Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)

Ali Gray,
Matt Looker,
Becky Suter,
Ed Williamson

9th August 2018

Timed perfectly to coincide with Fallout's three week anniversary, here is our fifth and final Mission: Impossible catch-up, for Chris McQuarrie's Rogue Nation. Thanks for Reading: Impossible!

Previous missions:
Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible (1996)
Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)
"This nation just got rogue."

Ali: My considered reappraisal is that I liked it just fine. Though tonally similar to Ghost Protocol, it's a very different animal. I like how McQuarrie and Cruise shot that amazing, unbelievable plane stunt and just tossed it off in the cold open. That's quite ballsy. The stunts feel less like showpieces here, which is fine by me, because they're replaced by sequences like the opera assassination and the underwater scene, which feel much more unpredictable.

Matt: I like it far less than you overall from the sounds of it. I remember being hugely disappointed in this film when I first saw it because it was too similar to Ghost Protocol in tone (when previously every film had been completely different, as we've discussed) but the balance was slightly off this time.

Ali: Other high points: the Casablanca car chase is the bollocks and the bike chase right after it is pretty tasty too. It made me realise I would quite like Edgar Wright to do a Mission movie one day.

Ed: This is probably my favourite. It at least makes the odd concession to the idea that he's not invulnerable (the crap car bonnet-roll is great) and it focuses on character far more than the others. A lot of it is essentially a buddy movie with Hunt and Benji, which I kind of dug.

Matt: I liked the plane stunt at the beginning and have always been impressed that all of the marketing was built around that moment... and it was over with within 10 minutes leaving the rest of the film a complete mystery. I also loved the Casablanca chases - that's all really brilliant stuff. Personally I think the Opera scene is a little too Bond-like and doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the film (can you even remember why anyone was trying to shoot that guy?), but the moving platform stuff is quite fun, I suppose.

Becky: I didn't enjoy it as much as I did first time around, which is odd as I was looking forward to this one the most.

Soloman Lane. Sol to his friends.

Ali: Big problem, though: the ending is bad. Just pedestrian and rote and not at all in keeping with the high tempo of the rest of the movie. I know McQuarrie had trouble with it and they famously didn't have an ending when they started filming, but it shows. Essentially, it is a big wet bomb non-drama followed by a generic foot chase and dust-up followed by trapping a man in a small box. It's maybe a good example of how to end a blockbuster movie on a shoestring, but it sucks all the life out of the movie.

Matt: Meh to the rest of it. The underwater sequence is a bit drawn out, all the Prime Minister stuff at the end feels tacked on and yeah, the final trap.

Ed: Sean Harris is slightly less terrifying than he usually is but that's still pretty unsettling. I saw him in Bethnal Green once and he looked straight through me with his cold, dead eyes. Sometimes when I close my eyes at night I can still see his. I agree that his not being a physical match disqualifies him from being the ultimate nemesis, but then every new film has to be sold as "His most impossible mission yet!" so they'd only be finding a more ultimater nemesis next time anyway.

Matt: The thing that always takes me by surprise in this film is when, towards the end, Jeremy Renner says to Ethan something about the main bad guy always besting him, and Ethan gets all defensive ("Is that what you think this is?"). At that point, I always think "Oh, is this supposed to be some kind of arch-nemesis for Ethan Hunt? Someone who is just as clever and strategic, but is his moral opposite working at the anti-IMF? Because I did not get that". If that's supposed to be the case, I think the film really could make more of that. Set them up as proper intellectual rivals, make us feel that he truly is Ethan's match. I think the film is trying to suggest that's the case, but doesn't sell it well at all.

Solomon Lane could have been a great villain but he talks in whispers like a sex case
Ali: I think Solomon Lane could have been a great villain if he was a physical equal to Ethan Hunt. But he's this little, dweeby Gollum who talks in whispers like a sex case. The Syndicate by and large do not fulfill their promise of being the "anti-IMF", mostly because they're all faceless motorcycle goons and you don't get to know any of them, or understand why they would have turned their back on their nations. It's a great concept that under-delivers.

Ed: When he got his mission on the record player at the start and you found out it'd been hacked by the Syndicate, I really wanted them to say "Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to FUCK OFF."

