Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Have you ever been sober at a comedy club in the afternoon? Seen a quiet band play an outdoor festival? Watched The Mindy Project? If you’re like me, these situations lend themselves to a particular brand of dissociation. You recognize the stimuli responsible for “fun”, and you’re aware of the enthusiastic response around you — but something just won’t click. Even when it’s decent, hyperawareness imposes a curve: the gap between “fine” and “great” becomes awkward, unbridgeable.

So maybe I’m the problem. Because like last week’s Trainwreck, my detachment from Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation began with the opening sequence. A remarkably-still-charismatic Tom Cruise was dangling from an airplane, and I just couldn’t seem to squeeze through the screen and join him. Everything felt a little too overexposed, a little too efficient in its Action Checklist ticking: agents with unclear allegiances (tick) do spin kicks chopped by manic camera cuts (tick) in search of an elaborately guarded McGuffin (tick). I saw Fun™ but I wasn’t having it. By the time I’d calibrated to the IMF universe, Ethan was already four or five set pieces ahead of me; an “impossible” mission was completed before I’d even internalized the stakes. As I felt the film draw to its inevitable close, I marveled at how uninspired the whole thing had been.

Then it peeled off its imitation James Bond mask and nondescript artistic voice modulator, hopped on a Fast and Furious motorcycle, and raced for a half hour towards something totally thrilling. I really can’t stress how disjointly satisfying that final half hour was; like the filmmakers had saved every bit of playful energy for the third act. To call it a “payoff” would suggest some sort of cohesion — this wasn’t a payoff, it was a great movie stapled on the back of a forgettable one. Or maybe it was the same movie the rest of the audience had been watching since that opening airplane scene; maybe 90 minutes in, I’m what finally clicked. Regardless, I wish I’d been there for the first half.

I’m not sure what to blame for that extended disconnect: if the overwhelmingly positive reviews are any indication, you’ll probably slip into the “better movie” a lot quicker than I did. Unfortunately, no grand finale or benefit of hindsight could free me from that generic hour and a half — however admirable the eventual rescue mission. Chris and I review on this week’s episode

See my review on Letterboxd