“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” (2015) Review

When I first learned that a fifth movie for the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise would be shot, I must admit that I was not particularly thrilled. As far as I was concerned, three or four movies were enough. The last film, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”, struck me as the high note of the franchise. I had doubts that the next film could be an improvement of the last film.

Paramount Pictures and the film’s producers (which included star Tom Cruise and J.J. Abrams) went ahead to produce and release the franchise’s fifth entry, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. The movie begins with IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agents Ethan Hunt and Benji Dunn engaged in a mission to intercept nerve gas being sold to terrorists. But when Hunt is captured and escapes from the customer who wanted the nerve gas, he becomes aware of an international criminal consortium called the Syndicate. He also meets a disavowed MI6 agent and Syndicate operative named Ilsa Faust, who helped him escape. But C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley does not believe in the existence of the Syndicate. Hunley also goes before a Senate committee to disband the IMF, despite Agent William Brandt’s efforts to stop him. Declared a rogue agent by the C.I.A., Hunt enlists the aide of Ilsa Faust and his former IMF colleagues – Benji, Luther Stickell and Brandt – to provide evidence on the existence of the Syndicate and bring down the organization’s leader who had earlier captured him.

If anyone had been reading some of my past reviews of the Summer 2015 movies (which I doubt), that person would noticed a good number of complaints on my part regarding the pacing of these movies. I will say this about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”, it possesses a strong finish. And screenwriters Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce also managed to create a very interesting and complex tale that involved deception, double-crosses and misconceptions. And thanks to MacQuarrie, who also served as the movie’s director, “ROGUE NATION” featured both some first-rate dramatic scenes and outstanding action sequences.

My favorite dramatic scenes included Brandt’s clash with Hunley over the future of IMF; Faust’s attempts to convince the Syndicate’s leader, former MI-6 agent Solomon Lane, that she is loyal to him; Faust’s encounter with her MI6 Director Atlee, the quarrel between Hunt and the always skeptical Brandt on how to handle Lane, a USB flash drive that everyone seems to want, and Dunn’s kidnapping; and the confrontation between Hunt, Brandt, Hunley, Atlee and the Britain’s Prime Minister. But my favorite episode proved to be one of the last. It featured Hunt’s efforts to convince Lane to let Dunn go in exchange for the information on the flash drive. Thanks to the performers in that scene, I thought it was a phenomenon scene filled with tension.

But “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” is also an action film. And it featured some very outstanding scenes. Trailers and television spots made a big deal of the movie’s opening action shot featuring Tom Cruise and a cargo plane. I would have been impressed if I had not seen it so many times. But I was impressed by the high tension sequence at an opera performance in Vienna. I thought both MacQuarrie and film editor Eddie Hamilton handled it very well. Another favorite sequence proved to be Hunt, Faust and Dunn’s attempt to steal information about the Syndicate from inside an underwater turbine tank in Morocco. In fact, I think I was even more impressed with MacQuarrie and Hamilton’s work in this sequence than I was with the one in Austria. And I thought the film’s last action sequence in the streets of London was well handled and suspenseful . . . especially the fight scene between Faust and Lane’s right-hand man, Janik Vinter.

There is a good deal to like about “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION”. But I would never regard it as my favorite movie from the franchise. Heck, I would not even rank it as my second favorite. As much as I liked the movie . . . I had some problems. One, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” featured the fourth movie in the franchise in which either Ethan Hunt finds himself on the run as a rogue agent or when the IMF is in danger of being permanently disbanded. In the case of this movie, both happened. A senate committee disbanded IMF and Hunt ended up on the run, hunted by the C.I.A. Four movies out of five . . . this strikes me as a bit too much after five movies. And unoriginal. And why would the C.I.A. director go before a senate committed to disband the IMF? I could have sworn that the latter was a division or section of the C.I.A. It certainly seemed that way in the 1996 movie, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”. Following the death of Jim Phelps, Ethan’s Hunt immediate supervisor proved to be then Director Eugene Kittridge (portrayed by Henry Czerny). And the IMF was located at the C.I.A. Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Hunt also answered to Director Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), who also worked out of Langley. See what I am getting here? Why is this movie portraying the C.I.A. and the IMF as two separate agencies? I also could not help but shake my head that Hunley wanted to disband the IMF for what happened in “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL”. I understand that Hunley was upset that Hunt allowed those nuclear weapon codes to get into the hands of the main villain. But that happened four years ago. And why bring down an entire agency or division over the actions of one agent? Hunley should have simply went after Hunt. Speaking of the latter, while he was making goo-goo eyes at Elsa Faust, did he remember his estranged wife, Jules? Are they still legally married? Does he still love her?

