The latest installment of the Mission Impossible series sees the filmmakers take a stab at modern international affairs, with thinly veiled references to US relations with the East. Emad El-Din Aysha goes on a ride with agent Ethan Hunt.
It’s always nice to see a fair amount of self-criticism on display in American cinema, especially when the only place you can find that self-criticism is on the silver screen, not in political quarters. Hence, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015), a must see both for entertainment value and for its ‘relevance’ to use lonesome, besieged Arabs.
Problems and Preambles
Here the Impossible Mission Force is disbanded thanks to the inept and, one suspects, jealous leadership of the CIA Director, Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), at the same time that the world – not just the US – needs Tom Cruise aka Ethan Hunt. A new force to be reckoned with has emerged on the international scene, known as the Syndicate. They almost capture and kill Hunt himself – one its members, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), mysteriously helps him escape – and then he has to spend the rest of his career on the run from his own country’s authorities while trying to track down the Syndicate and end it’s ruthlessly nihilistic leader Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) global reign of terror (assassinations, coups, civil wars). Hunt pulls in some former IMF members to help him out and things go downhill from there.
While better than the first three films, Rogue Nation is below par compared to the previous one. The central problem here, artistically, is what afflicted the first couple of movies, namely, Tom Cruise!
He’s a great actor, mind you, when he keeps his ego under control. This is not one of those instances. Just as in Mission: Impossible II (2000) where we’re told that to create the ultimate hero, you first need the ultimate villain, you have Hunt being told that he’s finally met his match in Lane. The risks he’s taking with national security in his maniacal pursuit could just be an ego-trip. How true. Look at the scene where Hunley tells the British Prime Minister (Tom Hollander) that Hunt is too brilliant and dedicated to stop; the very definition of destiny, as he says.
Hunt’s second in command, William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), is given very little to do, in contrast to his role in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), both in terms of action and emotional depth. At one point here he rats out Hunt to Hunley but you guess what’s really going on. There’s lots of recycling here too, such as the motorcycle chase sequence – a rehash of Mission: Impossible II – and other action sequences are either too big or too small to be believable. Most of the story happens in London, not exactly the most exotic or action-packed place in the world, evidence perhaps of a tight budget.
On the plus side, techno geek Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) is given a lot to do here and Hunt’s love interest Ilsa Faust is just as intelligent, morally committed and physically impressive as him. The bad guy Solomon is a piece of work himself. Sean Harris was the guy who played the grumpy geologist in Prometheus (2012), someone who’s built like a Welsh coal miner. Here he looks like some Aryan exterminator, brimming with vile but with a disciplined and cunning mind that can keep those emotions under control while in the line of fire. His scratchy, low key voice helps convey this too.
Walking the Razor’s Edge
Now for what you’ve all been waiting for – the themes. ‘Rogue Nation’ is clearly a reference to the US, probably derived from Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr.’s book Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions (2003). It’s a condemnation of George W. Bush’s foreign policies and so is this movie. The message is about ‘blowback’ and what happens when you trample onto too many already downtrodden peoples – they fight back, turning your own tools against you. Hence, al-Qaeda (bin Laden technically was an American agent or ally who went ‘rogue’) and, of course, the eruption of the Islamic State (ISIS) out of war-torn Iraq.
ISIS is the real thing, a “terrorist superpower” – a term they use to describe the Syndicate – that is recruiting disgruntled people from around the globe, just as the Syndicate is made up of former intelligence operatives who want to go into business for themselves or settle scores with their employers. (I can’t tell you more, or that would spoil the film). Lane refuses to be called a terrorist because he isn’t interested in fear, but revolution. As for Ilsa ‘Faust’, it’s about the Fuastian bargain you make when you take the law into your own hands and decide the fate of the world all by yourself without even so much as consulting them. Ilsa gets into a moral debate with her intelligence handler at one point about honouring commitments to allies and not helping terrorists get away with their crimes just to spy on them more effectively, a complaint that has been made repeatedly about the Americans.
Note that Hunt, with all his excesses, does capture the bad guy at the end of the day so that he can be properly tried for his crimes, whereas Hunley at one point is willing to extra-legally assassinate Hunt. Moral responsibility is imperative here – why Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) quit when the IMF was disbanded – and why Lane turned bad himself. He put the blame on the system and not himself, as Hunt tells him.
Torture is condemned here too. One of the badies, Janik Vinter (Jens Hultén), is known as the ‘bone doctor’, and he prefers his gruesome methods to modern chemical techniques; and he was a former agent as well. This is all great but it still doesn’t make up for Tom Cruise’s frolicks here. (We have to endure his hairless chest more than once). In the very first Mission: Impossible (1996), he killed off the whole IMF crew and turned the legendary Jim Phelps into a bad guy just so he could come out on top.
The whole point of the Mission: Impossible TV series (1966-1973) was ‘teamwork’. What they should do in the next installment is have the International Monetary Fund (IMF) track down and neutralise Tom Cruise’s bank accounts so he can’t produce any more movies without other stars that can equal him!!!