Mission Unaccomplished

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You really have to be amazed at the timing of Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. Just as interest in the MH370 mystery is renewed, so the film is released. In the movie, various disasters, terrorist acts and international incidences are attributed to a single group of mercenaries, called The Syndicate. One of these incidences is the disappearance of a commercial flight carrying more than 260 passengers. And the fact that Ving Rhames’ character is in Malaysia at the beginning of the film … well, you draw your own conclusions.

I don’t know if anyone has noticed yet, but the Mission: Impossible films are always about the Impossible Mission Force getting into trouble, and almost always feature rogue IMF agents. This fifth time around, the IMF is in trouble again, gets shut down yet again, and Ethan Hunt and his team are forced to go it alone yet again. Does anybody in the script department even actually bother to try a different approach for once?

Perhaps the only thing different this time around is that the franchise’s politics is now clearly defined. More on that later.

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The franchise, throughout, has been trying to establish Hunt as a kind of super, indestructible spy who is always 20 steps ahead of everyone, much like Jason Bourne. But where Bourne is a Frankenstein monster awakened by its conscience and a symbol of what reckless hegemony can create, Hunt is still very much a government lackey, but one with a humanist streak. He’s got to stop the bad guys at all costs, because that’s the right thing to do. He is selfless, he is noble, and he is the creation of the government.

In Rogue Nation, he is pitted against a gang of rogue agents led by Top Rogue Agent with the silly name of Solomon Lane (seriously?!). While the film does try to blur the division between governments and terrorists by noting that both kill innocent people in the name of causes that seem righteous only to themselves, Rogue Nation falters badly in the third act.

Whenever Hunt is in trouble, you know he will survive, simply because he just cannot be beaten. Without giving away spoilers, I’d just say that this instalment pushes Hunt’s indestructibility to the its very limit. And I do mean very. It’s hammered into our heads the idea that this beautifully noble character, who seemingly has no flaws and is perfect in every sense, survives exactly because he is on the righteous path.

Meanwhile, in the real world, everyone is fallible and corruptible, and sometimes the bad guys win.

But in the movie’s universe, Hunt is still driven to stop The Syndicate even when the IMF is dismantled, even when he will get no help from his employers, even at the cost of his own well-being and reputation, because he is just simply a great guy. He’s the guy you’d want to have on your side.

All this is fine, of course, for a fictional character, because it makes for a good action movie where you can have someone to root for. We cheer when he outwits the government that is trying to capture him, we applaud when he escapes being tortured by the bad guys, we grip the edges of our seats when he singlemindedly chases down the bad guys first in a luxury car, then on a motorcycle. (And it’s a very, very good high-speed chase sequence, probably the best thing in the movie, better than the overhyped plane stunt.)

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But by the third act, the film negates its own perceptiveness about a world of greys where one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and reveals what its politics really are – that the rogue agents are solely to blame for the terrorist acts, and that governments have only noble intentions and are completely blameless, even when it’s their own agents who have gone rogue.

This is like the total antithesis of the Bourne series, which demonstrates through its central character the remorselessness and lack of conscience of the agencies that are supposed to have noble intentions. In this way, Ethan Hunt is the perfect opposite of Jason Bourne who, like the Frankenstein monster, has lost faith in his creator(s) and who only wants to set right whatever he has wronged.

But Hunt still has his undiluted sense of duty, even when the very people who created him turns on him – in other words, the perfect soldier. The film sells us the idea that the government is righteous always, and Hunt is the creation made in its righteous image, so to speak. Never once are you asked to question his loyalty or his intentions. Never once do you doubt his actions.

Again, I don’t want to give away spoilers. I will only say that the film draws very clear lines where blame should be placed, which is squarely upon individuals and not governments. This insidious idea didn’t sit well with me, and by the third act, I flipped the bird at the screen and completely lost interest in the film.

What we have in the end is a silly movie that makes no sense most of the time, takes elliptical liberties recklessly, but has one very good, truly thrilling high-speed chase sequence. But even that chase sequence is full of incongruities.

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