What exactly was William Brandt’s current position at IMF? I never heard of a mere agent having enough authority to report before a Senate committee? I read somewhere that in this movie, IMF was currently without a director? Huh? This would never happen in the intelligence community. Even if there was no permanent director on hand, there would be an interim director before a permanent one could be found. Was MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce trying to hint that Brandt had risen up the IMF ladder? Why not Hunt? Why not allow Hunt to become the temporary director and allow Brandt to be the field agent? It would make more sense. What did not make any sense was that opening action sequence involving the retrieval of those nerve gas canisters. It would have been a lot easier for Hunt and Dunn to snatch the nerve gas before it could be loaded on that cargo plane. But the way the whole stunt was planned and carried out, I got the feeling it was nothing more than a glorified stunt planned to show audiences that Cruise still had what it took to be an action star. And it bored me. Also, I found myself slightly confused about the movie’s plot – namely the goals of Elsa Faust and Solomon Lane. At first, I thought Faust wanted the information that would expose the Syndicate. As it turned out, the information that she, Benji and Hunt had stolen was the same information that Syndicate leader wanted . . . MI6 funds that could finance his terrorist organization. So . . . was Faust playing Hunt and MI6 all along? Was Lane playing Hunt? Or did the screenwriters make a rather confusing switch in the plot in order to surprise the audiences? I have no idea.

I certainly had no problems with the movie’s performances. Tom Cruise gave a top-notched performance as Ethan Hunt . . . as always. But I got the feeling that there was nothing particular new or mind blowing about his performance. Many critics seemed to be more than impressed by Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as the allegedly disavowed MI6 agent, Elsa Faust. Yes, she did an excellent job in giving a very complex performance. But the “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” movie franchise has always been blessed with excellent and interesting women characters. She is not the first. Simon Pegg was very funny as IMF tech/agent Benji Dunn. More importantly, he did an excellent job in conveying Dunn’s growing confidence as a field agent. Although he did make a cameo appearance in the fourth “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE”, it was nice to see Ving Rhames appear as a supporting player again, reprising his role as the talented hack/IMF computer technician, Luther Stickell. And it was nice to see Jeremy Renner reprise his role as IMF Agent William Brandt again. He gave first-rate performance, as always. But I was very disappointed that he was not feature in any major action sequences, other than the Morocco car chase.

The role of C.I.A. Director Alan Hunley must be the first bureaucrat I have ever seen Alec Baldwin portray. Being the consummate actor he has always been, Baldwin gave an excellent portrayal of a limited-minded man whose resentment and anger toward another man led him to disband an entire agency (or division). I was very impressed by Simon McBurney’s performance as the MI6 Director, Attlee. He did an excellent in conveying the character’s manipulative and slightly malevolent personality. Sean Williams’s character, Solomon Lane, definitely struck me as malevolent, thanks to the actor’s performance. There were times when his character came off as a one-dimensional James Bond villain. But fortunately, his scenes with Cruise later in the film allowed audiences to fleetingly see the emotional toll that Lane had endured as an MI6 agent. “ROGUE NATION” also featured a very funny cameo appearance by Tom Hollander as the Prime Minister. I find this ironic, considering the tense nature of the scene he had appeared in.

In a nutshell, “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION” was an entertaining and exciting addition to the movie franchise. I thought Christopher MacQuarrie and Drew Pearce managed to create an interesting tale filled with intrigue, double-cross, first-rate action and excellent acting from a cast led by Tom Cruise. However . . . I thought the movie slightly suffered from some plot holes and a writing formula that is starting to seem a bit tired. I understand that Paramount has already green-lighted a sixth film for the franchise. I hope that it will prove to be a bit more original.

“THE A-TEAM” (2010) Review

“THE A-TEAM” (2010) Review

I might as well lay my cards on the table. Ever since I saw my first episode, I have always been a major fan of the 1983-1987 television series, ”THE A-TEAM”. So, when I had seen the trailer for the movie adaptation of the series, I naturally reacted with pure dismay. 

For me, the movie, ”THE A-TEAM”, represented another endless attempt by Hollywood to create box office gold from an old television series. Mind you, not all of Hollywood’s efforts have been in vain. But judging from what I had seen in the movie trailer, I simply could not see myself enjoying the 2010 movie.

Unlike the television series, ”THE A-TEAM” is more or less an origin tale about how four U.S. Army Special Forces combatants became soldiers of fortune after being convicted for a crime they did not commit. The movie’s first twenty minutes revealed how Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith first created his team during an assignment to lure a reengage Mexican Army officer-turned-drug lord onto U.S. soil or airspace for prosecution. Already working with him is Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck, who is a prisoner at the general’s ranch. Along the way, Hannibal recruits a recently disgraced ex-Ranger named Bosco “B.A.” Baracus and a mentally volatile Army pilot named Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock to assist him in his assignment and thus, a new Army intelligence unit is born.

The story jumped eight years later where the A-Team find themselves looking forward to being deployed out of Iraq with the rest of the American military personnel. However, a C.I.A. agent named Lynch recruits Hannibal and the Team into retrieving U.S. Treasury plates and manufactured currency from Iraqi insurgents. U.S. Army Captain Charissa Sosa, a former lover of Face’s; and Hannibal’s commanding officer, General Morrison, warns the Team to stay away from the plates and Baghdad. But the Team goes ahead with the “Black Ops” mission and successfully retrieves the plates and the money. Upon their return to base, the shipping container carrying the money and General Morrison’s vehicle are destroyed. And the leader of a private security team named Brock Pike steals the plates. With General Morrison dead, there is no one to inform Army authorities that they had been authorized to act. The Team is sentenced to ten years in prison.

