Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One delivers the old-school thrills missing from most modern action movies.
PLOT: Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back in a battle against “The Entity,” a state-of-the-art, self-aware AI that threatens to topple the world’s government. Battling an old foe (Esai Morales) for a key that The Entity wants, Hunt has to recruit his old team, plus a master pickpocket (Hayley Atwell) for his most impossible mission yet.
REVIEW: One has to give Tom Cruise and his director Christopher McQuarrie credit. The two consistently push the envelope, and in each other, the two have found kindred spirits bent on delivering the type of old-school thrills you don’t see anymore. After watching the latest Indiana Jones lose its soul in a sea of CGI and the various superhero movies, it’s a treat to see Cruise and McQuarrie doing real, cutting-edge practical action with some legitimate stakes. When people die, they stay dead, and as invincible as Cruise’s Ethan Hunt may seem, there are limits to his prowess. Unlike other action stars, he doesn’t always come out ahead in fights. His vulnerability is the key to his likability.
What’s always made Ethan Hunt such a likable hero is his moral code, along with the fact that, as always, his life is secondary to those he loves – his friends – even if inevitably being associated with him puts them in danger. Cruise’s Hunt is more world-weary this time as if the weight of thirty years of service is finally weighing on him. The movie kicks off when he’s sent to intercept a deal involving Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust, who’s seemingly gone rogue. Once again, though, he’s not being told all he needs to know by his boss, Kittridge (Henry Czerny – in a nice full circle moment for the franchise), and he’ll have to use his own moral code to take down the movie’s big bad.
What’s interesting is how Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t hesitate to go full sci-fi, with Hunt battling a rogue AI called “The Entity,” which has enlisted a baddie so evil in Esai Morales’s Gabriel that Faust calls him “a dark messiah, death is his gift to the world.” If it sounds a bit overwrought, well, go with it. The movie, which is somewhat more sombre than previous instalments, seems to be building towards something of a climax for Hunt, even though, as Cruise has said, this isn’t necessarily the end of the road for the character.
What the movies have always been known for are the action scenes, and there are some spectacular ones here, including a frantic car chase through Rome that puts a similar one in Fast X to shame. The climactic train sequence, which involves Cruise’s motorcycle jump, is one for the ages. It climaxes in a fight on top of a train which seems to be a direct reference to the ending of the first Mission: Impossible, only done practically and on a grander scale. The stuntwork, much of it done by Cruise himself, is jaw-dropping, especially at the very end, which I won’t spoil here.
Cruise is pitch-perfect as Hunt, and his supporting cast is once again top-notch. Rebecca Ferguson’s Isla Faust deserves her own spin-off, with her one of the best action heroines out there. All of Cruise’s leading ladies are excellent here, with Hayley Atwell getting the movie’s second leading role as the pickpocket who becomes embroiled in Hunt’s mission and winds up being his foil. Pom Klementieff is also really impressive as the nearly mute Paris, a bleached blonde assassin who chases Hunt around like he’s the Road Runner, only to have a deeper payoff than expected. Morales’s Gabriel is undercooked in that he’s built up to be pure evil and not much else, but it works for the film’s tone. Pegg and Rhames are having a ball as always, while Shea Wigham, sporting an excellent coif, is another agent sent after Hunt, with Greg Tarzan Davis as his partner, both of whom alternately chase and help Hunt as required by the plot. Plus, Vanessa Kirby returns as The White Widow, a beguiling arms dealer who, I noticed, never blinks.
Additionally, the movie has an incredible look, especially if you see it on IMAX. Fraser Taggart’s cinematography is impressive, seemingly paying homage to the kind of adventure movies they used to make in the sixties (like Where Eagles Dare and the early James Bond’s), and the production design this time is remarkable. What’s cool is how tactile everything feels. You can tell CGI was used sparingly; if it was, it’s almost invisible. The score, by Lorne Balfe, is good as always, nicely complimenting the movie’s darker tone by occasionally taking on a more bittersweet, sombre tone.
My only complaint is that “The Entity,” given what we know about AI now, is a bit quaint with it presented through this eye avatar as a singular being, like Skynet. Then again, a movie about an actual battle against AI would mostly take place with people on computers. Frankly, I prefer Tom Cruise jumping motorcycles off mountains onto a train.
As far as action movies go, you aren’t likely to see anything come out in the same league as this until Cruise and company return with Dead Reckoning Part Two. Like John Wick Chapter 4, it proves that the old ways are always better, with less CGI and more actual stunts.