Matt: I don't think Lane needs to be his physical match. And we’ve already had an 'Evil Ethan' baddie in M:I-2. I think it makes sense to have him like this: someone who is outsmarting Ethan at every turn and Hunt is only just scraping through because he has the physical prowess to keep his head above water. And that’s what always happens. Ethan is supposed to be an expert strategist, but actually he normally ends up saving the day by just running a bit faster, or jumping a bit higher. This ending actually makes sense to me because it is Ethan refusing to continue to jump through hoops and winning on his wits instead.

Ali: The ending angers me the more I think about it. Hunt's big plan was to destroy the drive and tell Lane that he memorised all the bank details, so effectively HE was the drive now. That's fine, but why did you have to actually destroy the drive? And if you want Lane to think you've got this amazing photographic memory and you're capable of remembering endless rows of digits, why did you have to write down the bank details for the $50 million sweetener on a napkin?

Matt: The problem is that the film doesn't make you realise that’s what's happening. Not enough is made of the fact that Lane is an intellectual superior to Ethan and that Ethan has 'met his match' and therefore you don’t get the satisfaction when Ethan eventually does actually outsmart him.

Becky: I liked Sean Harris fine - by this point in the franchise I’ve stopped trying to expect anything from the Big Bads - but he does feel like a cardboard cut-out of a villain, purely just to inject comic tension with Tom Cruise. For me, that wraps up my issue with it overall, is that it's too light-hearted. Alec Baldwin's character this time has walked straight off 30 Rock, and Benji's puppy playfulness is grating this time around. Plus, I'm seriously starting to doubt his credentials, because his response to any piece of technology failing or being slow is to hit it repeatedly. Pretty sure you’re not meant to do that to sophisticated computer equipment.

Ali: I like what Baldwin's character suggests: that the IMF get by on luck. There are lots of mentions of past missions that done got fucked up (I liked the before and after shot of the Kremlin), and Hunt is frequently labelled as a gambler and a chancer. And really, he's right. I'm struggling to think of any missions that are executed exactly as planned. There's a lot of flying by the seats of one's pants involved in the IMF. I think I would have liked Rogue Nation more if they built on this, maybe had a mission fail, to humanise them and maybe make them appear fallible and dangerous, so Hunley isn't just busting their balls.

Rebecca Ferguson is dressed to kill OH MY GOD double meaning!!

Ed: I enjoyed the assassination sequence at the opera for all the stealth stuff, but it bugged me that they didn't adhere to the usual practice whereby what's happening on the stage and in the music echoes what the characters are doing as they creep around in the wings and provides a sort of melodramatic counterpoint. (Like in Godfather 3, for example.) There were flashes of that, but Nessun Dorma was a bit mistimed with the action and it didn't commit to it.

Becky: I didn't get that from the Opera sequence: the denouement of that scene is built around striking at the "ViiiiiinnnnnnnccccceeeeeeeerrrooooooOoooo!" bit, isn't it?

Ed: It's aiming to do that, but I thought they mistimed it. Plus they didn't splice in any footage of Gazza crying which is a serious misstep in my view.

Becky: Opera goes on for a long time before it gets to the bits you hear on adverts, so the set piece encapsulates it perfectly. You think it’s going to be *that* bit, but then there’s some twiddly bits to get through first.

Matt: Isn't there some annoying continuity thing, where Nessun Dorma doesn't actually appear in that place in the opera? The film basically skips ahead to that song so that it's timed to when the set-piece starts, rightfully assuming that 99% of the audience wouldn't realise/give a shit.

Ali: The opera scene was great. I can live with McQuarrie taking some artistic licence with Nessun Dorma, because it slaps so hard. That whole sequence is very well choreographed. There's a lot going on and it's all tracked very well. I am hugely in favour of Mission: Impossible movies doing Bond better than Bond does Bond.

Ilsa Faust eats bad guys for breakfaust

Becky: Rebecca Ferguson is brilliant and I won’t hear a bad word said against her.

Ed: Yes to Rebecca Ferguson, who is great throughout, has an actual point to her character beyond the slight hints that she wants to cop off with Hunt, which I suppose are just inevitable in a film like this, and at no stage needs to be rescued. Though every time I hear her name I think of the Scouse girl from X Factor a few years ago.

