Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation ★★★★

Why do the stunts look real? Because they are real!

I have a treadmill in my room. I don't remember the last time that I got on it and had a good sweaty run. Last year, not only did I binge watch some of television's absolute best namely, The Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Sopranos, Sherlock and several others, but simultaneously had also indulged in some joyous albeit unmindful binge eating. This included irresistible midnight munching too, to appease the hunger caused by the marathon watch nights that would often extend into the wee hours of the morning. I used to sleep when the birds started chirping. It was wonderful. It was a sumptuous season of cloying and showering my foodie/artful self with loads of happiness and now, I am reaping its benefits. As an endeavour to lose all the extra pounds and straighten those embarrassing love handles, which arose and had staunchly stayed in place ever since, I have been on a strict diet for the whole of this year. Between my 12 hour work schedule, spending time with my dearest pug siblings, watching films, reflecting upon them and then writing, I find absolutely no time and no way to get back to my lost shape other than suppressing my deep-rooted love for food and numbing myself to the tasteless monotony of healthy proteins. I have achieved great results and as the next step, I felt the urge to get back into exercising form. A few days ago, I obliged and did a couple of dozen stretches, situps and touchdowns and briskly treadmilled for about 20 minutes. A day passed. Upon waking up the next morning I could not walk normal because my legs had cramped badly. In fact so bad that they would have passed for deadwood. But there is a man, half way across the world, who is almost 27 years younger than me, but is still as solid as a rock, as flexible as silly putty and as attractive as Apollo. His name is Tom Cruise. His dedication and his incredible Boltian running mechanism have inspired me to get back on my once beloved, but now damned treadmill.

I watched the featurette of Rogue Nation's stunning opening- the flight sequence that has the five score and three years old Tom Cruise performing a terminal velocity defying stunt. In Ghost Protocol, he attained terminal velocity by free falling off the world's tallest building. In Rogue Nation he defies it. I was astounded by the man's commitment. He is one of the highest paid actors in the world and had no rhyme or reason to perform such a near death stunt himself. But he does it out of his own interest. Cruise candidly admits how his anxiety kept him from sleeping the night before they were to shoot that scene and how just before the shot he was scared shitless. But he overcame that fear and went through with it, not once, but for seven more takes, as David Vickery, the visual effects supervisor exclaims in the same video. Wade Eastwood, the stunt coordinator for the film explains how, if something went wrong, they had no way to get on the plane before it landed. So Cruise's life solely hinged on the solitary rope that held him to the door of the flight and his clenched grip. Hanging on to dear life, literally. One could observe his head tremoring and his body being lifted from the flight's lateral flap by the tremendous force of the wind. It left me overawed. And that pole less vaulting of the vertical pole in a Houdinied condition, made me conclude that Cruise has balls and guts made of Adamantium!

Rogue Nation firstly has a well designed, cleverly deceptive plot. It begins with the CIA's efforts to decommission the IMF. If the IMF is dissolved, it would mean the loss of identity for Hunt and his team, deprecating years of hard work to nothingness, as then the organization would be disavowed and ordained as non-compliant and responsible for the deaths of hundreds through its chancy, protocol deviant operations. The stakes are higher because they are personal. As a last ditch effort to prove their efficacy and indispensability, Hunt recalls his disbanded teammates to try clear the fogginess surrounding a criminal organization called The Syndicate, figure out its history and the person at its helm. Ghost Protocol's overall sketchy plot of pitting Hunt against a nuclear weapon and his ultimate mission being to stop its launch, left me unenthused and the terrific action set pieces unsubstantiated. As we know, the world would never end in an MI film and the modern Zeus of Coolness would always save the day. But here in Rogue Nation, the balance could tip against Hunt and his team as much as it could for them and that kept me hooked throughout.

