Dissecting Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

Mission- Impossible - Rogue Nation
It’s been four years since the last Mission: Impossible film, but the series is as strong as ever in Rogue Nation, continuing the trend started with M:I III.

Zac: I have always been a big fan of the Mission: Impossible franchise, and Tom Cruise in general really, so I was looking forward to Rogue Nation as much as anyone. Thankfully, I can say that I wasn’t disappointed with Christopher McQuarrie’s entry into the franchise. Structured very similarly to Brad Bird’s previous entry, Ghost Protocol, we get the standard opening set piece of the franchise, some set up into an extended set piece, more setup, then a heist that dovetails into a chase, then set up before the finale. Now, I’m not complaining, it is just kind of funny how they kind of roll with the same blueprint. But the blueprint works!

Lauren: People go to park, dinosaurs escape, dinosaurs eat people. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it! (but maybe in the case of Jurassic World do a little better when fleshing out those bones…)

**Warning: Spoilers littered throughout**

Zac: Rogue Nation is the most stripped down of any of the films in the franchise. The main focus is the Syndicate, an organization driven to disrupt/stop disruption of the status quo of the world, and they do so by recruiting ex-secret agents to carry out shadow missions that might otherwise look like accidents much of the time. I appreciated the change of pace from a big convoluted scheme the villain has in play. Most of the intrigue here is centered around the allegiance of a woman in the Syndicate and what way she is eventually going to fall.

There might have been a couple slow spots in the back half of the film for me, but all in all I was really impressed with the film. Each set piece feels unique and meticulously planned out, yet all of them are also able to surprise and build a ton of suspense. While nothing quite tops the rush of the Dubai sequence in IMAX of Ghost Protocol, the opera sequence in the front half of Rogue Nation might be my favorite set piece in the series.

Lauren: I’m right with you so far. First, I will get it out of the way by saying that Ghost Protocol is my favorite film in the series as it really ramps up what Ethan Hunt’s day job requires of him (also switching up the tone as it moves away from 3, not that I didn’t like that one). Rogue Nation doesn’t top that film in its willingness to go all out in the set pieces (goodness we say “set piece” a lot), but it is definitely a fun entry into the series. My dad and I were bummed that they started out with the plane stunt and cut it off before it could expand on what the trailer had already shown us time and time again, but if they’re willing to give away that entire scene in the trailer before the movie is even out then what the heck could be coming next!?

I will admit, I actually felt a little disappointed when it came to what was next. It just didn’t seem as crazy impossible as I was expecting, but more like a regular, more realistic (but not really realistic at all) Bond or Bourne film. I’ll go back to what Zac says about the building scaling scene of Ghost Protocol: there really isn’t a main set piece in Rogue Nation quite like that, which makes the film feel “duller” in comparison as it goes on because it starts with strapping the lead actor to the side of a plane that is legit taking off. But don’t get me wrong, disappointed doesn’t translate to disliked; the rest of the movie is still great. Not as crazy ridiculous as the Fast and the Furious series likes to take things, maybe not as many “he survived that!?” sequences as I was expecting, but still a great addition to the Mission Impossible series, and action-leaning covert agent films on the whole.

Zac: I was actually a little underwhelmed by the plane bit in the beginning. Is it a crazy ass stunt? Of course. But it wasn’t that cinematic. Even as someone who avoids trailers I knew this was coming, and I couldn’t help but feel like they blew it a little with that scene. Imagine if they showed that cold, then let the news out that it was a practical stunt. Maybe then I would have been more enthralled. But the last section of that opening scene was actually my favorite: him flying in once the door opened and almost flying out the back of the plane was hilarious, and I loved Cruise shambling around trying to steal the warheads.

The opera sequence was spectacular, though, just a wonderfully constructed scene that had me on the edge of my seat. They keep upping the stakes of how many shooters there are, the fight on the light rigging, Simon Pegg’s comedy as Benji gets thrust into the proceedings, the music itself just really propelled the scene forward, and then they don’t even save the guy in the end. Just great stuff from start to finish, and the fact that the other set pieces almost live up to this shows how well the movie is working.

