THE STORY – Ethan Hunt and the IMF team must track down a terrifying new weapon that threatens all of humanity if it falls into the wrong hands. With control of the future and the fate of the world at stake, a deadly race around the globe begins. Confronted by a mysterious, all-powerful enemy, Ethan is forced to consider that nothing can matter more than the mission — not even the lives of those he cares about most.
THE CAST – Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Esai Morales, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Pom Klementieff, Shea Whigham & Henry Czerny
THE TEAM – Christopher McQuarrie (Director/Writer) & Erik Jendresen (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 163 Minutes
Hot off of the biggest box office success of his career with last year’s Oscar-winning “Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise is also following up the most successful “Mission: Impossible” film yet with 2018’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” Re-teaming with director Christopher McQuarrie for their third successive “Mission: Impossible” film and fourth film overall, the long-awaited and much-delayed (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is finally here, and it may prove to be the most challenging mission for the franchise yet: besting “Mission: Impossible – Fallout.” Although it may be a step down from what Cruise and McQuarrie achieved in 2018, the new mission for the IMF is still a thrilling, self-aware, and admirable effort from all parties involved to craft the largest, most daring “Mission: Impossible” film as it attempts to connect the franchise back to the first film and forge a new path ahead into the concerning dangers of artificial intelligence.
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the IMF crew (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg as Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn, respectively) have been prohibited by the United States Government from going rogue on any of their missions anymore. However, there is a global race by the world’s most dangerous and well-funded organizations to find two parts of a key that will give its holder complete control over the ultimate weapon. Unlike other “Mission: Impossible” films, this weapon is not a nuclear bomb, harmful gas, or anything like the franchise has seen before. This weapon is A.I. or, as the story deems it, “the entity,” a far-reaching, free-thinking algorithm capable of crushing entire civilizations via. their internal networks and throwing the whole world into chaos. The entity has chosen Gabriel (“Ozark’s” Esai Morales) as its representative to find the key before anyone else does. After making her franchise debut in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” Vanessa Kirby returns as Alanna Mitsopolis, a black-market arms dealer codenamed the “White Widow, ” who is also looking to obtain the key by brokering a deal. Former director of the IMF, but now head of the C.I.A. Eugene Kittridge (a returning Henry Czerny who was last seen in the franchise’s first film, “Mission: Impossible” from 1996) tasks Ethan Hunt with locating the key for the United States government before anyone else does so the United States can use the threat of it against their enemies. But Ethan has another plan: to destroy it. At the behest of “The Community” (a group made up of leaders of various intelligence agencies starring a who’s who of actors including Cary Elwes, Charles Parnell, Rob Delaney, Indira Varma, and Mark Gatiss), Kittridge sends agent Jasper Briggs (Shea Whigham), an enforcer for the Community, along with his partner, Degas (Greg Tarzan Davis) to bring Ethan and his team in for, once again, going rogue in their mission for serving the greater good. Knowing the eventual outcome for all parties involved, or so he says, due to his relationship with the entity, Gabriel sends a French assassin, Paris (Pom Klementieff), to hunt down Hunt and his team and find the key. Along the way, Ethan meets Grace (Hayley Atwell), a skilled thief whose unique pickpocketing skills he feels could benefit the IMF as she unwillingly becomes entangled in this deadly mission. Ethan’s search brings him across all four corners of the world, starting with Abu Dhabi, where his respected friend (and perhaps more than that) Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Fergusson) may have the first half of the key.
