Synopsis: Ethan Hunt and the IMF team must track down a terrifying new weapon that threatens all of humanity if it falls into the wrong hands. Confronted by a mysterious, all-powerful enemy, Ethan is forced to consider that nothing can matter more than the mission — not even the lives of those he cares about most.
Stars: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Esai Morales, Vanessa Kirby, Pom Klementieff, Henry Czerny
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Running Length: 163 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: Oh boy, have we come a long way in the last 27 years! Gearing up to see the seventh installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise, I took the opportunity to rewatch the previous films that led us to Dead Reckoning during some rare downtime. It almost seems quaint now to watch the original 1996 outing, directed by Brian De Palma, when all that was being sought was one-half of a coded list of names. At the time, the stakes felt incredibly high, and it’s to the lasting longevity of everyone involved that the film maintains its suspense nearly three decades on. In the same breath, I’ll tell you that I almost can’t believe how bad the first sequel is and that I’ve warmed to M:I3 over time. Ghost Protocol remains a high water mark that Rouge Nation can’t quite build upon, but which Fallout takes a giant leap in quality over.
The entire rewatch felt beneficial going into Part One, which is by far the biggest and boldest Mission: Impossible film to date. It shows you how the series has morphed into something more than a simple adaptation of a well-liked television show (that was given a chintzy remake in the ‘80s) into a full-bodied blockbuster that consistently aims to push the boundaries of cinema, delivering maximum entertainment for its fans. At the center of it all is its star, Tom Cruise, who demonstrates time and time again (and not just in these films) that he understands the language of film and how to translate that into the kind of spectacle that only a big screen can provide. If you’re going to pay for it, he will give you what you want.
And Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is handing out nail-biting, popcorn-chomping thrills like you wouldn’t believe.
I’m guessing you aren’t waiting for me to tell you to see this film, but in case you need convincing, I can confirm that Cruise and returning director/collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) have kicked off a two-parter with fantastic style. Opening with a series of sequences (including one onboard a claustrophobic Russian submarine) that might set your head spinning, you only begin to see how McQuarrie and co-screenwriter Erik Jendresen have laid out a devious bit of groundwork as the film is rounding the corner into its third act. Until then, you’re at the mercy of screenwriters with a complex game plan in mind that lead you through a labyrinth filled with danger around every corner.
Once Ethan Hunt (Cruise, The Mummy) is tasked by former IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, Ready or Not) to track down former ally Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, Dune) and take back a pivotal item that is instrumental in a burgeoning war waged by an experimental AI system run amok, it isn’t long before Hunt makes the mission personal. Unable to betray Ilsa or completely disregard the AI threat, he instead pursues the lead with his team, including Benji (Simon Pegg, The World’s End) and Luther (Ving Rhames, Piranha 3DD), eventually hoping to beat Gabriel (Esai Morales, The Wall of Mexico), a cruel rival from his past, in holding the key to destroying the advanced technology.
Per usual, a host of roadblocks are put in the way of our hero, and this time it’s not just our government erecting them. In addition to Gabriel’s slinky henchwoman Paris (Pom Klementieff, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol 3), the smarmy Director of National Intelligence (Cary Elwes, Black Christmas), and returning black-market arms dealer Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby, Pieces of a Woman), Hunt must contend with slippery ace pickpocket Grace (Hayley Atwell, Blinded by the Light) who is in over her head but consistently gives her would-be protector the slip. Grace winds up being just the handful Hunt wasn’t expecting but needs the most, someone to remind him of his humanity while keeping him on his toes. Grace is rarely aware of her critical danger, even as the threat level is raised to vicious new heights.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One has been designed to move characters that may have gotten slightly comfortable into riskier territory, and taking that chance from a filmmaking perspective has paid off. It’s drawn better performances from nearly all the returning cast members (Rhames is especially winning this time) while showcasing newcomers like Atwell and Klementieff exceptionally well. Atwell is front and center with Cruise for the best car chase sequence I’ve seen in a film in years. Not only is their race through Rome in a yellow Fiat pursued by Klementieff in a military-grade vehicle frenetically filmed but it’s also imbued with riotous humor, which plays to the strengths of all involved.
If this entry has a weakness (and yes, this isn’t a perfect ten because of it), it’s for a few reasons. There are still a few wrinkles to iron out from a performance standpoint. Kirby’s character, introduced in the previous chapter, held promise for a power player with mysterious alliances (much like the mother of her character played by Vanessa Redgrave in the first film), but this go-around, I found the allegiance far too defined and reduced to being one-note and rote. The jury is still out on Morales as the heavy. An interesting choice for a high-profile film, but the actor lacks a certain air of complete menace.
The film’s low point is an unfortunate scene set at a raging party (supposedly organized by the AI!) which finds all the major players convening for a semi-sit-down discussion of what will happen next. That’s when McQuarrie and Jendresen get a little too embroiled in making a statement about our reliance on technology and the ramping up of AI-led efforts in automation and securities. A film that had been in constant motion suddenly comes to a halt, and for a few minutes, there’s nowhere to run; all we can do is sit idly by and wait for things to pick up again.
Thankfully, there’s always an action sequence waiting in the wings, and you’ve likely seen Cruise’s epic motorcycle cliff jump, the preparation for and execution of has been heavily hyped in the promotion leading up to the film’s release. The good news is that even knowing it’s coming doesn’t spoil the effect of seeing it in the finished film (see the movie on the largest screen possible, please!). While the stunt is awe-inspiring (you could hear a pin drop in our audience), there are so many impressive moments throughout the film that the sum total is a monumental achievement for Cruise and the entire team. The finale alone is enough for theaters to consider selling seats in “pacing aisles” so nervous moviegoers can get up and walk around.
It will be a long year waiting for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two but more opportunity to watch Part One a few more times, marveling at the work that went into this first-class entertainment. As he did last summer with Top Gun: Maverick, I predict Cruise will fill theaters again with another supersonic adventure. And it’s only the beginning.