Tom Cruise returns for more stunt spectacle than ever in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which is as exhausting as its title.
If the previous film in the Mission: Impossible series, Fallout, was this franchise working at the height of its powers, then Dead Reckoning Part One, the seventh installment, certainly signals the initial come-down. It’s still working at a level far higher than anyone might have expected when Tom Cruise first portrayed Ethan Hunt in the strikingly different 1996 starter. But as the years wane, we’re now watching a blockbuster telling itself to slow down in short spurts. But maybe in being about its failure to relive the past, Dead Reckoning sets itself up for a final chapter that it can choose to accept.
The first surprise longtime fans of Mission: Impossible might notice in Dead Reckoning is that this two-parter has to consistently put the typically superhuman Ethan Hunt even more on the backfoot than usual. Christopher McQuarrie returns for a third time as director and co-screenwriter with Erik Jendresen, but it’s clear to see that the real mastermind behind the affair is Tom Cruise himself. And he has a lot to say about himself.
He also, apparently, has the dominance of technology and A.I. on his mind, as the practical-effects-fueled, set-piece-driven film centers around a global arms race for something a bit more prescient than a nuclear bomb. A weapon of mass destruction takes the form of an artificial intelligence capable of running the entire world and re-coding the very concept of truth. And while every power on earth wants to capture and control this “entity” — including the United States government, naturally — Ethan Hunt and his merry band of rogue freedom fighting spies have decided to go against the entire world and kill it.
“Our lives are the sum of our choices.”
It’s remarkable to see Dead Reckoning land at around the same time as Fast X, which has similarly evolved as a long-running blockbuster franchise centered around a found family that opens its final(?) chapter with a deconstruction of its main hero. While Fast X boasts the vastly more intriguing villain between the two films, Dead Reckoning is a tighter, more focused bonanza of sheer visual excitement. But both films truly understand that their main characters need a little kick in the pants in order to properly tee up the next film.
In the case of Dead Reckoning, Ethan Hunt can’t seem to catch a break. The established formula until now has been: Hunt and his team face an impossible challenge, come up with a smart plan, and have to improvise when dealt with unforeseen disruptions. It’s the heist formula at its most essential, and the fun has always been in watching the hyper-competent Hunt overcome these problems, which are almost always circumstantial, not a result of his own poor decision-making (at least since Mission: Impossible III).
Not so this time. Hunt constantly makes mistakes and even comments on how his initial plans are pretty much doomed from the start. These movies have never felt more impossible, weirdly enough, and it helps that the light tone allows for a goofier MacGuffin in the form of two keys that unlock “something,” with the central joke being that no one even knows what the dang thing even unlocks. But it’s fine. The audience doesn’t have to care about the details for the same reason the characters don’t. What we care about is that they care about doing the thing and getting it done, and everyone else wants this thing so badly, of course we want them to want it.
“The world is coming after you.”
It’s a good film with an inherent problem. It doesn’t tell a complete story. True, we’ve seen similar films avoid the “Part One” problem, but Dead Reckoning Part One steers right into its shortcomings by abruptly ending with a literal cliffhanger.
And it doesn’t help that the film lacks compelling villainy, too. Esai Morales will perhaps have something more interesting to do in the next film and Pom Klementieff thanklessly plays a carbon copy of her silent assassin in Thunder Force — seriously, there’s more of a departure when it comes to her Mantis performances in two of the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The film also lays waste to the once promising Isa character (Rebecca Ferguson), who began in Rogue Nation as a compelling femme fatale foil and has since been oversimplified to Ethan’s on-again-off-again platonic paramour with good rifle aim.
Thankfully, there are so many other supporting players to pick up the slack, Dead Reckoning dodges tedium on a tightrope. Franchise mainstay Ving Rhames and duly elected comic relief Simon Pegg are as effortlessly comfortable in their specialist roles as ever, and newcomer Hayley Atwell brings a Catwoman vibe to the ensemble that reminds of the charm potential Ana de Armas utilized in far less runtime with No Time to Die.
The bottom line.
It’s hard to fully judge Dead Reckoning Part One, because it’s far too dependent on whatever will transpire when Part Two arrives next June. Until then, it’s still just half a movie, but at least it’s a solidly thrilling one designed to put its thumb in the eye of algorithmic studio blockbusters obsessed with shortcutting the humanity of the people who make these movies. And watching Tom Cruise risk his life to make a motorcycle diving off a cliff look marginally more realistic might make us feel a little too guilty to say otherwise. But the man has at least one saving grace to keep these movies soaring. He doesn’t have to do it alone.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One opens in theaters starting July 12. Watch the trailer here.
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures and Skydance. Read more articles by Jon Negroni here.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE - 7.5/10