Ali: I like Ilsa a lot. She has her own agency, her own code, and she's not pushed in front of Ethan Hunt for him to romantically devour like a lion eating a gazelle. I could have done without the unnecessary leg flash at the opera, the swimming pool bikini and the bum shot on the poster, but otherwise she's probably the best female character in the whole franchise. Fuck me though, giving her the surname 'Faust' is clunky with a capital kerplunk.

Becky: I think I'm just annoyed Rogue Nation did't expand more on what happened in Ghost Protocol, it just retooled it? Tonally, Rogue Nation feels more like a difficult middle movie of a franchise, rather than building upon an already successful one.

You can't just leave a mission halfway through because you want to go home and curl up with a box of chocolates in front of Made In Chelsea
Ali: I remember appreciating that the very end scene of Ghost Protocol mentions The Syndicate, which is your lead-in to Rogue Nation, but there's really very little connective tissue between the two movies. Paula Patton's character just disappears! I suppose they couldn't have had two women on an IMF team. What if they both got on their periods at the same time, the mission would be at risk!

Becky: It would be anarchy, Ali. You can't just leave a mission halfway through because you want to go home and curl up with a box of chocolates in front of Made In Chelsea.

Ed: IMF sounds a bit like a hormone treatment. She might have signed up for it by accident then realised her mistake, and edged out of the door when no one was looking between films.

Becky: I think she was probably recovering from PTSD after kicking Léa Seydoux out of a window. Talk about PMS governing your emotions, amirite guys?

Ali: I would like to call for a moratorium on sexy women fighters who do that thing when they jump up on men's shoulders and do a throwy thing with their thighs. It's all very 'male gaze' isn't it.

Ed: Well if you're against that then you're diminishing the career of Jet from the Gladiators, who I love and is my wife.

Matt: They really make it 'her move' too. She does it a lot in Fallout as well.

Becky: It's a way of using your momentum to use your opponent's weight against them. She's taking down these 6ft blokes and she doesn't look like she's got the upper body strength to knock a geezer out (maybe loosen a couple of teeth). I think it's Krav Maga or something. So it's fairly relevant and gives her a cool and unique fighting style, cracking necks with her thighs which is totally my aesthetic (*flips hair*)

"This mission just got... impossibler."

Matt: Can we please talk about the 'living manifestation of destiny' line? When I first saw this film, I couldn't be sure if it was supposed to be funny... but it's really not, is it? "Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny, and he has made you his mission" is an actual serious line in this movie.

Ali: It's great because this would also be an excellent chat-up line for Ethan Hunt to use on girls.

Ed: He also doesn't realise Hunt's in the room while he's saying it, and he's kind of blowing smoke up his arse, so it's a bit like saying you fancy someone on Whatsapp then realising they're in the group too.

Matt: "Er... I-I am your living manifestation of density."

Ali: I think they get away with it because 'Ethan Hunt' is such a cool action hero name. If his name was 'Craig Hunt' or something, it wouldn't have quite the same impact. "Alan Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny". I suppose we should be grateful he's not called 'Jeremy'.

Becky: The destiny line sounds like something you write just before a deadline and you're convinced of its utter beauty and elegance, and it's not until a couple of hours have passed you realise what an utter twat you sound like. It's something an A-level poet would write.

Ali: Who told you my writing process?

Becky: That said, there are some good lines. "We've never met before, right?" And the seatbelt line. Not as good as "Blue is glue, red is dead" but I LOLd.

Ali: I don't think I realised how utterly devoid the Mission movies are of decent dialogue. The best line in the entire franchise is probably "This is not Mission: Difficult, Mr Hunt, it's Mission: Impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park." And that's from Mission: Impossible II. MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II!

Matt: "Go figure!" Oh, here's something that happens in both this film and the last one: in Ghost Protocol, there's the giant guy who comes out of the prison door and Ethan Hunt comically backs away slowly, and then in Rogue Nation, Hunt reacts with comedy fear because he realises too late that the guy he is fighting at the opera is really big. And you might think that's fair enough because this is just a very common comedy/action trope now where the hero has this funny moment mid-confrontation... except that Tom Cruise is famously mega-short. It must happen to him all the time. Ethan Hunt can't walk down the street without nervously eyeing up all the people that are taller than him. Which is EVERYONE.

