My favourite thing in M:I5 is Rebecca Ferguson, a double or triple or free agent. As Ilsa* Faust, Ferguson has the alluring stillness and looks of a young Ingrid Bergman, with a cool that’s not quite invulnerable. She also has a killer move: in a brief second she can swivel to end up riding on the shoulders of her assailant like in a stupendous footy mark; they’re the most entrancing visuals in the movie.
(*Curious: Bergman was famously Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, a town where Ferguson’s Ilsa also turns up for a screaming bike chase.)
Popcorn paradox and dopey hi-tech
M:I5 is that tried and tested popcorn paradox: a highly tuned thrill machine dependent on hi-tech gadgetry (in both story and production) that finally depends on fisticuffs and mano a mano confrontation. It’s pointless to quibble about details (who is funding Hunt’s deluxe rogue mission?) or bother explaining the plot. It’s the journey that counts — Minsk, Vienna, Casablanca, London — and the myth of Ethan Hunt/Tom Cruise.
Hunt’s legend is evoked at the start by an awed agent, poor girl, who says something like, It’s you — but surely not all the things they say about you are true!? Which is echoed in the denouement by the CIA head (Alec Baldwin) who breathlessly calls Hunt/Cruise the “living manifestation of destiny”, at which point the 7- or 8-y-o boy in the row ahead burst out laughing, I know not why.
(An aside: hi-techery always seems to have obvious dopey flaws. In the hyper techno Ex Machina the doofiness was a physical key. Here one long stunt sequence must happen just because they can’t use anything metal. Um, but, you know — plastic?)
The Tom Cruise double charisma effect
The are only two elements that distinguish the M:I series from every other high budget thriller franchise. The first is the remarkable theme by the Argentinian jazz composer Lalo Schifrin — the music will be 50 years old in a tick, but still triggers the adrenaline. The other is the mysteriously unchanging physical perfection of tiny Tom — there is only a slight thickening of the jowls.
He is the sine qua non of the series: Tom’s Hunt, unlike the actors playing at Bond, is irreplaceable. It’s hard to imagine anyone else running or persisting or summoning the pure will to succeed like Cruise. But he has found a counterpoint in Ilsa Faust/Rebecca Ferguson. In Mad Max 5, Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa stole the show from Max/Tom Hardy. Ilsa/Rebecca nearly pulls off a similar trick here.
M:I5 does all that can be asked of it and exceeds by introducing Ilsa Faust. But I came away unexpectedly dissatisfied. The fantasy element is too blatant: everywhere Hunt and crew turn they can lay their hands on gorgeous gadgetry; the human operatives feel superfluous.
A star calls upon his celebrity aura to bleed onto the screen; the charisma is doubled. Tom Cruise has been much reported to have performed his own stunts to inject a Jackie Chan-type authenticity, but we know that Chan has been really and often injured doing that work (see this amazing catalogue of pain). For all Cruise’s derring do, M:I5 has no sense of stakes, and no skin on the line where it counts: in the narrative.
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the grittier Matt Damon/Bourne films, or warped by Game of Thrones, wherein any of the good guys may and do get killed. (‘You know nothing, Ethan Hunt!’) Which is why, at the end, the M:I5 team’s reclamation of honour and their triumph over evil has all the resonance of a remote flipping channels.
Why I Dislike Tom Cruise
Some critic asked: How does he have such
An amazing career when he is so
Well why I don’t like him is because
His art is authentic —
The real man is on show.
The passionate intensity, the needy
Ambition, the ingratiating
Sacrifice. The furious yet sexless
Hunger, as muscled as youth.
Look! Age has not wearied Tom,
But he surely wearies me.
His burning fuse is a rebuke:
— ‘Man, don’tcha want