Dir: Christopher McQuarrie, 2015

Exasperated by their increasingly reckless activities, CIA chief Alan Hunley disbands the Impossible Mission Force and reassigns its agents. But the timing couldn’t be worse as Ethan Hunt and his team discover the existence of the IMF’s terrorist counterpart – a mysterious agency known only as ‘The Syndicate’.

For the past two decades, the Mission: Impossible franchise has established a reputation the like of no other action series in the world – it has taken its leading man and utilised his death-defying mantra to dumbfound its audience with some of the most astonishing practical stunts that we have ever seen. Like him or not, where Bourne brandishes ballpoints and Bond wields Walthers, Cruise achieves the impossible. Not only that, he embraces it.

The fifth in the series, Rogue Nation makes good on the franchise’s promise and does one better. Whereas its predecessor Ghost Protocol built the film around that spectacular set piece with Cruise climbing the tallest building in the world with Abu Dhabi’s Burj Khalifa, Rogue Nation is daring enough to place that Tom-Cruise-clinging-to-a-plane stunt at the opening of the film in a pre-credit sequence that is more exhilarating than anything 007 has ever fired at us. The fuse ignites and burns up and down in rollercoaster fashion for the next two hours as we are lavished with exotic locations, tongue-through-cheek humour and bonkers plots which act as welcome excuses for Cruise to jump off things.

The cast reunites Ving Rhames as old-school Luther Stickell, Simon Pegg as tech-savvy Benji Dunn, Jeremy Renner as company man William Brandt and Cruise along with newcomers Rebecca Ferguson portraying Ilsa Faust, an ambiguous “M:I-5” ally of Hunt, and Alec Baldwin as the weary CIA chief who grows more discontent with Hunt’s devil-may-care attitude by the minute. McQuarrie, writer of The Usual Suspects and director of Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher, has such a tailored cast to work with that it shines a harsh light on the likes of the Marvel franchise which is compelled to establish solo stars before uniting them as an ensemble. With Rogue Nation, every member of the cast bounces off one another that it’s difficult not to yearn for ‘The Adventures of Ethan and Benji’ or ‘The Odd Couple starring Luther and Brandt’.

If there is a slip in Rogue Nation’s step it’s with its antagonist, Solomon Lane, played by Borgias alumni Sean Harris. With an adversary as dramatically compelling as an anti-IMF, surely there should exist some mirror image of Ethan Hunt? Regrettably we do not get such a battle of wits or fists but the remainder of the cast click so well and the film in itself is so exhilarating that it’s hard to dwell on its shortcomings. Luckily Rebecca Ferguson’s mysterious rogue British agent keeps us playing the guessing game long enough as to her true nature that the thought of any fixed villain is abandoned.

Dodging its Christmas Day release date and the Star Wars/Bond competition that comes alongside it, Rogue Nation slots into a last-minute summer placement. Not primo-positioning for an ageing movie star trying to keep a franchise alive in its fifth instalment but Cruise and co. prove that Mission: Impossible is the unorthodox, adventitious blockbuster that abolishing would be a mistake we may regret.

Mission: Impossible remains an innocuous pleasure where logic is tossed aside faster than Michelle Monaghan and stunt coordinators take precedence over writers. Nevertheless, Rogue Nation is a mission so bold and bright that it’ll keep me clinging to the side of my seat until their next one, should its audience choose to accept it.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Watch the trailer here.




Dir: J.J. Abrams, 2013

Reckless and disobedient, Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise is displeasing Starfleet left and right with his arrogant yet benevolent methods. But when John Harrison, a terrorist with ties to Starfleet, attacks London and wages war against the Federation, Kirk and his crew are charged with hunting him down. This dangerous mission will force Kirk to question everything he knows about Starfleet, about friendship and about himself.

It’s been a long four years since J.J. Abrams made Star Trek cool again. Evidently not, though, for James Tiberius Kirk who is still the same brash, young captain that we loved in 2009’s reboot. However, Kirk has been proving his inaptitude at helming the Federation’s finest vessel by violating prime directives and snubbing authority as he does what he believes to be right. Chris Pine continues to juggle that perfect level of cockiness and charm in a role destined to prove that keeping the chair is harder than getting it. Still being brought to school by lovable father-figure Admiral Pike, Kirk’s level of growth this time around just isn’t considerable enough for another story, unless including his blossoming bromance with Mr Spock.

While Abrams brings more of the dazzling, smack-bang-wallop action set pieces that we saw in the first film, they seem more of a beautiful distraction – like a Michael Bay film with finesse – yearning to lure our focus away from a plot that involves cryogenics, nuclear reactors and a government’s unexplained desire for warfare. The film jumps in and out of characterisation briefly but overall adds little to anything we’ve seen before. The relationship between Spock and Uhura is almost forgotten and the former’s embracing of his mixed heritage jumps into warp along the way. Abrams’ time-travel manoeuvre in the previous outing allowed any and all manipulation of the Star Trek canon but here Abrams chooses to replicate entire scenes including lines of dialogue from the Shatner film series, albeit with minor tweaks.

The tender notion of crew/family that Star Trek left us with is revisited upon in name only, as many members of the cast are pushed to the back (literally for Anton Yelchin) with one or two amplified. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is expanded upon in an unwelcome, Ghost Protocol-like manner and Urban’s Bones is humorously beefed up as Doctor Metaphor. Sadly the likes of Zoe Saldana, John Cho and the previously-mentioned Yelchin are left by the wayside, making room for additional eye-candy Alice Eve, a deliciously dubious Peter Weller and of course, Benedict Cumberbatch’s Big Bad.

On that note, Cumberbatch owns the film as one of the most sinister, intense villains we’ve seen since Heath Ledger drove a man’s head through a pencil. Harrison’s cold and calculative nature paired with his undeniable strength and volatility makes Cumberbatch’s upcoming CGI appearance as The Hobbit’s fire-breathing antagonist Smaug suddenly look a little less daunting. In response to minor criticisms, Abrams follows up the tongue-in-cheek baddy Nero with a character that emanates menace whether he’s on-screen or not. Unfortunately in the last act, just when Harrison is at his most threatening, Abrams abandons the character in favour of gravitational difficulties and Trekkie nostalgia.

Abrams glitters the screen with remarkable actors, pristine special effects and a thankful reduction of lens flare. Funny, explosive and never a dull moment, Star Trek Into Darkness is indeed an entertaining space romp and by no means a failure. Into Darkness simply disappoints after its magnificent predecessor by lacking enough to enthrall new audiences and can’t help but leave you with the taste of filler in your mouth between that of Star Trek and Star Wars, the latter of which should prove to be more of the same.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Watch the trailer here.