Ed: Essentially his is a film career built on trying to appear taller than he actually is.

Simon Pegg, hacking the mainframe and whatnot

Ali: Question: are we cool with Benji by now? He grated in Mission: Impossible III because it was so discombobulating to see Simon Pegg share the same screen as Tom Cruise, but he's worn me down over time. I'm not saying he's grown on me. He's worn my resistance down. There's a difference.

Matt: I've always liked him, and I think this is his best film as a character. The delayed "Look out!" after the car crash still makes me laugh. Simon Pegg is actually brilliant at playing him too: equal parts indignation, bluff and awe at Ethan Hunt. There’s also a bit at the end of Ghost Protocol right around THE WORST BIT EVER when Pegg does this overacted double-take and then bursts out laughing for real - I like that they kept that in, because it feels like maybe Benji is a little more self-aware than he lets on.

Ed: There's an eagerness to please Ethan in Benji which Simon Pegg plays really well, underscored by an actual sense of friendship. It doesn't particularly work both ways because the relationship (and the whole franchise) relies on Hunt being revered, but you're not in any doubt that Hunt values him.

The whole thing amounts to a pair of stilts for Tom Cruise to stand on
Matt: If I have one criticism though, it’s that I still don’t buy his progression to field agent. He still doesn’t seem anywhere near competent to do anything other than sit behind a computer several buildings away from the action. In this film, not only is he obviously out of his depth when he fights that guy during the opera, but he also doesn’t think twice about suddenly ‘winning’ opera tickets in the first place. C’mon Benji, you've been with the IMF for how long now? Fake set-piece tickets is Mission: Impossibling 101.

Ali: Any final notes on the Mission: Impossible oeuvre?

Ed: Yes, the whole thing amounts to a pair of stilts for Tom Cruise to stand on.

Becky: There is no place for fake arms in this day and age.

Ed: Tom Cruise is a fake arm: hiding in plain sight, but we all forget it because, er, the fake arm jumped out of a plane and it made us go "Oooooh". Yes, yes that metaphor is solid as a rock, don't @ me.

Ali: I reckon the Mission: Impossible franchise is one of the most enjoyable and interesting ones we have, and I'm very grateful we pushed on through M:I-2 to get to where we are today. Effectively they stick to a template and there are a few predictable norms that will never be subverted - Ethan Hunt can never die, there must be masks and at least one sexy lady etc - but most blockbuster movies have formula they adhere to and it doesn't do them any harm. The overlap between Mission: Impossible and Bond, for example, is probably quite significant, but I have enjoyed Missions 3 through Fallout way more than I have the Daniel Craig era.

Matt: I agree, with most of that, apart from I think Casino Royale just about beats out any contender from the M:I franchise. Fallout comes very close to toppling it though. It's actually hard to know where the franchise can go after that film because there's only so much escalation allowed in this world, I think. Plus Tom is obviously getting on a bit, despite the obvious deal he has made with his volcano gods to eat a new wife every five years in order to retain a youthful visage.

Ali: In the age of Trump, Scientology seems quite quaint. I think that's helped Cruise's cause in the last few years. Nobody has enough mental bandwidth to deal with two groups of lunatics.

Matt: Talking of PR though, part of the appeal is obviously all the chatter about Tom Cruise performing his own megastunts, and that is genuinely impressive. What's equally impressive is the lengths he goes to to promote the film too. Him going on Graham Norton to talk about the clip where he breaks his foot was months ago and that's when we first heard about him training for a year for the mysterious MASSIVE STUNT in Fallout. That's how long ago the promotion started. And it lasted right up until last week when he jumped out of a plane with James Corden and can literally be seen totally bossing a skydive like it's nothing to him.... just to promote the film.

I know, Ed, you have opinions about how all of this is a more distastefully deliberate plan to relaunch Cruise's image in light of his involvement with horrible human rights violations... but er... I still think it's impressive. You literally wouldn't get any other celebrity jumping out of an plane just to promote a film. That's dedication and commitment - self-serving or not - and it goes in hand with the release of the film now. A new M:I film isn't it's own product these days, it's the Tom Cruise showcase, a whole event of careful marketing, publicity and eventual release.

Ali: Right. That's it. That's enough Mission: Impossible for everyone, forever. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to FUCK OFF.

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