The action sequences in Rogue Nation are exquisitely shot, brilliantly paced and placed in the right intervals to efficiently galvanize the audience periodically. Every action sequence in Rogue Nation has a unique tone, setting and style of stunt choreography. The MI films always carry a reputation for the fluidity of their stunts, majorly attributed to Cruise's phenomenal adeptness in performing them and it is no different here. The opera sequence is definitely one of the most memorable, nail biting moments in the entire series. With just the soaring operatic voice in the background, completely devoid of combat sounds, the tension is escalated gradually and brought to a scintillating culmination. Those on-the-edge moments evoked gasps from the audience akin to those witnessed during the thrilling rallies at the Wimbledon. Not only was the fight atop the proscenium planned to perfection but Hunt's partial unknowing of the situation, the presidential lives at stake and what it could mean to him- already listed as a most wanted renegade- for being at the wrong place at the right time, further underscore the scene's significance and subsequently spiral up the thrills. The plot essentially begins from that moment on, as it unravels its concealment one by one, twisting, turning, surprising, double-crossing both us and Hunt in equal measure without a moment of dullness. The Pledge, Turn and Prestige of the Paris-Havana trickery staged by Hunt was so cheeky, brilliantly executed and is something that shouldn't be missed.

The exotic locales are tastefully captured in typical MI glory. From the sun baked bricked abodes and the narrow winding lanes of Casablanca, where the high point of the film, the tremendously exhilarating vehicular chase unfolds- to the glossy, plushly lit Austrian theater where the operatic heart stopper plays out- to the eternally eye-catchy, characteristically moody, cold city scape of London where trusted ones turn self serving back stabbers, the locales are wisely chosen to suit the soul of the plot piece they accommodate. If it was Family for Furious 7 it is Friendship for Rogue Nation. It is the fundamental emotion that drives the film, having great significance at several stages, right from the beginning to its pulsating finale. Friendship reunites Hunt with beloved Benji. It is brought to the fore again during the breathtaking underwater stunt where Hunt asphyxiates himself to save Benji. Benji's emotional monologue in Ethan's bunker is a wonderful tribute to their friendship. In a heartfelt display of unwavering loyalty, Benji convinces the initially disapproving Ethan to recruit him back as his aide, more so as a friend when he needs him the most. Knowing the risks involved, it was Benji indirectly conveying that dying hand in hand with his friend on the field would be his stairway to heaven. That one scene single-handedly made me adore Benji more than the whole of Ghost Protocol did. The balance that McQuarrie strikes in exhibiting Pegg's emotional and humourous acting capabilities deserves commendation. Pegg's petrified squeals, reactions and one liners during the Moroccan chase are absolutely lovable and invoke instant guffaws. How Ethan reciprocates and reinstates the verity of their friendship by pledging his life rather than disowning his friend, in the nerve wracking denouement, makes Rogue Nation, perhaps the most emotionally binding films of the series.

Luther Stickell does not have a such an impacting scene but his first conversation with Brandt, where he doubts his high ranking fidelity, reemphasizing that he would never do anything that would put Ethan in harm's way, was enough for me to recall their good old days. Luther and the much loved, John Woo invented Deus Ex Machina of the face clone, siphon in that tinge of delightful nostalgia. But like all MI films, Rogue Nation too falls short of being perfect. Sean Harris' Solomon Lane is blameworthy for the glitch here. McQuarrie has opted for a Skyfall themed, former MI-6 agent turned Rogue terrorist phenomenon, which when characterized with nuance and charisma, has the prospect to become a greatly intimidating antagonist as we saw with Bardem's Raoul Silva. Silva was brilliantly written, had distinct mannerisms, fantastic lines, a painful, sympathizable past that thirsts vengeance and a complete love for anarchy, hell bent on overthrowing a murkily diplomatic establishment. But Solomon Lane lacks both depth and intimidation, is not given much of a back story, his reasons for change and his ulterior intentions are vague to say the least. This is not to say that his character is a total disaster, but that it could have been so much better had it been handled efficiently which comes from the director's understanding of the antagonist's default potential when he is written as a former agent of law. McQuarrie is no Sam Mendes and it is proven with Lane's lameness. Despite this, Lane's manipulative tactics and the final quandary he places Ethan and Benji in, are nonetheless riveting. With a more pronounced characterization, this could have been brilliant in all respects. McQuarrie shows mentionable maturity by not taking the finale into a long drawn out action block but restraining it to a perfect entrapment that conforms well to Lane's mindset and his modus operandi.

