The original Mission: Impossible’s inexorable downward skid coincided with the rise of the villainous “Syndicate,” a vast organized crime outfit that would plague the IMF during its final few seasons. In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015), the Syndicate rears its ugly head yet again, and is once again symbolic of a franchise on the decline. This isn’t just a terrible Mission: Impossible movie, though; it’s a terrible movie, period.
The indestructible Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has gone rogue again, and is chasing down leads on “the Syndicate,” a mythical international crime organization made up of presumed dead and disavowed agents from around the world. Hunt’s search for evidence is complicated by the fact that back in Washington, the Impossible Missions Force, defended by William Brandt (Jeremy Renner), is under fire from political firebrand Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin). While Hunley is shuttering the IMF and trying to track down Hunt, Hunt is luring his friend and colleague Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) back into the field to support his vendetta against the Syndicate, an investigation that hinges on the shady cooperation of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a possible deep-cover ally.
Rogue Nation vainly attempts to reconstruct the successful chemistry of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, bringing back familiar team members. It tries, at least, to retain the team-first vibe established by Brad Bird in the previous episode. Alas, the script lacks Ghost Protocol’s cleverness, possessing a fraction of the humor and five times the clunky exposition. Indeed, from a dialogue perspective this may be the worst outing in the series, full of explanatory tongue twisters and spy-fi cliches; it is, at times, utterly painful to the ear.
The script also lacks structural finesse. It follows the tried-and-true strategy of escalating, episodic setpieces, but is not nearly as successful at stringing them together. The film is at its best when it shuts up; suspense set pieces in Vienna (a pseudo-Hitchcockian opera house slow-build) and Morocco (a convoluted data heist) benefit from dialogue-free, visual story-telling. Even so, while these sequences are attempting something classy and slick, the execution isn’t especially impressive.
The best aspect of Rogue Nation is Rebecca Ferguson, easily the most successful of the films’ female agents. She’s far better than her material, making Ilsa a credible, charismatic super-spy. Alas, the camera needlessly ogles and objectifies her throughout, and her very character calls attention to another central failing of the script: the overlooked fact that Ilsa is Rogue Nation’s natural protagonist, relegated to supporting screen time. Her key role in taking out the Syndicate is ever overshadowed by the unsubtle, one-step-behind interactions of the IMF boys’ club.
Forgiving the unforgiveable sins of the first Mission: Impossible movie has been an impossible mission in itself, but Ghost Protocol at least gave me a glimmer of hope the franchise might be trending in a good new direction. Alas, Rogue Nation has exploded that good will, leaving me once again eager for Tom Cruise to relinquish his cash-cow stranglehold on the series. Never have I longed more for a property to be rebooted.