dir: Christopher McQuarrie
There is not ever too much Tom Cruise in a Tom Cruise movie, according to Tom Cruise. It’s unlikely that, when he’s the one producing a movie that he’s the star of, you can ever say to him “Maybe, you know, you don’t need to be in every single shot?”
The makers of these movies have decided the problem with the other Mission: Impossible movies is that there wasn’t enough screentime for Tom Cruise in them. I know what you’re thinking: too much Cruise is barely enough, but there are ways and means of improving things, definitely.
There might have been a point where the Mission: Impossible story was considered to be one about an elite team of spies with elite skills who work together to save the world / beat the bad guys / make a nice sandwich, but somewhere along the way it became all about Cruise all the time.
I’m not going to feign confusion or lie to you: this isn’t the flick where it all falls apart. That ship sailed a long time ago. The team long ago stopped being a team and just became a group of other people who hang around so Ethan Hunt has someone to talk to while he does his amazing thang, whatever it is. They’ve always been the support personnel: the janitors, the a/v people, the guys doing the soundcheck, the girls delivering tea and cakes on a trolley.
It just didn’t necessarily have to be this way. There should be more than enough room in the world and in these movies for Tom, his ego, the Church of Scientology, the director and a bunch of funny or violent co-workers with which to shoulder the burden of the franchise.
Not for Cruisey Baby. He wants to shoulder the franchise like Atlas holding up the whole world on his titanic shoulders.
It should come as no surprise that the IMF team in this is officially disavowed and rendered ‘rogue’ by the CIA, since that’s pretty much the template for every single one of these movies. I can’t really remember when they received all the official support and acknowledgement of a job well done that they so sorely deserve by now.
Early on there’s a senatorial enquiry where various important looking jerks yell at one of the IMFs most recent hires, being Hawkeye? The guy with the bow? You know the one. Whatever question’s he’s asked, all he can answer is “I cannot confirm or deny etc etc” Next to him is a slightly angrier than usual (when he’s not yelling at his kids on the phone, or screaming at clouds or ex-wives, presumably) Alec Baldwin as some senior CIA dude, yelling about how the IMF are terrible, their belly buttons stick out, and they’re a terrible burden on the taxpayers.
The IMF has to justify its existence, and Shouty Man Baldwin pronounces loudly that for all the times that these entitled jerks have saved the world from maniacal laughter destruction (this is for our benefit in the audience, because we saw those instances of bravery and derring-do), they always happen at the last second and more often than not it ends up looking like blind dumb luck.
Perhaps that’s a bit of a meta line, since of course you only even deactivate the bomb when there are seconds to go, or save the whatever or whoever when they’re almost just out of reach. That’s the way of all action movies, Bond or not, heroic or not. It’s called escalating tension, Shouty Baldwin, you’d know that too if you weren’t so busy being angry.
Seriously, dude, get your blood pressure checked. Maybe do some yoga or something. You don’t always have to be so angry.
The senators and various hangers-on agree that the IMF is out of control, and so it is dissolved and absorbed back into the CIA’s gentle embrace, where it belongs. Now someone can scrutinise their expense reports, or get them to sign off on all the travel that they do.
Someone has to verify that shit. Not doing so is just enabling horribly negligent fraud.
Ultimately, what happens is that the plot contrives a reason why Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character basically has to run around the world a lot on his own, away from the team. What team, do you ask? Well, that team of people who loosely know each other, that changes every so often in these heroic movies. At the moment, Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) basically sit around confused and a little sad, all talking about Ethan. Where’s Ethan. What’s Ethan doing? What’s he wearing? What do you think Ethan wants us to do? Would Ethan think my bum looks big in this?
It basically becomes the Poochie requirement Homer states on The Simpsons would save the Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie show: “whenever Poochie's not on screen, all the other characters should be asking "Where's Poochie"?”
Everyone, every stinking one of them, is constantly talking about Ethan Hunt. It’s almost like Tom Cruise can’t stand the idea of a movie he’s in where they’re not talking about his character.
