet despite the fact that they're basically the same film, I left Mission Impossible 5 far more annoyed than I had its predecessor. Part of that was simply that I wasted my time at a film I knew was unlikely to be good, but part of it was that, in a year such as this, with the glorious, transcendent action movies we have gorged upon for the last six months, there is simply no excuse for making a boring, routine action flick like this one, a movie that could easily have come out in 2004 for all it has learned. Even stupid action films like Fast & Furious 7 (and, if I'm being brutally honest, Kingsman), have evolved far beyond this, with new styles, scripts, pacings, and cinematic tricks designed to thrill audiences who have seen fare like the rest of the damn Mission Impossible series already and want to watch something entertaining. How this series keeps going the way it has, garnering the critical acclaim and audience adoration (my audience applauded the goddamn thing!) is entirely beyond me, but then I'm used, at this point, to being the smartest man in the room when I sit down to watch these weekly films.

Go see Mission Impossible 5 if you're curious, but it is exactly what you think it is. As it was exactly what I thought it would be. I, meanwhile, keep my code of only going to see movies I think might be good for a reason, ladies and gentlemen, and once in a while, it helps to remind myself of just what that reason is.

Final Score:  4.5/10

Next Time:  LeBron James and John Cena compete to see who can follow in The Rock's footsteps.

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