Friday, August 21, 2015

Worth Mentioning - You Need Coolin', Baby, I'm Not Foolin'

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Cody checks out a globetrotting adventure while trotting the globe.


Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation director Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for providing the screenplay for director Bryan Singer's The Usual Suspects, first worked with Tom Cruise on Singer's 2008 film Valkyrie, beginning a working relationship that has continued through Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (which McQuarrie did some uncredited script work on), Jack Reacher (which McQuarrie also directed), Edge of Tomorrow, and now their fifth collaboration, the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise.

One thing I've always enjoyed about the Mission: Impossible movies is how each entry has been directed by a different filmmaker, each taking their own approach to the material. Taking over the helm, McQuarrie keeps in place some of the humor and character dynamics established in Brad Bird's Ghost Protocol, at the same time bringing an old school spy thriller feel to his film.

While the first three movies each felt quite separate from each other, a bit of continuity crept in to Ghost Protocol, and there's even more continuity in Rogue Nation. In fact, this is basically the first direct sequel in the series, as it deals with the aftermath of the events of the previous film, and builds off the final moment in it.

Ghost Protocol ended with series hero Ethan Hunt (Cruise) receiving a new mission, one that would require thwarting a mysterious organization known as the Syndicate. Later this year, the new James Bond film will feature the return of the villainous organization SPECTRE, which has been absent from the franchise for decades. Rogue Nation beats SPECTRE to the "rebooting old villains" punch, as the Syndicate organization was a regular threat on the 1960s Mission: Impossible TV show. The fact that Rogue Nation's version of the Syndicate was created rather recently would seem to officially remove the films from the TV continuity, so fans who were upset by what was done to TV team leader Jim Phelps in the first Mission: Impossible movie back in 1996 can now rest assured - Jon Voight's character only shared the name of Peter Graves' character.

Rogue Nation picks up a year after Ghost Protocol, with Hunt still on the trail of the Syndicate. Just as he gets his first glimpse of Syndicate leader Solomon Lane (played by Sean Harris, putting on a very creepy voice), the Impossible Missions Force is shut down at the demand of CIA director Hunley (Cruise's Rock of Ages co-star Alec Baldwin), who feels that the agency is too reckless to continue existing and believes that the Syndicate is simply a figment of Hunt's imagination. The CIA takes over IMF's operations and Hunt is to be apprehended.

Jump ahead six months. Hunt's fellow IMF agents William Brandt (Jeremy Renner, returning from Ghost Protocol) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, returning from part 3 and GP) have been given jobs at the CIA, IMF agent Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, who has been in all of the films) has resigned rather than switch agencies, and Hunt has been continuing to piece together the Syndicate puzzle while on the run from the CIA. As Hunt once again nears Lane, he recruits his former cohorts to join him on a completely unsanctioned mission to destroy the Syndicate for good.

Along the way, Hunt encounters - and forms a tenuous alliance with - a female member of the Syndicate, former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust. Faust is a character who steals the show, brought to the screen by Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson in a star-making performance. Faust is a highly capable secret agent, she participates in multiple action sequences and takes down men much larger than her in some bone-crushing physical altercations, but at the same time Ferguson has a classic film aura about her. Her looks have drawn comparison to Swedish predecessor Ingrid Bergman, an actress who Cruise has said was his first celebrity crush. A Bergman influence has been mixed into the Mission: Impossible films before, as Mission: Impossible II was something of a remake of the Alfred Hitchcock film Notorious, in which Bergman starred with Cary Grant, and it's definitely on display again here. Ilsa was the name of Bergman's character in Casablanca, and Ferguson's Ilsa even goes to Casablanca in this film. Bergman never had to endure six weeks of action hero training like Ferguson did, but these are different eras.

Although it takes most of the film before we figure out whether or not Ilsa is truly trustworthy, she is a help to Ethan throughout and is heavily involved in most of the best sequences, including my absolute favorite.

The Bergman/Ferguson comparison isn't the only touch of classic film to Rogue Nation. While the action spectacle of the film is an insane heist that involves underwater shenanigans that Hunt barely survives, followed by an awesome vehicular chase, the standout stretch of the movie for me was a masterful suspense sequence in which Hunt faces off with multiple assassins in a Vienna opera house. It's spy movie brilliance that would have felt right at home in a 1960s James Bond film.

A climactic chase set on fog-shrouded London streets felt like another classic film callback, and while the movie is packed with action, it also finds time for intrigue, twists, and turns as well.

Like Furious 7 back in April, Rogue Nation was a movie I got to see at a theatre in Brazil while visiting the blog's own Priscilla. The movie came out two weeks later in Brazil than it did in the states, but it was totally worth the extra wait.

Even though I left Ghost Protocol hoping that the next M:I film would have nothing to do with disavowals and rogue agents and Rogue Nation ended up being all about disavowals and rogue agents, it's so entertaining that I didn't mind at all. A fan of the franchise overall, I've liked all of the movies to date a lot and we'll see how Rogue Nation holds up over repeat viewings, but as of right now I would consider it one of my favorite entries in the series. It's fun, well written (by McQuarrie, from a story by Iron Man Three's Drew Pearce), has a great cast, and looks incredible thanks to returning Ghost Protocol cinematographer Robert Elswit.

Now, really, can IMF just be operating "business as usual" next time, with no behind the scenes problems or traitorous spies in sight?

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