Lauren: It’s no opera from The Fifth Element, but the music really escalates the action in this scene. Plus, with all of the moving sets, backdrops, scaffolding, etc., everyone involved really does deserve applause for how well they work with the space when setting up this sequence.

Zac: In addition to the opera, the underwater heist sequence worked really well when it feels like it shouldn’t, and the chase scene that shortly follows was better than just about any other chase in the series. The film does take it down a notch as it builds up towards the finale, but even as the film might feel like it is in a bit of a lull, things never stop really engaging. Even though McQuarrie has to sort of do an exposition dump to set up all the final pieces of the last act, he keeps putting it into tense sequences and it’s all worth it as the secret plan all starts to unroll.

Lauren: Speaking of this secret plan, I really need to get into this because there was just one aspect I couldn’t quite work out, so maybe you can school me. To sum it up, Atlee, the head of the British Intelligence Agency, is the creator of the Syndicate. Originally his plan for it was to create a group that works outside the system on missions around the world, made up of recruited agents thought to be dead by their respective agencies from numerous countries, funded by a large selection of randomness. The Prime Minister refuses to give this the go ahead, but Atlee continues to work on it in secret until Simon Lane, a decent Steve Jobs impersonator (a later scene was slightly ruined for me thanks to a black turtleneck), becomes evil, takes control of the Syndicate, and starts carrying out terrorist acts from the shadows. So far so good?

Zac: I think we are on the same page. Atlee created everything about the Syndicate except launching it into action.

Lauren: So here’s where I am confused: The Red Box is where all the money that was supposed to fund the Syndicate is stored (or is it just the transfer codes or whatever that is needed to obtain the funds).

Zac: It is the actual money in banks spread out across the globe. Yes.

Lauren: Lane’s main goal in the movie, along with putting Hunt through hell, is getting his hands on this money. Atlee doesn’t want this to happen. Who set up the Red Box in the first place? Was it Atlee? If so couldn’t he have just done something with it so Lane wouldn’t get to it? Did he not know that this was Lane’s plan until the meeting with Isla Faust on the bench? Had he known about it I would assume that he would have beefed up security at the facility it was stored at. Or just moved the money all together so that the information obtained from the red box would no longer be the correct instructions on how to obtain the money. But if he hadn’t known until the meeting then how did he know to place his phone where it was in order to wipe the jump drive clean? As far as I can tell Lane is a “good” guy in the sense that he wants to do what is best for the country, but he’s bad in the sense that he will do what it takes to cover up and distance himself from the fact that the Syndicate is still out there causing trouble. I guess I am just not 100% clear on Atlee’s motivation.

How bout this: scratch all that confusing nonsense and just order Faust to kill Lane. That would have fixed everything!

Zac: I was under the impression that the Red Box was created by Atlee and placed in that safe by him as well. It could only be unlocked by the PM so he wasn’t all that worried about it. Also, if I was in Atlee’s shoes, me going to retrieve the Red Box only makes it less secure or vulnerable to Lane and the Syndicate. So yeah, he could have started moving money around I’m sure, but I am also pretty confident that Atlee knew if/when someone accessed the Red Box. So why start until it is a problem? Also, maybe he was having second thoughts and wanted the Red Box to get stolen so he could wipe any trace of it, knowing that Lane knew and that the Syndicate was only growing more powerful.

Lauren: But I just thought they made copies of it and all that info was still stored at the main facility…

Zac: I think they took the info off the servers, not just made a copy, though, what do I know? Atlee is a classic grey area good spy. He has the right intentions, but will also subvert his orders if he thinks he can make things even safer. Ethan Hunt is the same way. Plus, the less he has to do to get rid of that Red Box the better he looks coming out on the other side.

