After watching Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, I’ve got to admit it, but I am well and truly dying for the day when Ethan Hunt finally gets asked the customary question; “This is your mission, should you choose to accept it…” only to decline the offer, and send audiences reeling. Hold up, hold up. Hear me out. This is not to say that I think the film is so bad that turning down the mission and causing it to end up a five-minute movie would be better, that is far from the truth. It’s a fantastic film that blends the best of the espionage and action genres, all without ever taking itself far too seriously. It’s just that out of five assorted instalments, five different directors, and five separate ‘impossible’ missions, there’s never once been a time that Hunt has turned around, stuck it to the powers that be, and been forced to participate anyway. That’s the kind of interesting and fresh plot that a series needs five or six features in. There is after all, only so many times an audiences will accept the stale scenario in which a bad guy (or corporation) appears, wreaks a little havoc, kills a few people, all before the IMF band together to save society whilst facing the threat of being disavowed. Bring in as many new ‘hanging off a plane’ action sequences as you like, but nothing speaks awesome quite like a storyline we haven’t seen before.
This time round is no different sadly, picking up where Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011) left off, with Ethan hunting (no pun intended) down the enigmatic Syndicate, a mysterious conglomerate labelled the ‘anti-IMF’. CIA Chief Hunley (Alec Baldwin) all the while is working in the background to convince the Senate to disband the IMF for good, believing Hunt to be the perennial boy who cried wolf. Stranded after Hunley succeeds and events go sour in London, Hunt calls in the good old team of Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner), to take down Soloman Lane (Sea Harris), the trench-coat wearing cliché of a British villain, who is fronting the group of renegade rogue agents that are unleashing their own brand of deadly attacks around the world.
Thrown in the mix for good measure (and let’s be honest - gender balancing) is Rebecca Ferguson’s mystery maiden Ilsa Faust, a femme fatale that is step-for-step Cruise’s equal, choking men with her thighs, and hiding her allegiances so well that I’m still not sure I know where she stands even after having finished the film. From Austria to Morocco to London (that sounds like the start of a very bad Pitbull song there…) the film plays out as a three-part action centric piece, with each new country signifying a fight is sure to be looming somewhere on the horizon. The concept works wonders though, bringing the series back to the heyday of classic ‘edge-of-your-seat blockbusters’, where a thriller is a thriller and you don’t really need to ponder every detail fastidiously. For all the annoyance at the overused plot, the one thing it does right above all is provide you exactly what you paid for. Action, thrills, and intrigue abound.
With a raft of spy films either due out or already released this year (Spy, Spectre and The Man from UNCLE to name a few), predictions on Rogue Nation being among the best of the bunch were low. And whilst it doesn’t quite come off as the high-piece of the series, it does bring the certain charm and ‘je ne sais quoi’ we fans have become accustomed too. The action sequences are slick and aesthetically pleasing, weaving as seamlessly between the car and motor-cycle chases, as the piece does between its humour and drama. Helping it on its way are Pegg and Renner, who continue to prove the smartest move the franchise has made since its introduction almost twenty years ago. The duo fire out one-liners with startling precision, never once letting any of them miss their mark. Perhaps one of the biggest disappointments though is the fact that there is no classic ‘jump and hang’ move from Cruise or co. with us having to accept a meagre rope drop in its place. Well, that and the fact that the plane sequence which opens the film doesn’t even come close to topping the building climb in part four. For most of those ten minutes they could just have used green-screen to the same effect. Ultimately, however, the dive sequence featuring amidst act two makes up for them both a-plenty, the crucial key to balancing the film out.
Amidst the conflict and conspiracy are timely nods to the distinguished British pieces considered the four-fathers of the spy-genre, both Bond and Sherlock Holmes. Many of the fights take place in London (cue phone-boxes and double decker buses), and between the product placement of all the BMW’s you even get a glimpse of a silver Aston Martin if you’re paying close enough attention. Best of all though is Rogue Nation’s nod to Daniel Craig’s Quantum of Solace Austrian Opera scene, this time round filled with less talking, more fighting, and a envisioned storyboarded so beautiful, even Hitchcock would be proud of it. The Holmes-ian ties in are just as good, but to recount them here would be to spoil all the fun.
Christopher McQuarrie, who has taken the reins from Brad Bird, proves he’s not just a one trick pony here, deserving more than the accolades he normally receives purely for his writing abilities. Sensible, structured, and with just enough fun to tide you over, his take on the Mission: Impossible series is a favourable one. The movie never lags, and the tension never drops, something hard to accomplish in cinema nowadays, and he even manages to give the franchise a fresh start by the end, lining us up for a sequel we actually wouldn’t mind seeing. Yes, even if Hunt once again accepts the ‘mission’. I’ll have to refute it if anyone asks though, because we all know “I can neither confirm nor deny any details about any operation without the permission of the secretary…”
Rating: 3.5 Polygraphs out of 5
When a critic sets themselves up to watch a sequel to a poorly executed and sometimes painful-to-watch stripper film, one usually goes in trying valiantly to shove those feelings aside and bring with them an open mind. Usually they fail. Instead leaving the cinema so thoroughly disappointed at even bothering that they go home to write a scathing review, all the while shaking their fist in condemnation and vowing never watch something like that again. Ok, a little dramatic, but also a little true too. This time however, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Magic Mike XXL was not a film I would feel falls into this category. I mean, by no way is it a box office blow-out, or Academy Award worthy piece, but Magic Mike XXL was, however, not entirely mind-numbing or vacuous either. For the most part. Of course the cynics will be saying “did we need another Magic Mike (2012) film in the world?” The answer is no, probably not. But it’s certainly a lot better than a whole number of films floating around out there. And despite relying on clumsily clichéd lines like ‘its show-time not bro-time’, the film actually does manage to bring a good mix of both.
Story-wise, there is little new or imaginative to go on. In fact there is little of substance at all really. But as someone paying to go to this film are you really telling me you expect there would be? Three years have passed since the events of the first film, with Mike now settled into running his custom furniture business and the dull, dreary, depressing world that this entails. His business is ok, but not hitting the benchmark of successful. His love life has ended but he’s trying not to think about it. And he still occasionally has a dance in his garage, but doesn’t want to really on that for the rest of his life. Then he gets a call from the ‘Kings of Tampa’, the rag-tag group of strippers *cough male entertainers cough*, who are making their way to Myrtle Beach and the annual Stripper Convention for their ‘one last job’ style ploy. Can anyone say road trip! Along the way there’s old friends by way of a sultry country club strip-house, new friends by way of some southern, sex-crazed middle aged women, and in between there’s plenty of entertainment by way of dance numbers and group bonding.
For the most part a majority of the old faces return for the ride, including Matt Bomer as Ken, Joe Manganiello as Big ‘Dick’ Richie, Kevin Nash as Tarzan, Adam Rodriguez as Tito, and of course Tatum as Mike. Only Alex Pettyfer and Matthew McConaughey sit the film out, their absence explained away in a brief throwaway moment that begins the film. Without the streamlined abbs of McConaughey, Manganiello and Bomer get bigger bit parts, and we as an audience relish the change, both hating Ken’s Reiki pseudo bullshit and loving his soulful charming side, whilst eagerly awaiting Manganello’s comedic moments, especially after a well-constructed and executed Gas-N-Go convenience store performance positioned halfway through the film. Behind the director’s chair Gregory Jacobs has taken the reins from Soderbergh, and we can certainly feel the difference, with the piece a warmer, more brotherly, and basically not so downright depressing and moody take than the first film. Jacobs wisest move is playing-up the fun loving side in exactly the way audiences desired from the first flick.
Strangely, but also refreshingly, the film even reads as a somewhat crude and warped feminist piece. Never once do we see the female body exposed like the men are, with the women treated just as Rome continuously refers to them as - ‘Queens’. Additionally there is a raft of supporting female characters who add to the piece rather than become the relegated ‘filling a quota’ trope. Jada Pinkett Smith and Andy McDowell stand out as two such strong, independent women. Perhaps best of all in this production, is the beautiful array of realistic body types, ages, and ethnicities, given to the girls who beseech the special stripper treatment from the boys. No longer does the bland ‘white, hot, crop-topped babes’ Tinsel Town is used to beautifying their films with hold up here. Perhaps this is because the studio and production team know their intended audience. Perhaps it’s because for once the tables are turning in Hollywood to challenge the theorized 'male view'. Whatever the reason, I’ll let you be the judge.
Although this film tries to build story where there honestly isn’t any, unlike its predecessor, when its focus on trying to be ‘thoughtful’ and ‘deep’ begins to dig at the audiences desires for more dance moves, it lightens the mood and provides. There’s class and style to the dancing, and even though it would have made for better entertainment had there been just a little more of it, there is enough to tide over even the most unenthusiastic ticket-holder. The choreography is beautifully designed and skilfully executed, and there is little doubt that Tatum has talent and flair for such dance films. The other characters continue to play the background to his dance sets, and whilst there are some nice final routines from Manganiello and Bomer’s characters, none of them hold a flame to Mike’s magic moves.
What sells the film above all is that it never tries to paint itself as anything it’s not. The drugs are loose, the partying’s hard, and the grinding intense. And let’s not forget the amount of times the F-Bomb is dropped. This is an adult’s movie through and through, and it certainly provides more substance and depth than Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) foolishly thought it could bring to the genre earlier this year. Audiences know what to expect going into the movie, and for those who want to see a fun, light-hearted, and hyper-sexualised stripper flick, Magic Mike XXL works its charm. For everyone else, try Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) for some action, or Southpaw (2015) for some drama, and save us all the criticism.
Rating: 3 Sexy Strippers out of 5
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