Another Take: Mission: Impossible -- Dead Reckoning Part One
The seventh installment isn't as strong as "Fallout" or "Rogue Nation," but it still delivers another thrilling adventure that doesn't let this long-running franchise slow things down.
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While 2023 has everybody still thinking about how much "John Wick Chapter 4" kicked ass or forgetting how little an impression "Fast X" left, there’s always one action franchise we can rely on to be the thrilling force of entertainment: "Mission: Impossible."
After 27 years of missions… should we choose to accept it… it’s unbelievable how this spy series starring Tom Cruise as IMF agent Ethan Hunt gets better with each passing film (minus the underwhelming second). "Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One," the seventh installment, could be a minor comeback for this summer’s box office after a few flops from big blockbusters.
As excited as anyone could be, it might be impossible for a follow-up like this to top what we saw previously with 2018’s "Fallout." Not only is the sixth installment my favorite of the series, it’s generally regarded as one of the best action movies of the last decade.
With that said, Cruise can make these until he reaches his 80s and I'll still buy a ticket. And for the first part of a two-part story, and having seen it twice in two days (the second time in IMAX), it might not be the best we’ve seen, but it's nonetheless a satisfying, if flawed addition.
Hunt and his IMF team — Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) — are once again globe-throbbing around the world. This time their mission has them racing against time to track down a terrifying AI program called “The Entity” that has gone rogue, leading it to infiltrate any intelligence network without warning.
The only way to stop this is for them to retrieve half of a two-part key at all costs since it holds something dangerous – before it falls into the hands of a man named Gabriel (Esai Morales), a familiar foe from Ethan's past.
Coming from a fan, "Dead Reckoning" could’ve easily been the one to feel as if it ran out of good ideas to keep things fresh and added nothing from a long-running adaptation based on the television series. And with it being half of a story to fill up its nearly three-hour runtime (the longest yet), you don’t know if that’s enough to keep up the thrills for what’s coming next.
On the contrary, this is McQuarrie's third time taking control of the series since 2015, and staying on for this long could’ve been a sign to have anybody else do this. Some don’t remember when we had a different director each time to allow their style to take over.
However, whenever he frequently collaborates with Cruise, McQuarrie perfectly knows the formula for what always works. From the team locating the MacGuffin or multiple face mask reveals, or just being amazed by how fast Cruise can still run. It’s still a matter of importance to care for the characters and the action simultaneously when big stakes are involved.
Speaking of which, anybody who goes into this expecting it to deliver on all the action and dedicated stunt work, all presented in-camera, won’t be disappointed with McQuarrie at the helm. Compared to the set pieces from the previous sequels, I wouldn’t put it on that level based on its craziness of escapism. But this is why you’ll get more enjoyment sitting through a “Mission: Impossible” movie than most of the blockbusters that came out months prior that rely on CGI.
And that’s because McQuarrie knows how to pull these off like no tomorrow. They all looked practical enough to make the audience feel like they are right in the middle of the action.
There’s a pretty awesome car chase through Venice where Ethan and Grace (Hayley Atwell) are hilariously handcuffed together while avoiding the police in a yellow Fiat 500. A pretty claustrophobic fight in an alleyway. And just when it couldn’t get better after that, the third act contains a climax with a speeding Orient Express train that reminded me of "Uncharted 2" … which is a good thing.
Not to mention the extensively advertised stunt of Cruise riding a motorcycle off a mountain cliff, which required extreme precision and timing from everyone involved to get right. Just that sequence alone is a reason to pay that $15 for IMAX or Dolby.
Do you like Tom Cruise? What is wrong with you if you don't??
He's the main reason this franchise still has legs. Don’t forget he was responsible for returning us to the theaters last summer with 2022's masterpiece, "Top Gun: Maverick.” But even if you’re not a Cruise fan, his return as Ethan Hunt lets us know full well he’s continuing to be a bonafide action star because this guy, who recently turned 61, will do just about anything for our amusement – especially when he’s back in the role of this true cinematic hero.
Cruise's performance is excellent because we see him as the agent who’ll risk everything to save the ones he loves most: his team.
With the return of key supporting cast (Pegg, Rhames and Ferguson), the performances from the team aspect remain crucial as always. But of the newcomers, it's the underrated Hayley Atwell as Grace who managed to be the film's MVP. She plays a sleek, mysterious pickpocket who joins Ethan on his newest journey with the IMF, whether or not she wants to get involved.
Adding somebody new to fit into the crew can be tricky, but Atwell made her character arc quite amusing as it continued, allowing her presence to be the most welcoming. She and Cruise have a fantastic onscreen dynamic.
Not just her. Pom Klementieff, as the unhinged Paris, rules every scene she’s in as a deadly assassin of few words who works for Gabriel. And while Vanessa Kirby isn't in it as much, she's always a delight as arms dealer Alanna Mitsopolis/The White Widow.
(Side note: I always forget she’s the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave’s character from the first film. It was also nice to see Henry Czerny back as Eugene Kittridge; a great return since we haven't seen him since the original.)
Storywise, the trailer didn’t necessarily tell us everything. Yet this plot-heavy sequel written by McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen couldn’t have come out at a better time as it deals with the dangers of AI becoming a threat in our society. This alone makes the stakes for our characters real, given it’s relevant to how it could change Hollywood and whatnot.
Sometimes the story can be a secondary aspect of these films because the action is what gets people in their seats. That said, the plot comes across as too convoluted, making the length a little tedious, especially during the first act’s scenes of expositions. Since it wasn’t the most intriguing or clever plot to follow through, it might be the only aspect that won’t work for everybody.
Even so, it made Esai Morales’ Gabriel a slightly underwritten villain to find threatening. They briefly hinted at his backstory and how it ties to Hunt’s past, but I hope it’s delved into more later on.
Still, every "Mission: Impossible" requires us to pay close attention to what’s happening. As I was watching, you can’t help noticing McQuarrie wanted this sequel to pay homage to the very first movie Brian De Palma directed based on a few Dutch angles in Fraser Taggart’s cinematography. Or even taking the tone a bit more seriously than the prior installments by bringing in more tension.
Knowing full well this is setting up a possible finale for Part Two (scheduled for June 2024), it’s strange seeing this trend come back, with this being the third movie this year to leave things unresolved. But unlike "Fast X" and its ridiculous anticlimactic ending that made me go, “Seriously?”, this lets you know this is only the beginning of what’s coming next in the follow-up.
They might even be able to raise the bar for what we haven’t seen in the franchise before. Maybe he’ll freefall from a spaceship.
Overall, "Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One" knows how to keep this franchise alive again with its consistency. Is it too early to consider it better than "Fallout?” Not yet. But it’s no surprise McQuarrie and his team came through on a thrilling sequel that gives fans what they always clamor for: non-stop action and an always-committed Tom Cruise giving it his absolute best.