I kind of think of the Mission: Impossible movies as sort of James Bond's nerdy cousin. Fewer tuxedos, more sneakers. Fewer exploding pens, more off-site computer hacking. Attractive in its own way, but not actually stylish.
Turns out that nerdy cousin cleans up awfully well, though. In the latest movie, we get treated to a lot of more Bond-like set pieces, with tuxes and slinky dresses and the sorts of stylish locations we'd expect from 007. In fact, one of the things that I like best about Rogue Nation is how it cheekily grabs from so many other bags of tricks, though I can't decide if it's doing this as an homage, or more of a game of sly one-upsmanship.
For instance, a lot of time is spent at the opera, just like in Quantum of Solace (2008). They use Turandot instead of Tosca -- but both are operas by Puccini. Both movies have fight scenes that take place behind the opera's scenery, with ethereal music juxtaposed over brutal violence. But the fight scene in Solace is a mess -- the worst use of shaky-cam I can ever remember seeing. Both James Bond and his opponent are dressed in black suits, and the camera shakes around so much you can't tell who is slugging whom. The fight in Rogue Nation, by contrast, is elegant, simple, clear. Far superior. Feels a bit like the filmmakers are saying, "Hey, we can do this better. Let's take your mess and make something good out of it."
Later, there's a very lovely car-and-motorcycle chase scene that involves driving a car down a bunch of steps, very reminiscent of The Bourne Identity (2002). There's also a scene where Tom Cruise is in an upside-down car, echoing his own Collateral (2004). Even one of the official posters tosses in what seems to be an homage to the iconic poster for Tom Cruise's Risky Business (1983).
For a movie-lover like me, all those nods are kind of like secret handshakes or an extra toy in the Crackerjack box, I guess. If you get them, it's extra awesome, but if you don't, the movie is still really fun.
Anyway, kudos to this film for creating a female spy (Rebecca Ferguson) who isn't simply there for sex appeal, to get rescued by the hero, or any other lame things.
Ilsa Faust is strong and smart, and my favorite thing about her inclusion is how none of the guy spies stand around with their jaws open going, "A girl can do that?" She's a spy who happens to be a woman, not a woman who happens to be a spy -- they completely accept her as an equal, and that tickled me. For instance, rarely does Ethan Hunt need rescuing, ever, but when Ilsa rescues him, it doesn't feel smarmy or symbolic, it feels like nothing more than one agent rescuing another, which was so refreshing. She's the coolest female agent I've seen since Black Widow, and has a similar can-do vibe. Also, I really dug Ferguson in Hercules (2014), so it's great to see her in a bigger role and bigger movie! I hope to see more of her, and soon.
Here's the funny thing, though: I'm not a feminist. I don't go around singing, "Anything you can do, I can do better." I don't need a female character to kick butt to think of her as strong. I firmly believe there are some things most men are better at, and some that most women are better at. However, I've kinda always wanted to go around punching people and riding motorcycles and rescuing secret agents, so when I get to watch a female character do that, I'm quite pleased. Especially if she's accepted by all the guys.
Is it family friendly? A scattering of bad language, lots and lots of PG-13-level violence, there's a torture sequence with little actual torture involved, there's a teensy bit of from-the-waist-up-and-from-behind nudity in a non-sexual context, and there are lots of very tense moments. One of the most family friendly action movies I've seen -- no sex scenes, not even any kissing, and refreshingly little profanity. Ilsa does wear a pretty skimpy bikini, though.
Bottom line? I wanna see this again!