by Avi Davis
There are a few good questions to ask about the purpose of this review. For starters, why am I writing it? Since, as a heavy critic of mass popular culture and its soulless inanity, why should I bother with a movie which could just as well represent inanity at its most fulsome? And with our world crashing around us, haven’t we other things to distract us?
The answer is simple, if not particularly ennobling. Tom Cruise is a 50-something guy who is reportedly able, at his advanced age, to cling to the fuselage of a cargo jet in full flight – and not just once, but for as many as eight takes during filming. He dives into the vortex of a whirlpool and holds his breath for as long as six minutes, while fiddling with, losing and then recovering a key card. He drives a motorcycle like a mother and survives a crash that would have ripped the skin and bones off mere mortals. And all of these encounters he performs on his own – no stunt men, no CGI, no body doubles.
And so: I am also a 50-something guy a couple of years older than Mr Cruise. Personal adventure is something that still swivels my chair and I am unashamed of admitting that I live for the thrill of doing things like riding bicycles around Iceland or scaling the peaks of the Grand Tetons, even as those undertakings become increasingly challenging as the years go by.
I have marveled for years at how aging rockers such as Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen and actors such as Sylvester Stallone and Liam Neeson have been able to remain viable action oriented entertainers into their 60s ( 70s in the case of Jagger!) – sprightly,well-muscled, lean – as if the passage of time means nothing. If they can do such things at such advanced ages, then surely I can personally handle my rather more modest physical challenges. Right?
Well, sort of. No one should be under the illusion that any of these men are able to achieve their physical wonders without the aid of an army of assistants and helpers and physicians and dieticians who monitor everything they put into their bodies and every activity they undertake.
But still – how many stars at similar ages in the 1950s and 60s could have assumed as limber and as dexterous a role as if they were twenty years younger?
So there you have my admission. I am in awe of Tom Cruise. Or, should I say even more truthfully, I am just plain jealous of him. This alpha of alpha males takes on roles which actually endanger his life and through mental application, skill and perhaps even a little good luck, survives them. Given these facts, the whole movie and its asinine plot is almost beside the point. It is, after all, merely a vehicle for Mr. Cruise to prove to us that he has still got it.
The Mission Impossible franchise, one that Cruise actually owns, has arguably sustained him as not only a major action figure but as a successful motion picture artist in general. Many of his other films outside of the franchise have bombed so miserably that they alone would not be able to maintain his status as Hollywood’s most bankable star. But don’t credit the strength of plot, character development or story continuity in any of these films for that success.
And the pattern continues with Rogue Nation which reprises the role of Cruise’s character, Secret Agent Matthew Hunt. Hunt’s task in the new film, which he never gets to really either accept nor decline, is to identify and then blot out the leadership of ‘ The Syndicate’, a shadowy group of malcontent geniuses seeking to destabilize world governments through assassinations of key political figures. Why it is doing this and what it hopes to gain by undertaking such perverse action is never made very clear. But the evil consortium (which comes complete with its own German-accented, Aryan-looking leader who even has the obligatory twitching eyebrow) is a daunting foe, seemingly capable of predicting its adversaries’ actions several movie frames ahead.
The trouble is, Hunt’s organization, the IMF ( the Impossible Missions Force – yes, that really IS its name – and it is right up there in a contest with unobtainium from Avatar for a Nomenclature Laziness Award) has lost the confidence of the CIA and is being disbanded, its funding cut while Agent Hunt is in mid-mission.
What is more the CIA does not believe The Syndicate even exists. In order for Hunt to reclaim his organization’s good name and its funding, let alone save the world, he must expose The Syndicate. And for this he must go rogue – at risk to his own life and livelihood.
Such nobility of soul of course is highly admirable, if hardly credible.
But OK. Suddenly Hunt finds himself being hunted by The Syndicate, the FBI and his own erstwhile colleagues at the IMF – who are trying to get to him before all the others do.
Confused yet? Well, join me, the audience and most of the seemingly befuddled movie cast itself in that category.
But not to fear, it all comes good in the end, even if it never becomes exactly clear who is hunting who. Hunt zips in and out of Vienna opera theaters, Moroccan strongholds, the U.K’s prime ministerial residence and a host of other exotic locations, seeking to single handedly ( although eventually joined by some of his ex- IMF pals who similarly go rogue) to bring down The Syndicate and retrieve his honor.
Hunt’s love interest in Rogue Nation is the fetching Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), an agent of no fixed nationality, whose primary role seems to be to rescue Hunt from all manner of disastrous life threatening situations in which he places himself. And she’s not really even on his side! Their affair sizzles with all the steam from a fetid swamp. The closest they get to actual romance is an off hand comment from Hunt at the end of the film about getting away from it all to live a quiet life on a Caribbean island.
So what makes Rogue Nation so eye-poppingly watchable? Biometrics, used cleverly in identification devices; dazzling computer graphics; disguises that are so inventive that you will wonder how they made them; action scenes in diving suits, on rappelling ropes, on motor cycles and of course on jets at 5,000 feet – all offering enough entertainment to keep us involved, even we you don’t really know what is going on.
Its all impossible, but so what? Most of us create fantasies about who we are or who we want to be and Hollywood offers to transform such illusions into celluloid for a few hours of distracting entertainment. I am no different in that regard. And I loved it. May Matthew Hunt or Tom Cruise – whichever one of them is the real human being- go on solving impossible problems on impossible missions for that impossibly named outfit for which he works, for all the forseeable, if impossible, future. I will be ready to offer my vote of thanks with my $15.00.