Movies: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
This is the fifth Mission: Impossible movie. In this one, the IMF is shut down (again?) and Ethan Hunt has to lead his ragtag team to take on "The Syndicate", a shadowy "anti-IMF" cabal seeking to destabilize world governments via acts of terror.
MI3 was something of a miracle, a taut, exciting action film that genuinely had things to say — about relationships, about hubris, about geopolitics. It perfectly balanced its "get the MacGuffin" plot against a storyline that asked whether Ethan Hunt could ever be truly happy in a relationship.
MI4 (aka "Ghost Protocol") was stuck in the third movie's formidable shadow, and they made a sensible decision — dump any serious attempt at an emotional storyline, and just play the spy action to the max. They wound up with a neatly-running machine that, sure, never made you feel anything, but was still pleasant to watch.
MI5 is the movie that falls right between those two stools, and lands in disappointment. They want to tell an emotional story, and they really give that a shot, and they just kinda suck at it. So you're left with an emotional arc that doesn't land, and a spy-action storyline that has to fight for focus.
And it didn't have to be that way. Granted, it would have taken a preternatural amount of skill to pull of what they were going for, but the path is there. As far as I can tell, the key point is Ilsa's first scene in London. It's where she meets with Atlee and it becomes clear that MI6 (the agency, not the film) is just going to use her up until she gets killed, all part of the plan to take down "The Syndicate".
(And let's just stop a moment here to note that they've invented a criminal terrorist organization that sounds less threatening than a K-Mart.)
It's here where you see the film aiming to be about something: they're going into Le Carré territory, with stories of devoted spies risking life and limb for agencies that don't really care about them as people. If the ledgers ever spit out that it's cheaper to let them die, then that's it, they're on their own. It's stories about people who reckon with that truth. They either leave, or they make their peace with it, and either path is very, very hard.
And you can see that theme crop up again at the end, with Ilsa asking Ethan to leave the IMF and run away with her. And you can see it, to some extent, with the villain, Solomon Lane (the name of someone even less threatening than the manager at that K-Mart), who was used by MI6, and reacted so badly to his mistreatment there that he founded The Syndicate.
("The Syndicate" sounds like a nightclub that was founded with good intentions but is now always full of the city's most boring people.)
So that, I think, is the emotional underpinning of this movie.
The problem is, it has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. This is a movie about thrilling derring-do, a movie where Ethan Hunt (ex-wife? *what* ex-wife?) *loves* being a super-spy, is convinced (with almost an edge of narcissism) that he's saving the world, and doesn't really *exist* outside of his job. This is a movie where the Syndicate's actions (they don't really have a big horrible plan, beyond... claiming their budget — again, less threatening than K-Mart) don't reflect that theme in any way.
They're just randomly causing chaos, because... lulz?
So the first hour or so of the movie feels... random. Okay, there's an arbitrary enemy, and we've manufactured another excuse to get rid of the IMF so Ethan isn't just a laughably overpowered character. And arbitrary spy-things happen for a while... and then it lurches into this heavy, Le Carré-esque storyline, and it's unearned, and they're not good at it. You wish they had either committed to making this movie *about* something, or they'd just settled into a nice MI4 retread, all fun and fancy spy-romping without any real feelings involved.
And maybe eased up on the teal-and-orange color correction.
This is not to say the movie wasn't fun. I respect them for exploring federal-government machinations, with the CIA butting heads with this off-the-books superspy organization. I loved the brief stretch of just-brought-back-to-life, minimal-reflexes Ethan Hunt struggling through a car chase. The action scenes are crisp, engaging, and not overwhelmed with CGI effects. And Rebecca Ferguson does okay with a thinly-written role.
(Though I note that there's no real chemistry with Tom Cruise. Still, that's probably on Mr. Cruise — in my opinion, romance requires vulnerability, and Mr. Cruise, for all his many talents, is not very good at that.)
But mostly this movie reminded me that Mission: Impossible 3 balanced its character arcs with its plots very, very expertly, and we're unlikely to see that level of skill again.
For next week: I'm watching season one of Fleabag and, once Netflix delivers the DVD, the sixth Mission: Impossible movie. I'm reading some Spanish-language Marvel comics and listening to an audiocourse about linguistics.
 If you'll indulge me:
oompa loompa dippity doo I'm so over spy movies bringing in a new female lead in every film. Just keep one, and build the character over time, FFS.
orange guys in a room that's all blue
oompa loompa dippity dit
this extreme post processing is