Doesn’t that strike you as, I dunno, a little insecure?
Sometimes Mission: Impossible flicks succeed despite Tom Cruise, sometimes they succeed because of him. I’m not so sure with this one. It certainly has a slightly different premise, but I’m not sure it has the big wow moments of the last one Ghost Protocol to justify its existence.
Where it starts off nicely is in the overturning of the usual intro these flicks have where Ethan receives the IMF briefing. In all of the flicks he goes somewhere, spouts some codewords, listens to a recording which self-destructs in 5 seconds, then everything starts kicking into gear.
In this one, Ethan receives a briefing about a shadowy evil version of the IMF called The Syndicate that he’s been tracking, that no-one believes him about, like he’s a crazy guy yelling about the CIA listening to his conversations via his fillings, or about how getting Clear removes the souls of evil Thetans from your body meaning you can finally achieve your full potential.
What upturns everything is that The Syndicate are the ones delivering the briefing to Ethan. It seems a bit needlessly elaborate, but it’s a hellishly strong moment that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.
Ethan’s captured, gently tortured, and then bunches of other things happen. His path is violently crossed by a lady calling herself Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), which is the most Germanic femme fatale name I think I’ve ever heard of in the last 100 years. Is she on the side of goodness and puppies, or is she on the side of ticket inspectors and The Syndicate?
I’ve watched the movie, and I can’t even really tell you. All I can say is that I didn’t care either way, but only because she was so great. She was like a Bond girl except without the casual sexism and misogyny, but with heaps of killing of people who she doesn’t like. Also, there isn’t even a hint of sexual chemistry between her and Ethan, because, honestly, when was the last time anyone believed there was any sexual tension between Tom Cruise and anyone other than Tom Cruise?
She is quite formidable. A lot of the time Ethan is sure she must be on the side of the angels despite so much evidence to the contrary. As an example, at a time when someone looks like they’re about to assassinate the Swedish, I dunno, King? Prime Minister? Head Dogwalker?, she’s also there, looking like she’s going to kill him as well?
What’s a Cruise to do? He finds a novel solution. That’s what we like about these flicks: the novel solutions Ethan finds at the last split second before the world ends.
Each flick tries to have the equivalent of the classic Langley break-in from the first flick, upping the ante in ways that never really get close to matching the ‘original’. The equivalent set up here is a facility so absurdly complex, something that would be impossible to maintain, that it could have been out of a Star Wars flick as opposed to some flick meant to be occurring in this world. It wasn’t horrible, but it didn’t really generate that much tension.
Christopher McQuarrie wrote the script for one of my all time favourite flicks, that being The Usual Suspects. I think he’s wonderful, but it’s hard for the idiosyncratic qualities he possesses to shine through out of the constructs that Cruise (as producer, rather than actor) demands. I liked it well enough, though I still this Ghost Protocol helmed by Brad Bird was the superior flick, especially with its climb up the Burj Khalifa and its theme of “you just can’t rely on technology”.
This one is still perfectly serviceable, but only comes close to greatness when a chastened Alec Baldwin gives a speech about Ethan Hunt’s remarkable qualities so adulatory and so awe-struck that when Ethan actually appears, soon after Baldwin’s character calls him “the literal manifestation of destiny” with such passion, I was amazed he didn’t drop to the ground and start blowing him right then and there.
It’s okay. That’s the most I can say.
7 times Cruise is in his 50s now, but I bet he’ll keep making these into his 60s just to be a living advertisement for the benefits of Scientology out of 10
“Hunt is uniquely trained and highly motivated - a specialist without equal - immune to any countermeasures. There is no secret he cannot extract, no security he cannot breach, no person he cannot become. He has most likely anticipated this very conversation and is waiting to strike in whatever direction we move. Sir, Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny - and he has made you his mission.” – good lord, get the hell over yourself – Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation