Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Not the catchiest of titles, especially considering the rarest of feats: a combination of the colon and dash in a single title. Reprisal, would be a better name for Rogue Nation, the latest installment in the Mission Impossible franchise. Tom Cruise is the obvious one, obviously. But British actors Simon Pegg (Benji), Tom Hollander (PM) and Simon McBurney (Brit spy chief, Atlee) see themselves in familiar territory. Pegg, carrying on in the role from 2011’s Ghost Protocol is in his comfort zone of overly committed, lightly goofy techie who haphazardly saves the day. Montgomery Scott; just swap the intergalactic for the international. Stalwarts of British sitcom Rev, the low key, lower budget story of an inner city London vicar, Hollander and McBurney are reuinted onscreen. Hollander played the inept PM in Thick of It spin-off, In The Loop; here, at least, he does not get the barrage of verbal abuse. Instead, the threat comes from the misguided plans of his sidekick, the head of MI6 (McBurney). McBurney has been popping up everywhere of late; frequently bespectacled, from Woody Allen magical madness to Eddy Redmayne’s Dad, he is an elder statesman who has well and truly blossomed of late in the Hollywood world. He once again takes up the role of shadowmaster, one which he played so successfully in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as an overlord politician. He has the right snobbish malevolence to play these roles with brazen authority.
This is a film for the little guy. Proof that you can be 5ft 6in and still rule the day. Apart from the gorilla, Alec Baldwin, a new addition in the role of CIA Director and the slightly higher Jeremy Renner (Brandt), life is short in Rogue Nation. Perhaps this is something to do with having a famously low altitude action hero as the protagonist, but when Simon Pegg looks big onscreen, you know something is up (or should that be down…) Add into the mix Hollander and McBurney, neither troubling the tape measure and we have perhaps the smallest cast since Snow White. As Ilsa Fault, Rebecca (not Sarah) Ferguson must have been judiciously selected because of her matching height. With Cruise, the Swedish actress makes an engaging partnership of bloodied, battling brunettes.
As Hollywood learns to love us Brits, it is striking to see a Swede playing a British agent undercover as a Chechen. A needlessly confusing mixture. While Feguson’s chipped tones sound somewhat artificial, there is nothing fake in the scene stealing quality of the stunts. Cruise is notorious for his expensive life insurance dedication to stunts, but Ferguson keeps pace and showcases some seriously adept moves; she cracks necks with her knees, dagger jabs Chechens Pirates of the Caribbean style and even successfully steals memory sticks of data from underwater. And if that doesn’t sound sexy, you are clearly yet to see Rogue Nation. Which is good, because it gives reason for a review.
Sin City style, her all action ability comes with the caveat of gratuitous nudity. Well, not necessarily nudity but you can get the picture. She’s seen in her bathing suit, slowly, seductively seething out of the shallow end of her private pool in Casablancas in scenes reminiscent of that infamous ornithological scene in Die Another Day. There, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond stared through binoculars at the quarry of Halle Berry’s body. Here we see the comical scene of Cruise and Pegg staring gormless at the temptress. At 53 and 45 respectively, they gaze upon the 31 year old Swede like fathers caught in front of the Playboy Channel at bed time. The writers avoid any real romance of Bond style sexual proportions, instead favouring a reduced romantic arc to the story. For some reason it exists, nonetheless. Because we can’t simply have a pretty lady in a man’s world without some form of inane ‘run away with me, Platonic lover’ invasion on the otherwise orgy of action. Why can’t women just crack skulls, not hearts?
Oh, yeah. The plot… When was Mission Impossible ever about a story arc? Mmmm, maybe 1996? No. 20 years on and this is still one long, two hours twenty inventory of stunt extravaganza. It is astounding amidst the canon of franchises that any scene can seem refreshing. With Mad Max, Arnie, Jurassic World, not to mention Star Wars, all back in 2015, it is a feat of engineering to keep Cruise’s more sedate stunts exciting against the existential threats from such capers as The Avengers. Ethan Hunt was always human, he can’t even shoot an arrow like Jeremy Renner’s latest Avenger, his weapon was more likely a laptop than a laser. As such, in a world of Marvel superheroes, Cruise is neither a Man of Steel nor an Iron Man, the franchise should be undermined by these modern megaliths that have marginalised the IMF’s market share.
Things do take a turn for the financial as Sean Harris’ baddie, Solomon Lane, seeks to fund his ungodly intentions. Harris, the Bethnal Green born Borgias star is the weak point of Rogue Nation. Heading The Syndicate, his most noteworthy trait is his Steve Jobbs black turtle neck. His voice, meant to be nasally nasty sounds stupid throughout – think Bane without the braces – and his talent wasted in a stodgy, poorly sketched cameo. His presence once more marks the British invasion of Hollywood. But, as the Brits play Brits, there is nothing much to wind up the Hollywood nationalists.
Like 2012’s Skyfall, using London as a backdrop is a slice of commercialism to please the outgoing Mayor, big BJ Boris. Tower Bridge, Big Ben, London Eye, they all make it in a pleasing Bond pastiche. Mission Impossible stretches to find itself any last scrap of marketability, invading Bond home turf. The film avoids the pitfall of becoming one big backdrop instead plunging into a watery vortex or whatever the next manageably Impossible Mission might be. Impossibilities are negotiable, after all.
It seems premature to write off perennial youth Tom Cruise, but he might be 57 by the time of the next shooting. Mission Impossible seems keen to set itself up as a legacy franchise, one that can laugh at and certainly not take itself too seriously. With Simon Pegg and Big Tommy C leading the way, it looks set to last. In short, it is one for the little guy.