Lauren: Well that didn’t really clear it up any more for me, so I’ll just stop thinking too hard on it. Now explain to me the ending of the movie! Was Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin) in on it the whole time? Brandt calling Hunley the Secretary in the end made my dad believe so, but that just makes the rest of his scenes really weird if you come at them with the perspective that he actually is involved and knows what’s going on. Like the scene with the Prime Minister. Hunt made up the story that Hunley came in and saved the Prime Minister in order to cement Hunley as a supporter to Hunt’s efforts now that he finally knows the Syndicate is real. Hunley is in agreement because he comes out looking like a hero, so I assumed this was the moment he became an ally to the IMF like the movie wants us to believe. So was he the Secretary all along? Or was he made the Secretary in that final meeting when the IMF is reinstated? I just didn’t get it…

Zac: I thought Hunley was not in on it and totally against the IMF until the end. Brandt says, “Welcome to the IMF,” at the end of the movie. Plus, I think Hunley said something about, “not when I am secretary!” earlier in the film. Hunley was just acting like this was all some big plan from the beginning to: a) make him look better and guarantee the new Secretary position, b) appease the council that IMF is actually a pretty well run and worthy organization even though Ethan Hunt is kind of impulsive, c) it allows Brandt to remain at least one step removed from the government and deliver one last laugh line before the movie is over.

Lauren: OK good, that’s how I read it. I just wasn’t completely sure thanks to Renner’s line reading. Plus I have misread things plenty of times before so figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Zac: Gotcha.  Now back to Faust: what did you think of Rebecca Ferguson and the character in general? I really enjoyed her and wished we got more of her. I think the film did a great job of never letting us know what side she was going to fall down on, and Ferguson, who I haven’t seen in anything else (the White Queen series was her breakout), is great in the part. As for the rest of the cast: I was kind of bummed Jeremy Renner got pushed to the sidelines a bit to make room for her, but he plays a pretty good bureaucrat. At least we still had a decent amount of Simon Pegg, which is always a good thing in my book. Unfortunately, Luther is starting to feel like dead weight. He lost Faust in 5 seconds and she gave him a 5 second head start.

Lauren: I haven’t seen Ferguson in anything before either, so I was more than happy with our first time meeting. She holds her own against Tom Cruise, and though the character is one we’re all familiar with it didn’t feel like a generic character thanks to her performance. Plus she can take down people with her crotch like nobody’s business. But here’s my problem: Ethan Hunt is a married man! So no matter what I’m always going to miss Michelle Monaghan and go into protective friend mode when someone goes sniffing around her man. I know he cut ties with her at the end of Ghost Protocol and that I should move on, but I just couldn’t do it. So I was more than happy that Hunt didn’t choose to go away with Faust at the end. It would’ve been a slap in the face to the wife he left behind. And a slap in the face of his team, really.

Zac: Yeah, Cruise has been in platonic mode with all of his movies as of late. He is, sort of, a sexless presence at this point, even though he always has his shirt off and is still a really attractive human being. I wonder if that is by choice?

Lauren: He had a spark going with Emily Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow. But yeah, he’s no Channing Tatum.

Zac: Going back, I really do wish Brandt got to be a bit more a part of the action; you can’t help but feel for Jeremy Renner. What does a guy have to do to be the action star he wants to be? (I think Bourne Legacy is really good and loved Hawkeye in Age of Ultron, for the record.) Did you have any other misgivings with the film, or are you pretty much easily recommending this across the board like I am?

Lauren: Bourne Legacy relied too much on Matt Damon’s trilogy if you ask me, but that doesn’t take away from Renner in it. Granted that’s neither here nor there. I’m all for recommending Rogue Nation. The story holds up even if you get slightly confused as I did, everyone is great even if it would be even better to have more of them, and even though there was an app for pretty much everything I never felt like I was being cheated out of the action I was expecting. Minus the airplane bit. But where I complain you applaud the simplicity, so what do I know. Gold star!

Zac: “I can neither confirm or deny if this film received a gold star…”

(It does)

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