Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Ted 2, Maze Runner: Scorch Trials, and Fantastic Four are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

The idea has been expressed before, in writings, in songs such as The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” and in an episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “The Howling Man,” that wherever great evil happens in the world, Lucifer himself is present. This idea is lightly touched upon in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” as our intrepid and incredibly in shape hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) tracks down the leader of a criminal organization called the Syndicate.

The head of the Syndicate is a man named Solomon Lane (Sean Harris). In one scene, Hunt notes that whatever location he tracks Lane to, something horrible has happened there. There’s a fire at an industrial plant that gases a village, and in turn that event starts a war. Lane was there, just an anonymous face in the crowd, causing devastating pain and suffering from the shadows. He’s closer to that classic version of the devil than any villain I’ve seen in recent memory—and yes, I’ve seen “Spectre.” The James Bond movie only wishes it set up its villain this richly.

But enough about philosophy and character. This is a “Mission Impossible” movie, after all. We want action and excitement. On that front, “Rogue Nation” delivers. The opening pre-credit scene has Hunt dangling off of the side of a cargo plane as it takes off. It looked spectacular in IMAX, and while it may lose something on a smaller screen, just the sheer audacity of the stunt guarantees that it won’t lose much. It’s adrenalizing, and that’s only the beginning.

Hunt gets his team from the last movie back, so Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Will Brandt (Jeremy Renner) are all there to give him a hand. Brandt has the unenviable task of also having to deal with politicians in bureaucrats. His main adversary is CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), who regards the Impossible Mission Force as dangerous and destructive. He seeks to have them disbanded and their personnel absorbed into the CIA. It gives the title “Rogue Nation” an interesting double meaning: As Hunt pursues a rogue criminal organization, while he himself is regarding as rogue by his own government.

These movies are not complete without an enchanting beauty or femme fatale, and “Rogue Nation” has both in one. Her name is Ilsa Faust, played with sly seductiveness by Rebecca Ferguson. Ilsa proves to be more than a pretty face, and handles herself quite well in very physical scenes. She’s also a shrewd manipulator. Part of the suspense of “Rogue Nation” is in following whose side she is on and trying to determine who she’ll betray and what she’s going to do next.

That’s the genius of co-writer/director Christopher McQuarrie’s script. It has heroes we care about, villains will hate, loose cannons who keep us in suspense, impeccable comic timing (largely thanks to Simon Pegg), and some thrilling action. If there was ever a template on how to create a great “Mission Impossible” movie, or indeed, a great spy movie in general, “Rogue Nation” is it. Buy it: Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation [Blu-ray].

Also New This Week

Ted 2

It’s very rare that a comedy is funny from start to finish and has me laughing in every scene. My Blu-Ray pick of the week for “Pitch Perfect 2” is a notable exception. Most comedies are hit or miss. That’s fine and understandable, given the difficulty level in making comedies. The trick is to hit more than you miss. I thought the first “Ted” did just that—in a big way. I was looking forward to the further adventures of Ted (voice of Seth MacFarlane) and John (Mark Wahlberg) in “Ted 2” as they hire young lawyer Samantha (Amanda Seyfried) to help them in a legal battle to get Ted recognized as a person so he can have a child with Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth).

It’s a solid story idea with a good new arc for the character. It even has some deeper under-pinnings about civil rights and what it means to be human—not that a movie like “Ted 2” would explore the subtext all that deeply, but it’s there.

The problem with “Ted 2,” simply put, is in the percentages. The ratio of hit to miss for the funny scenes is skewed toward the misses. Other than a hilarious appearance from Liam Neeson, and some bits and pieces here and there, I didn’t laugh all that much. I think a major part of the problem is the self-indulgence of Seth MacFarlane, particularly in regard to the cut-aways made famous on his television hit “Family Guy.” They work really well on the show. They didn’t work as well for me in live action. The gags are pretty heavy-handed, and it’s as if everyone is trying too hard for laughs rather than relaxing and just being their funny, kooky selves. If there is a “Ted 3,” I hope they capture the magic of the first movie and bring the funny back. Skip it.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

This may be the tipping point for me and zombies. They’re the default go-to for every lazy writer who can’t think of a more creative way to make their post-apocalyptic world a dangerous place. When writer’s block hits, throw in some zombies. That seems to be the mantra of modern story telling. “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” does just that.

After Thomas (Dylan O'Brien) and his fellow survivors from the intriguing and suspenseful first “Maze Runner” movie escape from a not so subtly named WCKD (yes, “wicked”) facility run by the sinister Janson (Aidan Gillen, aka Littlefinger on “Game of Thrones”), they find themselves in the “scorch.” I guess that’s the futuristic, post-apocalyptic word for “desert,” because that’s what it is. With sand blowing everywhere, they make their way into the ruins of a mall. They turn on the lights. Zombies attack. I was so the disappointed to see the zombies. “Really? Again?” was pretty much my thought and I never recovered from it. Not like I had to recover much, given the mundane plotting and action that follows the zombie encounter.

After setting up a fascinating world in “The Maze Runner” and peaking my interest with the opening act in the WCKD facility, I thought this might be a series to rival the “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series. Instead, what I got is something that can basically be boiled down to a YA version of “Mad Max” meets “28 Days Later.” I have to go with that one because even though the zombies are in a mall (yes, I get the “Dawn of the Dead” homage) they are of the “infected,” fast moving variety. If only this movie charged along as quickly as those zombies, I might have liked it a little bit more. But only a little. Skip it.

Fantastic Four

The struggles that director Josh Trank had with the studio (20th Century Fox, even though these are Marvel characters) are now legendary, and every bit of anguish shows on screen. “Fantastic Four” is painful to watch. It’s clear that Trank wanted a more character-based approach and was looking to make something akin to a body horror movie. There are those moments, such as when Reed Richards (Miles Teller) first discovers that his limbs can stretch. The plot is a silly, indecipherable mess with a half-baked villain. And that’s being generous—really, I think they forgot to turn the oven on. This is a crying shame because as Marvel fans will tell you, the villainous Dr. Doom is one of the—if not THE—biggest baddie of all baddies. The fact that he is so short-changed is mind numbing. But then again, everything about “Fantastic Four” is mind numbing. Skip it.

More New Releases: “The Triumph of the Will,” Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary of the Third Reich's 1934 Nuremberg Party Rally; “Thief,” Michael Mann movie starring James Caan is an ex-con who wants to go straight after one last big heist; and “Burroughs: The Movie,” Criterion Collection release of the 1983 documentary about the “Naked Lunch” author.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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