Some Ramblings - Mission:Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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It is like that late night talk show that has been on the air, oh, for so long that none can imagine/remember the show without its host. The writers, the comedic bits and the celebrity guest interviews no longer serve the show, instead their main aim becomes making the host look good (thereby making the show better; quite opposite to how the show has started off in the beginning, where putting up a good show by any means necessary - which is more the show producer's job than the host's - was all everybody was after). And so the years roll on and everybody (the network, the sponsors, the audience) is comfortable with the same man behind the desk night after night delivering the same schtick day after day, at which point, everything the host does - making faces, his guffaws, his eye rolls, even his momentary lapses and goof ups - end up receiving thundering applause from the audience. Trumping of the host by the celebrity guest, the audience roars, pie in the host's face by the baby chimpanzee in the cooking segment, the studio erputs, beaten at his own game of word play by a prodigious tiny tot, the ratings are off the roof. But all this takes time, all this needs for the name, reputation, and credibility to build up over many number of shows on the back of some back-breaking word, not to forget, a fair amount of talent. Franchise movies are exactly of this sort, the late night talk shows. After the first few installments where a lot of care and dedication goes into the setup and the build up, the cashing out part during the subsequent ventures becomes merely incidental. Over a period of time, they become comfort food (and if there is some nutritional value to go along with it too, so much the better) Nobody tunes into late night shows with the anticipation of innovative and path breaking television. The goal is to have a good time over a few laughs before the lights are turned out for the day. Same goes with the franchises. Everyone knows all the main characters are going to turn out well in the end (save for a few bruises here and there) despite their daredevilry and tomfoolery and there is no real risk or a sense of urgency here. After the show is done, there are all going to be back for another day, another adventure, another set of antics. And when done right, this all too familiar routine is not such a bad thing after all, offering the warm comfort of familiarity and mild amusement of foreknowledge on foregone conclusions.

With the latest installment, 'Rogue Nation', the 'M:I' series has surely joined, after the Bond adventures, the pantheon of comfort food movies. It now has gained enough street cred and earned enough professional respect that it can now solely concentrate on making Cruise look good for the movies to turn into exciting fares. In fact the series has become the Jackie Chan adventures equivalent on this side of the Atlantic (or that side of the Pacific). Remember how Chan's movies are all in fact spectacular stunts stringed together by a modicum of plot and when people walk out of the auditorium, the conversations are invariably centered around how amazing and spectacular the stunts are and how dogged and determined Chan was to perform those incredible feats. And that's the kind of reputation that Chan has built over a period of 20 years. Likewise with Cruise, when he pulls off the jaw dropping stunt of hanging by the side of a speeding jet, or performing the amazing lungs busting underwater breath hold out stunt. This is not about the character, or his motivations or the usual dramatic requirements. This is all about a man, more than 50 years old, pushing his body in ways (and into places) that are next to....(ok, flash the "Applause" sign) Impossible. Like Jackie Chan who has his own studio/lab/warehouse full of different props where his crew keeps on innovating different stunts with varied items like ladders, chairs, work benches, ropes and every other conceivable tangible entity, there should surely be a den of writers imagining up improbable and risky scenarios for Cruise to precariously walk in, dazzle at the stunt and nonchalantly walk out. In the earlier 'Ghost Protocol' it was the Burj Khalifa stunt and the one in the moving parking lot that stood out, and in this new one there are a couple more set pieces thrown in for good measure....after all, who wouldn't want to be in the center seat to watch Houdini all locked up in chains (and the key thrown away) and pushed into a river only to see him emerge free and victorious after a few anxious minutes; who wouldn't want to see David Copperfield make an entire jet sitting on a run way vanish right in front of a live audience; who wouldn't like to gasp and clap at the Cirque Du Soleil perform those amazing acrobatics suspended in mid air hundreds of feet above the ground without any safety net underneath; After a while, this no longer is mere circus, it is Cirque, it is not just any illusion, it is David Copperfield, and it is not just any skill, it is Houdini...and likewise, there are not the standard issue (however dazzling) stunts, this is Cruise, at his physical best.

That aside, 'Rogue Nation' has the luxury that its predecessor sorely lacked, a breathing room for its stunts. In this edition, in spite of the hyper kinetic action sequences, there was still some room for the plot to stretch its limbs and move about. It is amazing though how much the plot (the pacing, the style and the execution) resembles the last Bond adventure, 'Skyfall' down to the subdued climactic battle - here too a disavowed agent comes under the thumb of an oversight committee aimed at clipping his wings, a home grown antagonist trying to right the world in all the wrong ways, and the cat and mouse game of two adversaries who try to outdo each other with 'I know you know I know...' game. Even the moody outside atmosphere and European setting is reminiscent of the first (and the best) M:I outing, thanks in large parts to the fantastic camera work of Robert Elswit. And as a throwback to the earlier adventures, the stunts are mostly physical, with little use from the gadget and visual effects departments, where the effort and the execution are clearly visible to the naked eye. 'Rogue Nation' is a worthy addition to the franshise, not as great as the first one, but no pushover either. Now that the show is done with, it is back to the drawing board for Cruise, thinking of new ways of putting himself within screaming distance of mortal danger. For that's what all the entertainers do, they get pies chucked in their faces, they allow themselves to be upstaged by guests....but at the end of it, it was all for a great show well done. Now on to another night and another set....and the show goes on.


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