What happens when a movie has everything you want… except a soul?
If you made a checklist for a quintessential action movie, Rogue Nation would fulfill nearly every requirement. To an extent, the entire Mission: Impossible franchise does, with nary a dud in twenty years. That’s something most film franchises can’t claim – if they’ve even been around for two decades in the first place.
While the first three were pretty solid and iconic in their own ways, Ghost Protocol thoroughly reinvented the franchise with cool gadgets, exotic locations, astonishing stunts courtesy of Mr. Tom Cruise himself, a solid supporting cast, crisp cinematography, and the knowledge that people come to see the action, not the plot.
On the surface, Rogue Nation does the same, and I’m sure you’ve heard things by now. You know, like Tom Cruise actually hanging off the side of a plane? Or how about Cruise actually holding his breath for three minutes underwater? And how about that Rebecca Ferguson, who is straight fire?
As a massive Cruise fan, I had high hopes for this movie. I really did. But while I was watching, I noticed how restless I was getting, almost like something was missing. I went through my mental checklist and everything seemed in place; Rogue Nation features the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) being disbanded thanks to previous “mishaps” with missions and the disbanded gang is pitted against a shadowy international organization known as the Syndicate.
All the big boys are back, with Simon Pegg playing more of a part. I thought he did great and he’s yet another example of a comedian continuing to show a knack for nailing more dramatic roles. But the biggest spark of the movie isn’t even Tom Cruise himself (more on this later) but a mysterious British Intelligence agent portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson.
She’s deep undercover, which leads to a repeating cycle of events where nobody really knows where her loyalties lie. Also, because she’s a beautiful female in an action flick not called Mad Max, there are some scenes where we get to really appreciate, um, the training she put into the film (I hear Jessica Chastain refused the role because it would require six months of rigorous training).
While she certainly does a great job masking her true intentions and it shows she committed to the training, even Ferguson’s presence couldn’t stop me from thinking something was wrong. Heck, even the action felt lacking, even though I saw the movie in ridiculously crisp 4K resolution.
Obviously I’ve been doing some serious thinking about this, and then it hit me: this is the blandest Tom Cruise performance I think I’ve ever seen. There’s no fire, no energy, no soul. There is no soul! That’s it! It feels like everybody’s just going through the motions, with Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames dutifully pretending like they wouldn’t be able to keep up with Tom Cruise in real life.
Alec Baldwin delivers some of his typically memorable monologues while Sean Harris dresses well and tries to be a villain, even though Mission: Impossible villains probably peaked with Philip Seymour Hoffman (an absolute coup of a casting, if you think about it) in Mission: Impossible III.
Regardless of everyone else, however, this is supposed to be a Tom Cruise flick – and it just felt like he wasn’t committed. It goes against everything we know, of course, especially with all his psycho stunts for this movie. But if Tom Cruise ain’t really in it, then the whole thing feels off.
His performance is part of the reason why movies like Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow were so good – he was living the role, so to speak. Here? It just feels like he’s trying to prove his haters wrong, knowing full well that his movies have been financially underperforming in recent years.
It’s too bad, really, because Rogue Nation is perfect in nearly every other way. Hopefully the next one isn’t on cruise control the whole time.