Try as I may, I cannot recall one specific episode of the television series. I can remember certain moments and many interactions between the B.A. and Murdock characters; but I cannot recall a specific episode. This should not be that surprising to me. The writing for the television series had never been that impressive. The main characters and the action, after all, drew me to the series; not the writing. I do believe that screenwriters Joe Carnahan (who also directed), Brian Bloom and Skip Woods created a slightly better story than anything the series had ever been able to produce. But I would not exactly call the screenplay unique or mind blowing.

The gist of the story mainly focused upon the Team’s efforts to find Pike and the Treasury plates in order to clear their names. Mind you, I found the circumstances leading up to the Team’s arrest rather confusing. After all, they did return to base after completing their mission, instead of disappearing from Iraq. With Pike gone with the plates, why prosecute the Team for the crime? And what crime was they accused of committing? The theft of the missing plates? Or killing Morrison? Once the movie shifted toward their escape from prison and efforts to find the plates and Pike, it shifted back upon solid ground. The movie also featured some pretty fantastic stunts that would have made the television series proud. But the pièce de résistance centered upon a sequence in which the Team finally get their hands on the plates from a high-rise bank in Germany. The movie also featured a hilarious moment in which Face discovered that he had given both B.A. and Murdock the wrong passports at a German airport. The finale at the Port of Los Angeles strongly reminded me of the finale featured in the recent movie, ”THE LOSERS”. I wonder who came up with the idea first.

As I had earlier stated, there were two aspects of the television series that made it memorable for me – the action sequences and the characters. This new movie certainly DID NOT disappoint that regard. Liam Neeson, last seen in the 2009 action movie, ”TAKEN”, assumed George Peppard’s role of Hannibal Smith. And he did a fine job. Mind you, his Hannibal did not seem to have much of a sense of humor – especially where Face was concerned. But he obviously drew his experience from previous action films to project the aura of a strong and wily leader. I only have two complaints about Neeson’s performance – his American accent seemed shaky and he should stay away from cigars. Bradley Cooper gave a verbose performance as the Team’s smooth-talking ladies’ man, Face. Like Dirk Benedict before him, he was attractive and witty. Yet, the screenwriters took his character one step further by allowing his Face to show his potential as a schemer on the same level as Hannibal.

My dismay at the trailer for ”THE A-TEAM” extended to the idea of Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson portraying the memorable B.A. Baracus. He seemed a far cry from Mr. T’s performance in the television series. Thankfully, my fears came to nothing. Although Jackson’s performance was not an exact replica of Mr. T’s, he made a great B.A. and he put his own twist to the character with the help of director Joe Carnahan and the three screenwriters. Actually, his B.A. seemed to have a little more depth and for some reason, I cannot see Mr. T pulling this off. No none was more surprised than me to discover that the same Sharlto Copely who portrayed “Howling Mad” Murdock is the same actor who portrayed the lead in last year’s ”DISTRICT 9”. I knew the guy was not a Southerner. His accent seemed a bit heavy a times. But I had no idea that “crazy” Murdock was portrayed by the South African actor. But I must admit that he was hilarious in the role. Hell, he was just as funny as Dwight Schultz. His interactions with both Cooper and especially Jackson were spot on.

Fortunately for ”THE A-TEAM”, its supporting cast was just as strong. Jessica Biel gave a strong performance as the righteous and determined Captain Charissa Sosa, who is assigned to hunt down both the Team and the Treasury plates. One particular scene also proved that she had great chemistry with Cooper. Gerald McRaney gave a solid cameo performance as Hannibal’s friend and commanding officer, General Morrison. Brian Bloom (one of the screenwriters) was suitably conniving and intimidating as the Black Forest private mercenary. However, there were moments when his performance came off as a bit over-the-top. But the man who really surprised me was Patrick Wilson. Aside from his performance as the uptight William Travis in 2004’s ”THE ALAMO”, he never struck me as an interesting actor. Until I saw him in ”THE A-TEAM”. He was hilarious and despicable as the smug and self-absorbed C.I.A. agent, Lynch. Not only was his performance a revelation, his Lynch seemed to be the most interesting role he has ever portrayed.

If anyone is expecting ”THE A-TEAM” to be a mind-blowing experience, he or she will be disappointed. Superficially, the movie struck me as a typical action movie. I must admit that it does contain some pretty interesting action sequences. If there is one true virtue that the movie possesses, it is its cast. They were superb – especially the main four actors who portray the soldiers of fortune, the A-Team. Between Carnahan’s direction of the action sequences and the performances of Neeson, Cooper, Jackson and Copley; they made this cinematic version of ”THE A-TEAM” to be one of the most fun movies I have experienced last summer.