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" It’s all just hooey. Morality disguised as fact. "
— Liam Neeson, Kinsey

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Creed II

It's all about the importance of character and the ability to face life's challenges. —Matt Anderson (review...)

Creed II

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Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation lasts 131 minutes and feels densely packed. Is it too long? Not for me, but I like a good spy movie, and I have a soft spot for the M:I films.

The M:I series has benefitted greatly from a string of competent and interesting directors: Brian De Palma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird have gone before. This time the director is Christopher McQuarrie, who may be best known as the Oscar winning screenwriter of The Usual Suspects. His most recent directorial effort was Jack Reacher, also with Cruise in the lead.

Spy Games

Action set pieces abound in Rogue Nation
Action set pieces abound in Rogue Nation

The IMF (“Impossible Mission Force,” not to be confused with the bankers) has been tailing The Syndicate, starting with an opening scene worthy of the film’s poster (Tom Cruise hanging on to the side of a cargo jet as it takes off).

In the next scene, The Syndicate reveals itself to Ethan Hunt (Cruise) using the methods of his employers: a self destructing message. The message is planted by a crewcutted aryan with a whispery voice (Sean Harris). When the message self destructs, Hunt is captured.

When he comes to, we notice one of his torturers has blue eyes, and we just know she will turn up later.

Meanwhile, the IMF is in political trouble. The CIA intends to dissolve IMF and absorb its assets. When I saw Alec Baldwin’s credit my heart sank. I’d most recently seen him as a comically humorless blustering general in Aloha. His casting made me think McQuarrie wouldn’t take the M:I franchise seriously enough. But Baldwin basically works, as a comically humorless calculating director of the CIA. Jeremy Renner’s William Brandt (introduced in M:I 4) shares the screen with Baldwin’s character as he tries to out-CIA the CIA in front of an oversight panel.

Simon Pegg (also introduced in M:I 4) returns as Benji, a computer expert. In his new assignment at the CIA, he plays video games at his desk, the “boss mirror” ready to warn him when someone approaches from behind.

Later, Brandt brings in Luther (Ving Rhames, introduced in M:I 1) to help track down Ethan, who is still at large in search of The Syndicate.

The China Factor

There is a new director and there are some new producers. The production companies Alibaba and China Movie make the opening credits feel like the credits to a martial arts film. And one of the first action set pieces shows a shirtless Tom Cruise wearing black kung fu pants, pulling some amazing strength maneuvers in a torture chamber. An homage to Bruce Lee?

A later scene at a Viennese opera features some backstage leaping between catwalks and drapes that seems inspired by the likes of Jackie Chan.

The opera scene is lifted right out of The Man Who Knew Too Much. We can attribute the homage to McQuarrie, the first M:I director to have sole screenwriter credit (he shares a story credit with Drew Pearce, a co-screenwriter on Iron Man 3). The script and pacing are tight within each sequence. (Between sequences... not so important.)

I forget if there was much humor in the earlier M:I movies, but Rogue Nation has moments of levity, usually when Simon Pegg is on-screen, but sometimes from the film’s competent editor Eddie Hamilton. These give the audience a chance to relax after the many tense action sequences.

Other Spy Agencies

The one area where I felt McQuarrie’s work faltered is in the introduction of a running theme of “friendship.” In a movie about international espionage, it seems pretty immature. I understand we’re not dealing with John le CarrĂ© here, but still, it’s a little hard to swallow the seriousness of kidnapping the Prime Minister of the UK (sorry David Cameron) for the happy reason of saving a friend.

So Rogue Nation is not a serious, clockwork spy movie like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (though the late-film presence of Simon McBurney seems included to give Rogue Nation some “clockwork” cred).

Nor is Rogue Nation as darkly serious as, say, the recent James Bond films, which have turned bleak and bitter (that’s probably a good thing). Here “The girl” fares better here than with Bond. As Ilsa Faust, Rebecca Ferguson stands on her own. She’s dangerous and indispensible in the plot. She even gets a solo knife fight scene and doesn’t have to be rescued by Hunt. Whether she makes it to the next installment with Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Jeremy Renner remains to be seen.

By the end, I was surprised McQuarrie had crammed as many plot turns and set pieces into the film as he did, in just over two hours. I found it entertaining all the way through. Your mileage may vary, but I for one wouldn’t mind a sixth installment.