Despite a script bogged down by the extended set-up of its villain, Tom Cruise and company remain unmatched thrillmasters.
One of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’s earliest pieces of marketing was a trailer-by-way-of-behind-the-scenes featurette. In that clip, Tom Cruise, strapped to a motorcycle, rockets off the edge of a cliff in the Swiss Alps. He lets the bike drop away before popping his parachute and sailing into the horizon. It’s one of the most death-defying sequences ever captured on film and, as we now know, it’s one Cruise himself did again and again and again. The sequence, even devoid of context, sums up exactly what director Chris McQuarrie and Cruise (the two are also co-producers) hoped to achieve in Dead Reckoning: grade A movie spectacle.
After six films and nearly three decades, this level of practical, stunt-heavy moviemaking is what audiences have come to expect from the franchise. Mission: Impossible’s story has always been a secondary priority. It’s just as well—Dead Reckoning’s story is one of the series’ goofiest since M:I-2.
Dead Reckoning’s villain isn’t a rogue agent, an arms dealer, or even a human: it’s an ultra-powerful AI capable of destroying humanity’s ability to tell truth from fiction—granting whoever can control it a terrible power over the world. Unless, of course, Ethan Hunt and the usual suspects (Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson) can get to it first and destroy it. But, of course, the AI’s power and potential have brought one of Hunt’s longtime nemeses (Esai Morales) out of the woodwork. After all, saving the human race can never be a matter of just one thing.
Functionally, this means that Dead Reckoning opens with a truly absurd sequence of monologues featuring a collection of suits that introduce the AI and walk the audience through its dangers using what can only be described as Movie Trailer Guy Voice. Regardless of the speakers’ age or gender, the entire scene turns unintentionally hilarious as every one of them rattles off plot points in a gravelly whisper of seriousness.
The film’s only real drawback is that the villain here requires quite so much explaining. These films function best with villains that can be understood instantly, bringing us into the action at breakneck speed. The villain’s identity matters much less than how quickly the audience understands what they’re after and why we should root against them. With that said, once the groundwork has been laid, Dead Reckoning’s AI serves the plot just as well as any previous foe, allowing the human cast to shine.
Rhames and Pegg once again prove why they’ve become staples of the series, grounding Hunt when they can and providing some of the film’s more sparkling banter. The real standout is newcomer-to-the-series Hayley Atwell (Captain America: The First Avenger). As thief and new recruit Grace, Atwell gets equal opportunity to show off her flair for action and her pitch-perfect comic timing.
In one of Dead Reckoning’s best scenes, Atwell and Cruise must not only navigate an epic car chase down the Spanish Steps in Rome but do so with their arms impossibly tangled together thanks to a locked pair of handcuffs. Agent Carter‘s run was criminally cut short (to date, it remains one of Marvel’s more delightful offerings), and it’s a joy to see Atwell’s full talents again. That she can hold her own next to Cruise emphasizes the depth and breadth of her skill and charisma.
After all, in the wake of Top Gun: Maverick, consensus is that Tom Cruise may very well be one of the last true movie stars. It’s hard to argue otherwise. He’s poured himself into the series, turning it into a true passion project. You don’t throw yourself off a cliff six times for any old flick.
Cruise’s lunacy is debatable (even leaving Scientology out of it), but his commitment to his films is undeniable. And at the end of the day, that’s what these movies have become about. They’re about a commitment to craft and to safety and a way of making movies that are disappearing from cinema screens. If McQuarrie and Cruise wanted Dead Reckoning to feel utterly singular and revolutionary, it wouldn’t hit the mark. But that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to turn its premiere into an event and to make something that felt like it had to be seen on the big screen, and baby, they nailed it.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One begins its mission, which it has chosen to accept, on July 10th, 2023.