It is nice that some long-runners in the action genre can still get us hooked. A helpful element in this case is action that genuinely captivates the viewer, and there’s no better way of doing that than to make sure that as much of it as possible is physically happening in front of the camera, as opposed to, say, 30% in front of the camera while the rest of the finished scene was accomplished via greenscreen and adding all the actually exciting parts after everything was shot.
That’s one of the things I like about the Mission: Impossible movies. From Tom Cruise swinging around like a maniac upon the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol, to all the non-faked car chases and the “airplane scene” (see below) in the latest movie, Rouge Nation, there has always been something special and loveable about how this film series executes its action moments.
The fifth installment in the franchise is produced by the likes of J.J. Abrams and directed by Christopher McQuarrie of Jack Reacher fame, which also starred Tom Cruise. Once again Cruise plays IMF Agent Ethan Hunt, and he has become more hellbent than ever to reveal the existence of IMF’s arch nemesis, an organization known as The Syndicate. It doesn’t help him when IMF is suddenly shut down by a gruff CIA director played by Alec Baldwin, or when Hunt himself gets kidnapped by a mysterious bespectacled man played by Sean Harris and later interrogated by two Swedes, the brutish Janik “Bone Doctor” Vinter (Jens Hultén) and the enigmatic Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson of The White Queen fame), who reveals herself to be an MI6 undercover agent and eventually helps Hunt escape.
After the fall of IMF, Hunt goes off the grid to go after the mysterious man from earlier, and all of his potential associates such as Isla, on his own, and the CIA has no luck finding him. Hunt does contact his old comic relief pal Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) however and gets him involved in his “indie” mission to track down all his leads and find out the truth about The Syndicate. Hunt’s old friends William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and soon also Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) decide to take matters into their own hands, and soon join in on an adventure that, in true MI fashion, takes them all around the globe in “just” 131 minutes.
I am a little disappointed at some things here. For instance, I’m not sure I enjoyed the way this film incorporated its only major female character into most scenes that featured her. Sure Rebecca Ferguson is tough and outwits the heroes on more than one occasion, but it seemed like the filmmakers took every chance they could get to put her in sexy dresses, swimsuits and, at one point, nothing but a thong. It’s fun to hear characters randomly break out in Swedish in Hollywood movies lately (Kingsman; Michael Nyqvist in the last movie); I just wish the characters themselves were more dignified. Secondly, the movie feels a little too long. There’s a time and place for a 2+ hour runtime and I don’t believe a spy action thriller is it.
On that note, though, I must say that the action and the fight scenes continue to be a strong point in these movies. The greatest scene in the movie is a fight that takes place in the Vienna opera house, where Tom Cruise stalks and eventually combats a series of assassins, with a little help from Simon Pegg, both backstage and amongst the theater lights, all while Giacomo Puccini‘s Turandot plays dramatically on the stage below them. The way this scene is shot, lit, edited and scored is exactly the stuff I want to see in a truly smart and sophisticated action film. Give me this over monotonous robot battles and exploding CGI cars any day! (Also, fun fact: Puccini’s “Nessun dorma”, which is used in most of the opera scene, later recurs throughout the movie as a remixed version woven into the score, which I dug.)
My greatest appreciation for this movie, and really the franchise as a whole, is the abundance of real stunts and practical effects in the stead of CGI for majority of the action-packed moments. Once again, Tom Cruise did most of his own stunts, including the opening scene which he spends dangling outside of a plane during take-off and on top of that, it was apparently shot multiple times. The car chases are authentic as well, and one amusing behind-the-scenes clip involves Simon Pegg claiming he genuinely felt that he was going to die whilst sitting next to one of the stunt drivers. In summation, I’ll gladly take the action and imagery of the Mission: Impossible franchise over almost any of the computer-generated, cartoon-looking bullshit from the Fast and Furious saga.
My dad also pointed out something about the color-grading in this film, which was noticeable but still subtle and well-utilized, adding faint blue-ness to the “colder” shots and a yellow-ish filter to the “warmer” ones. I am only mentioning this because I still haven’t gotten over how ugly and unnatural the color-correction looked in Transformers 4.
This isn’t a perfect or spectacular film; sometimes the action, in spite of how real it looks, suffers from the same problems as Captain America 2 in that it can’t resist going so over-the-top that even characters without superpowers (i.e. Falcon in Captain America and everyone in this movie) somehow continue to survive major accidents without so much as a scratch. And as a spy movie, it mostly follows the beats and doesn’t do much new outside of the array of cool gadgets or the aforementioned opera scene. Also, as much as I appreciated the surprising lack of explosions in at least 90% of the action scenes, even that element was evidently difficult for the filmmakers to resist, as we get one truly comical scene in which a motorcycle skids of the road and randomly explodes in mid-air while falling off a cliff. I guess bike fuel combusts upon contact with air.
I will say that Mission: Impossible 5 is worth your time regardless of what few things it gets wrong. It’s fun and intriguing to watch, and that, I think, is what most people who come back to this franchise are looking for. Plus the crazy stunts by Tom Cruise. Thankfully, the movie delivers either way, and I look forward to seeing what structure or aircraft Mr. Cruise will ascend next time.