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Alex Reviews Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - How Is The Franchise Still This Much Fun?

Tom Cruise Runs About And Jumps Off Things #5 is as good as ever.

Rating: ˜…˜…˜…˜… Mission: Impossible is the series that everyone pretends The Fast And The Furious is. An unstoppable run of adrenaline-pumping thrill rides with increasingly bonkers stunts that fly in the face of the notion of diminishing returns, it would be a guilty pleasure if people weren't so unashamed to show love for Scientology mouthpiece Tom Cruise. And now we've got a fifth entry, subtitle Rogue Nation, which somehow sits as the second best entry so far (behind the 1996 original). Every time a new film comes along to faux-unexpected praise, everyone asks the same question; "How is the franchise still so good?" While it is certainly impressive that five movies in the M:I series has only gone from strength to strength, with only one truly questionable entry (and even then John Woo's first sequel still has its redeemable elements), it's not exactly hard to grasp why it continues to work. Distilled to its core, the franchise is the American version of James Bond. Oh, Ethan Hunt may not be as exciting a hero as MI6's suave seducer/aggressive alcoholic, but it's a series that works on doing the same formula - Tom Cruise runs about and jumps off tall things in a twisty mission involving a rogue agent - in new and different ways. A key part of this is the constant switching up of directors, which not only keeps things fresh but allows a distinct-yet-familiar style each go around; like 007, this franchise seamlessly moves with the times, reflecting leaps in society and technology, without ever losing what made it work in the first place.
The real ace for Mission: Impossible as a modern blockbuster force though, and one that sees Rogue Nation fly well above the recent blockbuster crop (Mad Max: Fury Road aside, of course), is its approach to continuity. Namely, there isn't really one. Yes, Ethan Hunt has a wife who everyone thinks is dead and this film's big bad, the Syndicate, was teased at the end of Ghost Protocol, but you can come into any new movie as a first timer and, aside from questioning why Ving Rhames is in it, be immediately up to speed. Instead of having a movie that's obsessed with cameos and foreshadowing, M:I puts its focus entirely on the mission at hand, delivering that worryingly rare thing - a great cinema experience. In a world where series aim to run for as long as possible, splitting source novels in two (or three) and trying to make anything into a Cinematic Universe, there's something decidedly old-fashioned about this stand-alone approach. Which is pretty fitting given how, for all its visual polish, Rogue Nation's closest relation is the original adaptation of the '60s TV series; moreso than any of the other sequels, this film is all about careful tension building. Brian de Palma would be proud.
This time it's the turn of Christopher McQuarrie, who worked previously with Cruise on Jack Reacher, to take the reins. We don't really know what makes him tick as a director yet (Reacher was his first gig behind the camera since 2000), but that doesn't stop him from making something totally his own here. Most prominently, he uses that same keen eye for plotting that made The Usual Suspects into the best thriller ever (seriously) to craft the first Mission where the story doesn't feel unnecessarily convoluted (my most consistent complaint with entries one through four). It's the same old rigmarole of rogue agents and Ethan Hunt having to go on the lamb, but at very few points does the plot unwittingly seem ridiculous. Twists are focused on furthering the film, not just wrong-footing the audience for the illusion of a complicated narrative (see: all the previous M:I, even the first). Every double-cross and mask pull comes as a welcome surprise, logical in the established world (none of that endless "This wasn't really Tom Cruise" from M:I II) and pushing us towards the next action scene. Oh, yeah, the action. I could gush indefinitely about McQuarrie's deft plotting, but there's only one real reason you come to a Mission: Impossible film, and Rogue Nation delivers wholeheartedly on that... Click next for the second half of the review.
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Film Editor (2014-2016). Loves The Usual Suspects. Hates Transformers 2. Everything else lies somewhere in the middle. Once met the Chuckle Brothers.