So. Can you talk about Missions Impossible without discussing Tom Cruise? There has been a lot of talk recently about how his star is on the wane. Fair to say that he’s a rather old fashioned movie star, a product of an age where replicability and polish were the order of the day. He may not satisfy our current desire for immediacy and authenticity, but he can certainly get the job done. And, a few mis-judgements aside, the franchise has always done decent box office. Though, the first Mission Impossible movie was nearly 20 years ago, and was itself a remake of a 60s TV show. The world has moved on – does the formula still work? Of course it does.
There have been changes of course. A move away from the star-focus of the early films gives a pleasingly ensemble feel to proceedings: Benji (Simon Pegg) actually gets something to do, and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) damn near steals the show. Hunt is still the lead man, of course (taking centre stage for a genuinely heart-racing opening sequence), but he is also rather more human, actually needing his allies on more than one occasion. There’s also a subtle but potent suggestion that life as a secret agent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The tacked-on love interest of old has also been dispensed with, much to my delight.
Plot-wise, it’s very twisty-turny. Seriously, do not go for a pee at any point during this movie, because you will miss something important: In an age of increasing accountability, the US government decides that the IMF is too noisy and unwieldy to deal with modern threats to national security. Despite the best efforts of Brandt (Jeremy Renner), the IMF is shut down and its responsibilities handed over to the CIA. You can guess how that works out. Hunt is out on a job, convinced a most dangerous plot is being hatched. Ignoring orders to return to the US, he determines to bring down The Syndicate at any cost. This is literally the first 10 minutes, and it only gets more complicated from here. Basically no-one trusts anyone, and it all kicks off in spectacular fashion.
There is still an old-school charm at work, with a range of stunning exotic locations, the obligatory bike chase and a wonderful sense of bravado as the plot takes ever wilder turns. Adam Baldwin pops up to sneer occasionally as heads of governments are assassinated and state secrets gambled with, as our motley crew of heroes takes on an enemy more elusive and lethal than ever. Though, a couple of lighter moments raised a smile: an assassins’ shot concealed by the high note of ‘Nessum Dorma’ and our soon-to-be-tortured hero taking the time to compliment a lady’s shoes.
And while The Syndicate is dangerous and lead by a truly unpleasant man (brilliant turn by Sean Harris), the baddies’ final motive is simple and, well, rather old fashioned. When real-world fanatics are burning prisoners alive, to be presented with a villain motivated by money is almost sweet. (He isn’t even killed in the end). Yeah, yeah he’ll use the cash to fund the Syndicate (we’re told), but fundamentally, it felt like a heist movie in reverse.
The underwater sequence shows both sides – old school and new school. An improbable break-in with slowly rising tension levels is nothing new. But it felt claustrophobic, and – in a break with the franchise thus far – surprisingly grounded. The task itself is difficult and Hunt looks genuinely vulnerable. Not just that he might get caught, but that he could actually get killed. It’s a brilliant balancing act that seems to work because the two elements reinforce each other: the mad tech and preposterous surroundings serve to remind us how fallible and up-against-it Hunt is, while the human drama supports the more fantastical, enjoyable elements.
Similarly, the neat bike-chase has pleasingly improbable bits – Hunt survives a high speed crash with only a snazzy red shirt for protection – but it all serves to show that Hunt actually cares for Faust. Is it love? Respect? Friendship? All that training and focus come to a crashing halt in the face of such things. Yeah, undeniably cheesy, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t work on me.
Similarly, I really loved the use of tech in the film. Such things often feel shoe horned in, or just laughably impractical, but I would actually buy some of this stuff. The auto-lock picker was a high point, as was the wearable blood oxygen metre. Oh, and that book gadget Archie uses in the opera. Plus the car that opens with your hand print. And the ‘gait analysis’ thingy. OK, I’m not great with the terminology, but it was all very cool and rather fun, with a pleasing groundedness. It felt like some of these things might actually be on the market in a few years’ time.
Performances were all great. Simon Pegg is always lovely to watch, and I would run away with Rebecca Ferguson right now if she asked me to … Kenya, I thought … we could open a Ladies Detective Agency … Erm, genuinely delighted to see Tom Hollander as the British Prime Minister. It was something of a shock, seeing our politicians portrayed as affable and *gasp* principled, but he did it very well. And Sean Harris deserves special praise. Lane was just horrible. Low, harsh voice, jowly, cold, bespectacled, he was like an anti-George Smiley. Brave of him to go for something so entirely unlikeable. Superb.
Great action, engaging plot, fun and grounded in equal measure. There’s still life in the old dog yet as many are calling this the best of the franchise. I’d need a second viewing, but I think they might be right. What did you think? Is Tom Cruise still worth the price of a cinema ticket? Did the action work for you? Or was it all too ridiculous? Let me know!