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It’s time for a double dose of the Cruiser as entertainment editor John Turnbull takes a look at the latest instalment in the Mission: Impossible franchise and the movie that inspired a massive leap in military enrolments, Top Gun.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) — directed by Christopher McQuarrie

MISSION: Impossible is one of those rare movie franchises that was based on a TV series and has improved with subsequent instalments. The 1996 original, directed by Brian DePalma, was a confusing and depressing affair where they killed off 90 per cent of the IMF team in the first 15 minutes of the film. The 2000 sequel M:I:2 was directed by John Woo, and was fantastic if you like doves and people flying through the air with a gun in both hands (which I do), but rather silly and contrived at the same time.

Things started getting better with 2006’s Mission Impossible 3, starring the magnificent Philip Seymour Hoffman as chief antagonist Owen Davian. This instalment also introduced Simon Pegg as IMF agent and tech genius Benji Dunn, initially meant to be a one-shot  character but proving so popular that the role was expanded in subsequent films. 2001’s Ghost Protocol was a tightly plotted and enjoyable action romp, happy to sacrifice logic for the sake of a great action sequence.

Full of ludicrous conveniences and growing increasingly self-aware, the hallmark of the Mission Impossible series has always been Tom Cruise and his willingness to do most of his stunts himself. Perhaps as a result of a deal with the devil, Cruise looks far younger than his 53 years, and can still play a convincing action hero. He does a lot of running, and when he breaks out that million dollar smile he seems genuinely charming. But it’s the action sequences where he really shines…

The publicist’s favourite this time was the opening sequence, where Cruise’s Ethan Hunt hangs on to the outside of a cargo plane as it takes off. Funnily enough, seeing the scene a dozen times across breakfast TV and late night talk shows didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the action unfolding on the big screen, because it’s just such an amazing sequence.  The motorcycle chase through heavy traffic is another highlight, feeling more visceral and real than the similar chase in Matrix Reloaded.

The bad guys in Rogue Nation are the Syndicate, who are like an anti-IMF, in that they both blow up a lot of things, but the Syndicate does it for nefarious purposes. Much like the Syndicate is an anti IMF, this movie is anti-logic. If you try and think too much about the plot, you'll just get annoyed. My advice is to just sit back and enjoy the action.

In terms of the supporting cast, Alec Baldwin has a great “how badass is he?” moment as head of the CIA, and seems to be enjoying himself immensely in the role. Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson is great as the duplicitous Isla Faust, Ving Rhames may be the most inept spy ever, and Jeremy Renner proves that he’s a better supporting player than leading man. The big surprise (for anyone who hasn’t seen Shaun of the Dead) is that the real star of this film is Simon Pegg. Funny, charming, and bizarrely convincing as a secret agent, Pegg steals every scene he is in.

At times mindlessly violent and clichéd, Rogue Nation is like an elaborately constructed house of cards built by MC Escher. While a breath of critical thinking could bring it crashing down, you should probably enjoy it for the ridiculously entertaining frippery that it is.

Top Gun (1986) 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray Edition — directed by Tony Scott

Directed by Tony Scott, Top Gun is set at the elite U.S. Navy Flight Training centre, and was the film that transformed Tom Cruise from a glorified teen star into a legitimate action hero.  Cruise plays arrogant young pilot Maverick, who rides a kick-ass motorcycle and likes to pick up women in bars by singing Righteous Brothers songs. Oh, and did I mention he was arrogant?

Reportedly responsible for a spike in military enrolments, Top Gun really is plane porn, with extended sequences of F-18s and MIGs flying, landing and taking part in dogfights where nobody actually shoots one another. That’s something I didn’t remember from my first viewing of the film — despite the dramatic music in this film, the stakes are pretty low, and the only person who gets killed dies in an accident caused by the film’s hero (sorry, spoiler).

Despite his reputed charm, Maverick comes off as a spoiled brat with grade-school level wit — at one point he insults Iceman’s navigator by saying: “Hey Slider… you stink.” His romance with “top of her class” instructor Kelly McGillis is ludicrously contrived, and basically implies that her character will bang anyone in a leather jacket as long as they have a boyish smile and a troubled backstory.

Supporting this unlikely romance is a who’s who of 80’s action cinema, with men’s men including Tom Skerritt, Val Kilmer, Michael Ironside and the slightly-out-of-place Anthony Edwards and blink-and-you’ll-miss-him Tim Robbins. Meg Ryan plays the somewhat thankless role of “grieving widow”, but all of the characters are secondary to the action, which manages to capture the speed and complexity of air combat through the use of some ground-breaking camera work and synchronised flying.

Top Gun is a relic of the days where a theme song was used repeatedly throughout the film — the Kenny Loggins classic Danger Zone makes no less than three separate appearances from opening to end credits. It’s also a little repetitive from a visual standpoint, with the admittedly well-shot aerial combat footage getting a little tiresome by the time the final confrontation rolls around. Ooh look, more planes…

The Verdict

When you compare Mission Impossible with Top Gun, what becomes obvious is how far movies have come in the last 30 years. The plot of Top Gun is elevator-pitch simple, while Mission Impossible seems to pride itself on having a plot with more twists and turns than a hedge maze. The action has also been turned up to 11 in Rogue Nation, with Top Gun seeming a little slow and one-dimensional in comparison.

On the other hand, Top Gun is a classic and was action packed enough to entertain my son Danger, apart from the romantic bits which he wanted to skip. He did however comment on the low stakes, asking why nobody in the planes was actually shooting each other. He also didn’t care for the repeated use of Danger Zone, complaining that he didn’t like this “old fashioned” music.

In your face, Kenny Loggins.

Rating:

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — 8/10

Top Gun — 7/10

Like what you read? John’s books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

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