Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One

Tom Cruise keeps one-upping the stunts and spectacular action in the 'Mission: Impossible' franchise — and the spy series keeps proving a joy to watch.
Sarah Ward
July 06, 2023

Overview

Pick your poison, action-franchise edition circa 2023: balletically choreographed carnage; cars, kin and Coronas; or Tom Cruise constantly one-upping himself in the megastar stunts stakes. Hollywood loves them all. Cinemas keep welcoming them all. So, after John Wick: Chapter 4 and Fast X comes Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One to deliver the kind of movie spectacle that always looks best on the biggest and brightest of silver screens. And, as its lead actor's gleaming teeth do, the seventh instalment in the TV-to-film spy series shines. Like Cruise himself, it's committed to giving audiences what they want to see, but never merely exactly what they've already seen. This saga hasn't always chosen to accept that mission, but it's been having a better time of it since 2011's Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, including when writer/director Christopher McQuarrie jumped behind the lens with 2015's Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

McQuarrie and Cruise have history; McQuarrie first helmed Cruise in 2012's Jack Reacher, and also penned or co-penned the screenplays for the Cruise-starring Valkyrie, Edge of Tomorrow, The Mummy and Top Gun: Maverick before and during their Mission: Impossible collaboration. Prior to that, however — the year before Mission: Impossible was reborn as a movie, in fact — the filmmaker won an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects. Take the puzzle-like trickery of that mid-90s big-reveal mystery, combine it with Cruise's determination to score the first Academy Award for Best Stunts if and when it's ever introduced (or die trying), and it's plain to see why they make an ace Mission: Impossible pair. With both 2018's Mission: Impossible – Fallout and now Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One in particular, they ensure that a franchise based on a half-century-old formula courtesy of Mission: Impossible's television days still feels fresh and thrilling.

Rubber masks so realistic that anyone on-screen could rip off their face to reveal Cruise's Ethan Hunt? Of course they're present and accounted for. Espionage antics that involve saving the world while traversing much of it? Tick that off ASAP. The saga's main Impossible Missions Force operative doing whatever it takes, including sprinting everywhere and relentlessly exasperating his higher-ups? Check. A trusty crew faithfully aiding the always-maverick Hunt, plus slippery adversaries to endeavour to outsmart? Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One gives them a hefty thumbs up as well. Shady forces with globe-destroying aims, being able to trust oh-so-few folks, wreaking slickly staged havoc, those jaw-dropping stunts, top-notch actors: Cruise and McQuarrie, the latter co-writing with Erik Jendresen (Ithaca), feel the need to feed it all into the flick, too. They're also rather fond of nodding to and reworking the franchise's greatest hits. Happily playing with recognisable pieces while eagerly, cleverly and satisfyingly building upon them isn't the easiest of skills, but it's firmly in this team's arsenal. 

When Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation labelled Hunt "the living manifestation of destiny", it wasn't the series' finest piece of dialogue. There's a sense of humour about hearing him called "a mind-reading, shape-shifting incarnation of chaos" in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, though. That description could also be directed at Hunt, Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames, Legacy) and Benji Dunn's (Simon Pegg, The Boys) latest timely enemy: The Entity, an artificial intelligence that's literally killer. Unlike in The Terminator flicks, this AI is content without mechanical bodies to control. Whether in Russian submarines, Abu Dhabi's airport or on careening trains, it does a commanding job of bending both computer programs and people to its will. The aim: to secure that power, a quest that Hunt is on a mission to thwart.

Returning from the OG 1996 movie, IMF head Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, Scream VI) initially gives Hunt and company their orders — and once this troupe has been set in motion, little can stop it. So, when the crew punches its "get disavowed by the government again" card, they still stick to the task of tracking down the two-part key that The Entity wants. Terrorist Gabriel (Esai Morales, How to Get Away with Murder) and assassin Paris (Pom Klementieff, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3) are on the AI's side. Jasper Briggs (Shea Whigham, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) is among the US operatives trying to bring in Hunt. Back from the last instalment, arms dealer White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, The Son) has her own plan, while ex-MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, Silo) appears in her third flick in a row to again link in with the usual team. Then there's pickpocket Grace (Hayley Atwell, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness), a newcomer who is accustomed to flying solo.

Atwell and Klementieff are scene-stealing additions to the cast, and the always-great Ferguson has been a standout since Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Still, as has been teased, talked about and splashed across Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One's poster, Cruise is the one actually physically soaring. What would a Mission: Impossible movie be without flaunting its riskiest stunt, as performed by its stratospheric name himself, as audience bait? Not a McQuarrie-era chapter, that's for sure. When the scene arrives, getting Cruise riding a motorcycle off a towering cliff in an effort to land aboard the hurtling Orient Express, it is indeed breathtaking — and a gripping, nerve-shredding sight to behold. It isn't alone, though, thanks to a tense underwater opening, cat-and-mouse airport antics, Arabian desert horse chases, Fiat-driving Italian Job-style Rome romps and the high-stakes hijinks on Agatha Christie's favourite locomotive itself. Cinematographer Fraser Taggart (Robot Overlords) and editor Eddie Hamilton (back from the last two movies), plus the entire stunt team, help shoot, splice and execute these setpieces rivetingly. Repeatedly besting past Mission: Impossible action triumphs? Mission: accomplished.

Twenty-seven years, notching up three pictures now with McQuarrie at the helm, and with Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part Two obviously on the way (arrival: June 2024), there's a well-oiled air to Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One. That said, to run so smoothly requires care, aka someone doing the oiling, which is why there's rarely a well-worn moment or element be seen. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One covers some ground that John Wick: Chapter 4 and Fast X already have in 2023 (and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny as well). It eagerly nods to its own past. And it knows that Cruise could just cruise-control his way through, as could his co-stars, if they wanted. Its biggest feat? Lifting everything that it does, and that a Mission: Impossible flick must, again and again so that seeming routine proves, yes, impossible. There's no self-destruction here — just devotion to an intense and entertaining action extravaganza.

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