It's been 27 years since Tom Cruise first dangled from the ceiling in Langley, kicking off the Mission: Impossible franchise as we know it. Although the films have evolved and the baddies have changed, one thing that hasn't are the high energy action sequences that this series is known for and Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 is no exception.
Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 Review
Dead Reckoning Part One finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his Impossible Mission Force team pitted against “The Entity,” a rogue AI program that has found itself in the center of a worldwide arms race. Every powerful nation what's to get their hands on a key that will allow them to control The Entity. Henry Czerny's Eugene Kittridge makes his ominous return to the franchise, warning that control of The Entity means control of the truth, the power to make right and wrong as the user sees fit. Ethan however believes it should be destroyed. Naturally that doesn't sit well with any of the people in charge so now Ethan is racing against the clock to get the two parts of the key before anyone, including a past foe named Gabriel (Essai Morales), can get their hands on it. Ethan must rely on Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), as well as Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and unlikely ally Grace (Hayley Atwell) to stop The Entity from falling into the wrong hands.
Part one of two, Dead Reckoning has the monumental task of being satisfying on its own while also laying the groundwork for a larger narrative that won't conclude until the next film. Not only that, but the story itself has lofty aspirations– mainly making the timely threat of AI sound terrifying and less like a Scooby-Doo villain living in his parents' basement. Of the former, the film is entertaining enough to capture audiences looking for a big summer blockbuster. The high energy, insane action sequences are exactly what we have come to expect from this franchise, with Cruise showing off his daredevil skills. Atwell is a great addition to the core group and her Grace plays well off of Cruise's Ethan. The latter however toes the line between serious and silly, but is mostly hindered by the incessant repeating of what the MacGuffin is and why it needs to be stopped.
This should come as no surprise but the returning cast, including Czerny, fall right back into comfortable banter with each other. The bickering between Benji and Luther while an exasperated Hunt tries to get their attention is particularly fun. Dead Reckoning Part 1 introduces several new characters, many that will likely be seen again in Part Two when it comes around next year. Atwell's cheeky and mysterious thief Grace is the main standout of the newcomers. She is partnered with Ethan for most of the film and they work well together. Despite just meeting the sibling feelings towards each other are established quickly and believably. Similar to Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Harrison Ford in Dial of Destiny, she acts as a foil for Hunt. Because even he follows the rules sometimes. Their mishaps are hilarious and act as some of the most memorable moments in the film, particularly the Fiat scene. Grace doesn't get a lot of character building, outside of Gabriel doing the I know your secret past bit. Hopefully she is rounded out in the next one instead of being left one dimensional.
Morales' Gabriel is the human stand-in for The Entity, the flesh and blood character for Ethan to set his eyes on while pursuing the digital one. He has also been retconned into the franchise in order to reinforce the anger Ethan has towards Gabriel. Morales does well playing the convincing unhinged disciple of AI even if he says it is written one too many times. The biggest crime of this film is not the dialogue, more on that in a second, but the underuse of the incredible Pom Klementieff. Klementieff plays Paris, the ruthless leader of Gabriel's forces. Instead of utilizing her incredible talent, she is relegated to the “Silent Asian” trope– barely given more than two sentences worth of lines in the entire runtime. She lights up the screen without words but that is no excuse for this massive letdown.
The action is the star of this franchise and everyone knows it including director Christopher McQuarrie. In him, Cruise has found a director that will indulge him pushing limits and boundaries. The two understand each other well, delivering moments that blend CGI with practical effects resulting in scenes that are jaw-dropping and heart-stopping. Despite having caught glimpses of all the major moments in the marketing leading up to the film's release, it never felt any less exciting. The standout is the climatic train scene, even if it does check all the Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt boxes. Jump off a cliff, run along a moving train, explosions… check, check, and check. The fact that the scene doesn't even peak with the motorcycle ride off the cliff just proves how this franchise has upped the ante in every way when it comes to stunts.
Dead Reckoning Part One is a solid action film with plenty to offer but as mentioned, the dialogue and overall plot suffer some pitfalls. The bloated runtime could have been cut down considerably if director McQuarrie and his co-writer Erik Jendresen trusted the audience more. The MacGuffin is explained over and over and over again, including what it is, what it does, and why they need to get it before someone else does. It was an exposition dump that seriously slowed the pacing of the movie down each time it was brought up. McQuarrie and Jendresen were clearly trying to build a Cold War era level of unease but it just felt wholly unnecessary. After all, the opening sequence and the meeting held to discuss the ramifications of The Entity laid the groundwork nicely for why this thing needs to be stopped. No further talking points needed.
Action-first, story-later has been the formula used by McQuarrie and Cruise since they first joined forces in 2015's Mission Impossible Rogue Nation. For Dead Reckoning, McQuarrie seemingly takes a step back from this to pay homage to the first film and Brian De Palma’s approach to spy thrillers. The camera moves between wide shots of the film's massive set pieces to extreme close-ups that add to the feeling of the paranoia the characters are projecting to the audience. Aside from that, McQuarrie also emphasizes some self awareness to how cheesy some of the genre's staples have come to be including but not limited to the pulling off a face to reveal surprise! Tom Cruise.
Even though this is very much a set-up film, Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One delivers the crazy, intense spectacle fans have come to expect from this franchise. Despite its weak points, specifically underusing Klementieff and padding the runtime with unnecessary exposition, this film is poised to be the big summer blockbuster Cruise has hyped it up to be. My hope is that Dead Reckoning Part 2 will spend more time fleshing out characters like Grace and less time explaining what I'm watching. Take a cue from John Wick 4 and just let Cruise do what he does best. More insane action set pieces less talking.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is in theaters July 12. The film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and suggestive material with a runtime of 163 minutes.