By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
The theatrical landscape is filled to the brim with sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes, spin-offs, and more. In many cases, these attempts to continually generate installment after installment of a franchise grows tiresome, resulting in diminishing returns both financially and critically. One franchise, though, that has quietly gone about its business and asserted itself as arguably the most consistent ongoing film series is Mission: Impossible. Seven movies and 27 years later and Mission: Impossible amazes once again with the gravity-defying stunts and espionage intrigue of Dead Reckoning Part One.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One sees Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and his fellow IMF agents embark on a mission against a terrifying new enemy. This new enemy isn’t a person, but, rather, an entity – The Entity, as Hunt and others call it. The Entity is an all-powerful artificial intelligence, one of those ambiguously described MacGuffins that poses immense threat to the world’s population. Hunt and his team aim to get a hold of a key that will help them destroy the artificial intelligence, while others want to get their hands on the key for more insidious purposes.
With this being the third Mission: Impossible film with director/writer Christopher McQuarrie at the helm, audiences largely know what to expect and what they’ll get with another Mission: Impossible. As was the case with Rogue Nation and Fallout, the action is mind-blowing with Cruise and company pushing the boundaries of what cinema can entail with ambitious stunts and practical effects. The much-publicized stunt in which Cruise drives a motorcycle off a cliff and then parachutes to safety is just one of seemingly countless sequences in Dead Reckoning Part One that will have audiences shaking their heads in disbelief. While the John Wick franchise has become the gold-standard of firearm combat in movies, Mission: Impossible has clearly affirmed its status as the apex of massive stunts and action on the big screen.
McQuarrie and Cruise are also well aware of the comedic potential such stunts afford and, in turn, insert plenty of subtle winks that acknowledge the sheer ridiculousness of what Cruise is attempting. A particularly memorable example of this intersection of frenetic action and subtle humor comes in a chase sequence set in the busy streets of Rome. Cruise’s character is handcuffed to Hayley Atwell’s Grace as the two drive a tiny yellow Fiat and attempt to avoid the clutches of various enemies. At first, Atwelll’s Grace is in the driver’s seat as her right hand is handcuffed to Hunt’s left hand, meaning he is in the passenger’s seat. Eventually though, Grace grows uncomfortable driving and switches seats with Hunt, which leaves Hunt tasked with driving only with his right hand as his left arm is twisted and handcuffed to Grace still. It’s sequences like this that make Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One so much fun as the film achieves a real intensity with its palpable action while also having plenty of subtle comedic levity.
How do these sequences compare to the achievements from previous Mission: Impossible films? Ghost Protocol had Cruise climb the Burj Khalifa. Rogue Nation had him hang on the side of a plane as it took off. Fallout had Cruise engage in high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) parachute jumping out of a plane AND pilot a helicopter through mountainous terrain. Cruise has set an impossibly high standard to continue outdoing himself with bigger and better action sequences. The aforementioned motorcycle off a cliff sequence doesn’t necessarily outdo Cruise’s previous efforts, but is a truly worthy addition to the actor’s growing collection of death-defying stunts. As for its other action sequences, the film finds plenty of success in showcasing a variety of intense action.
In this sense, Dead Reckoning Part One is a fantastic action film. But, that’s only half of what comprises the Mission: Impossible franchise. As much as these films lean into action, they also lean into espionage, although the results here are decidedly more mixed. Previous Mission: Impossible films have struggled under the weight of unnecessarily convoluted plotting, with the previous installment Fallout being a particular culprit of this issue. Dead Reckoning Part One is certainly more approachable than Fallout, but nonetheless suffers from similar issues with its narrative.
At 163 minutes, Dead Reckoning Part One is the longest Mission: Impossible film to date. Its sprawling plot features seemingly more characters than ever, each with their own unique backstories and (often conflicting) motivations. All of this makes for a somewhat overwhelming narrative experience that can, at times, be difficult to keep up with. Twists and turns are commonplace in similar spy movies, and Dead Reckoning Part One should be commended for its relatively streamlined plot. Unfortunately however, it’s all just a bit too much. The bulk of the film sees Ethan Hunt and the IMF try to get a hold of this key, meanwhile Atwell’s character Grace comes into the mix as a thief with eyes of her own on the key. Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust returns in a disappointingly limited role and has motivations and plot threads of her own. Meanwhile, Henry Czerny returns as Kittridge from the first Mission: Impossible and Esai Morales, Vanessa Kirby, Shea Whigham, and Cary Elwes fill out other significant roles of the cast. Especially as the film’s excessive runtime progresses and layers upon layers of the plot are added, an ambitious and sprawling espionage story becomes frustratingly unwieldy. These issues mean Dead Reckoning Part One is desperately crying out for an approachable exposition scene or scene(s) that disappointingly never arrive.
Amidst the film’s ensemble cast, it’s Tom Cruise who clearly shines the brightest here. Cruise is a one-of-a-kind movie star, who brings a certain charm and magnetism to every film he features in. There’s an intensity and commitment to Cruise’s performance that contributes immensely to how enthralling Dead Reckoning Part One is. No one does it like Tom Cruise.
The film also excels with some of its supporting characters, despite being overstuffed with characters and motivations. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames return as Benji and Luther and remain pleasant fixtures of the series. Esai Morales and Pom Klementieff are also great as two of the film’s primary villains, with Klementieff in particular playing the role of a James Bond villain-esque henchmen so well. Rebecca Ferguson, meanwhile, was a standout when introduced in Rogue Nation and was also terrific in Fallout, but is unusually sidelined here in favor of Hayley Atwell’s Grace character. Atwell has great chemistry with Cruise and her character adds yet another layer to a narratively tricky film – it’s just a shame that this seemingly comes at the expense of Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust character.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One confirms that the M.I. series is one of cinema’s most consistently enjoyable franchises. The series’ hallmark stunts are in full-force here with each action sequence proving more mind-blowing than the last, culminating in a stunning motorcycle stunt in the film’s third act. Unfortunately, a sprawling plot encompassing a dense 163 minute runtime and an overabundance of characters makes the film overwhelming, although its timely plot and relative approachability compared to Fallout are commendable. Dead Reckoning Part One somewhat lacks the craft and grandiosity of McQuarrie’s two previous Mission: Impossible films, but is still an undoubted worthy addition to this epic series. Dead Reckoning Part Two can’t come soon enough.