Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation Is Definitely Entertaining, but Rebecca Ferguson Steals the Show

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Does calling a big movie “entertaining” seem like a back-handed compliment? I honestly don’t intend it to be. It’s just that a movie like Mission Impossible really can’t get away from that kind of description because no matter what, that seems to be its singular goal: Keep audiences in the theater entertained with set piece action sequence after set piece action sequence (many of them practical), strung like beads on a necklace. Lose the audience’s patience, and the movie is going to tank. But in terms of a narrative (and even characters), Mission Impossible just doesn’t seem interested in making that a real goal.

Rogue Nation is following that tradition, and considering what it’s attempting, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation is a consistently entertaining movie that I never found “boring,” despite the 2-hour-plus run time.

But let’s be honest: 2 hours with a main character I neither care about nor am concerned for is a pretty long movie, and there are definitely times when this movie could be clipped to move things along a little bit. Not that I want any of these action sequences cut entirely—that’s what you’re going to the theater to see, after all. But some of them definitely go on pretty darn long. Or maybe they could cut out some of Jeremy Renner’s scenes, because his character is pretty darn boring. His part seems pretty forced, and what he does could easily be handed to Ving Rhames (who really seems to be getting squeezed out of this franchise) and Simon Pegg. Or, even keep some of your more engaging female agents around for more than one movie? Nope, the guys stay and all the women are expendable.

Which is really too bad, because if there is one actor/character to come out of this franchise who truly could replace the aging out Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt as a main character, it is certainly Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa. Playing the Mission Impossible version of Eva Marie Saint’s character in North By Northwest as an English agent, she spends most of the movie stealing the show from the lead. She is tougher, harder, and probably smarter than her American male counterparts. And like Emily Blunt in last year’s Edge of Tomorrow, although the 22-year age gap is pretty extreme, they avoid making her into a love interest, and as an actress, she is surprisingly mature and composed, so she never seems like the youngster in the group.

And the filmmakers of these movies clearly like these actress’s butts. Literally, the second shot of this film’s credit sequence (before Ferguson’s is even been introduced as a character) we get a butt shot. But, considering, the film gives almost equal opportunity to leer at both actor’s bodies (shirtless Tom Cruise happens pretty early). It gets away with a lot as a movie that’s purely a feast for the eyes. But there is something about this movie that occasionally feels like Cruise is being a little narcissistic (not so much that it’s off putting) with the way Ethan Hunt is represented as America’s James Bond. Because I really don’t care about his character as much as I just want to watch him do stunts in fitted suits.

But I do care about two of the characters. Ferguson’s Ilsa elicits a lot of emotional involvement and sympathy, because she feels in danger and plays her character as a real person while executing lots of awesome stunts. I also care about what happens to Simon Pegg’s Benji, because he seems vulnerable, and these films use Pegg’s persona and graft it onto Beji’s likable personality. But seriously, I don’t know why Jeremy Renner is wasting time in this movie. William Brandt is still a non-character and Renner seems to just be taking time away from opportunities to see Ving Rhames and Alec Baldwin (still playing Jack in 30 Rock) square off … which I really wanted to see.

As I mentioned, this franchise is very Bond and embraces something my friends and I refer to as “suit porn” (along with location porn). They make characters look unbelievably great and film them in stunning locations that always look amazing. But doing that without overstepping and becoming nothing more than a commercial is a challenge and this film succeeds with this balancing act. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie, who’s previous film was the underwhelming Jack Reacher, is surprisingly good at staging these types of scenes and holding the audience’s interest for the extended running time. And considering how unimportant the narrative really is (dissecting this plot really isn’t worth the effect), the movie is generally well written.

But McQuarrie has worked with Tom Cruise a number of times (Edge of Tomorrow, Jack Reacher, Valkyrie) and occasionally gives in to letting him showboat in a style that actually doesn’t show off the actor’s real strengths. There is a certain intensity that occasionally feels too big for this film (once or twice he feels a little too much like his Magnolia character), which made me laugh. But when Cruise embraces being smooth and easy as Ethan Hunt, he’s pretty good. Especially when allowing Ferguson to handle the emotional weight the film does have and giving Simon Pegg most of the one-liners. As a team, they work well together. Unfortunately, this movie makes it very clear that Ferguson won’t be back, even though she really does make every one of these veterans look better in the scenes she’s in. Too bad, because if there was ever a rightful heir to this franchise, it should be her.

Lesley Coffin is a New York transplant from the midwest. She is the New York-based writer/podcast editor for Filmoria and film contributor at The Interrobang. When not doing that, she’s writing books on classic Hollywood, including Lew Ayres: Hollywood’s Conscientious Objector and her new book Hitchcock’s Stars: Alfred Hitchcock and the Hollywood Studio System.

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