We have a new star on the MI horizon and this one is as scintillating as the pole star Ethan Hunt. Rebecca Ferguson- those glistening eyes, that perfectly chiseled face and that ideally toned physique scream of her being the next big female action imperator on the block. Right from her opening sequence, there is no denying of her inclusion as the female central or her ability to perform stunts convincingly. Her ravishing look in the high slit, glittering golden outfit during the theater sequence was even more eye-catchy than the amazing aerial shots of the magnificently architectured opera house. For the first time Hunt is pitted against his female equal and the premise is set ablaze by Ferguson's deliciously christened, break out character, Ilsa Faust. The plot thrives to a great extent upon treading the line on Faust's character between that of a Vesper Lyndian- Bondesque femme fatale and a savior angel. The revelation of where her true allegiance lies is not only strong but also forms a great parallel to Hunt's predicament, where IMF's big brother, the CIA, tries to discredit and disown his and his team's endeavours. Ferguson is a sure shot heart-throbber. Her undeniable skill in the action scenes, the significance of her character and the warmth she eventually shares with Hunt, hint at Faust's recurrence in Hunt's future assignments. Oh! I would love Agent Faust to perform that split second swivel manoeuvre and ascend atop my shoulders, even if it means she is going to break my neck. My Goddess, that was awesome!

I read in one of the reviews that Hunt is more affable than Bond and I concur. Daniel Craig's Bond is a gritty, cold loner and that is reflected in his approach towards women. He does not form a long standing relationship with anyone. He doesn't think of it and his job doesn't allow him to. Once, he fell in love and was bitten viciously. Out of all the Bonds, I personally think Craig's is the boldest, strongest and the most inspirational. He has given Bond a total makeover, the darkest dimension thus far. If Fassbender is next in line, he could very well continue with the same trend and with his genius talent could even outdo what Craig has done. Ethan Hunt is warmer and has a circle of friends who never give up on him. He is married and that definitely makes him more congenial to the common man's mindset. But that maybe the critical difference between Hunt and Bond and their ventures. In Skyfall, Bond is at his vulnerable lowest and is broken down, emotionally and physically. The contentious choice and then being left for dead by his Mother stung him harder than the heartbreak caused by Lynd. M's death is one of the best moments ever in the series. That was Karma epitomized for both Bond and Silva. One good thing, Bond now has a Father in Mallory. But MI films always have this campy, slightly breezy feel to them. Except when apprehended and tortured by Owen Davian who personified subdued ferocity and imploding anger like never before, one feels Hunt hasn't been challenged all that much and never has his vulnerability been exposed. And the dear ones never depart in MI. I thought that superstition would be broken with Rogue Nation but it wasn't to be, although I must say it came terribly close. I know even though both are secret agents, Hunt and Bond are fundamentally different personae and comparing them or the tone of their adventures would be doing them injustice. But it is just a food for thought. The long awaited dream of Batman vs Superman is about to be realized next year. Is there a chance for Bond and Hunt to clash in the future?

PS, My choice for the funniest moment in Rogue Nation is a scene that brought a thunderous applause and a roaring wave of laughter from the jam packed theater. It is when Brandt and Strickel meet Ethan and Benji unexpectedly, half through their lookout for the duo in double jeopardy. I was wondering why in the hell would they choose a car perfectly suited for the desert tours of Marrakech and then came Brandt with the following golden line.

It’s a high speed chase. You just had to get the 4x4.

Luther's precious reaction to this and how they try to wriggle out was so funny. Brandt was diplomatic in saying that he could neither confirm nor deny the actions of the IMF. But I am not going to shy away from being straight forward. Rogue Nation is definitely one of the best Mission Impossible films. MI's momentum is stronger than ever and I cannot wait what Hunt and his team are challenged with in MI-6. Could it be in anyway connected to the MI6?

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