The story of “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning” is so expansive that for the first time in the franchise’s history, McQuarrie and Cruise felt the story needed to be divided into two parts. Thought at one time to be the final film(s) in the franchise due to the epic nature of the storytelling, which has global stakes that take the franchise far beyond where it’s attempted to go before, Cruise, at over the age of 60 has repeatedly shown he has no intention of slowing down or ending the franchise any time soon. His physical commitment to performing as much of the film’s stunts as humanly possible is well-documented, and each “Mission: Impossible” film has always had a standout stunt that has captured audiences’ imaginations, whether it’s swinging around the outside of the world’s tallest building in “Ghost Protocol,” hanging off the side of an airplane while it was in flight in “Rogue Nation,” or launching himself out of a plane 25,000 feet in the air and becoming the first person ever to execute a HALO jump on film in “Fallout.” In “Dead Reckoning Part One,” the grand stunt is the most dangerous Cruise has ever attempted: riding a motorcycle off a ramp on a mountain. More specifically, he drove a custom-made Honda CRF 250 off a purpose-built ramp on Norway’s Helsetkopen mountain, a vertiginous rock face that sits 1,200 meters above sea level. Then he plunged 4,000 feet into the ravine below before opening his parachute barely 500 feet from the ground. Being the madman that he is, after the first day of principal photography and once again risking his life for our entertainment, Cruise would go on to do the stunt another seven times to ensure McQuarrie got the footage he needed. This level of dedication is felt throughout “Dead Reckoning” and despite whatever convoluted storytelling blunders or other faults the film may contain, seeing and knowing it’s actually Tom Cruise, at his age, and with the stardom he possesses performing these death-defying stunts is nothing short of awe-inspiring, even more so if you experience the film in IMAX theaters with the biggest screen and loudest sound possible.
The “Mission: Impossible” movies have grown steadily more aware of what audiences have come to expect from them over the years, and considering McQuarrie is the first director in the franchise to bring a certain level of continuity to the films; it’s no surprise to see “Dead Reckoning” having more fun with itself than previous films. Watching Ethan Hunt hesitating to ride the motorcycle off the side of the mountain is hilarious precisely because we know Tom Cruise takes pleasure in performing the stunt. Hearing jokes about “The other IMF!” or Luther calling out the absurdity of the mission to the righteous Ethan Hunt by telling him, “Ethan, you’re playing four-dimensional chess with an algorithm!” is hilarious and a welcome evolution for the franchise as audiences have grown to care about these characters, their dynamic teamwork (entirely on display in the fun airport caper sequence where their skills are all put to the test as they attempt to retrieve one half of the key from Grace while being pursued by Briggs and his agents) and unwavering protection for one another not because of stakes of the mission, but simply because they’re friends. However, such established stakes introduce a raised amount of risk for Ethan as he is continuously placed in dramatic predicaments by Gabriel, where he must choose between saving a member of his team or continuing the mission. While these emotional stakes are welcome, how the story decides to deal with them (without getting into spoilers) is one of the more questionable choices made in “Dead Reckoning,” which will likely leave a large portion of the fan base feeling angered and cheated.
The globe-trotting mission takes Ethan and his team through the labyrinth streets and canals of Venice, Italy, in an exciting car chase sequence involving an electric yellow Fiat 500. Adding more intrigue to the scene, Cruise and Atwell are humorously handcuffed together as Ethan cannot allow Grace to get away with the key. The action is loud, thunderous even, as cars crash, tires screech, and a deranged Pom Klementieff manically smiles and laughs as she pursues Ethan in a much larger vehicle, crushing anything in her way. There’s also a memorable fight sequence between Cruise and Klementieff in a tight alleyway, constricting their movements and paths for escape as Paris slugs at Ethan with a lead pipe. Klementieff is a sadistic joy to watch in “Dead Reckoning” and, along with Atwell, is a fantastic addition to the franchise. Both of these ladies, alongside Fergusson and Kirby (who has a lot of tricky comedic bits in the third act), prove that outside of Cruise, it’s the women who rule this franchise, and each of them gets their standout moments to kick ass and dominate the screen. More so than anything, their involvement in the story drives the anticipation for “Part Two” to see where McQuarrie will take them as the franchise continues to expand and top itself.
But getting back to what was said earlier, while “Dead Reckoning” is indeed taking all of the knowledge Cruise has accumulated over decades of working in the industry and with McQuarrie on these films in particular, there are surprisingly several errors perpetrated along the way, namely, having to do with the film’s cinematography. “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” was a downright gorgeous-looking movie with the best framed and shot sequences the franchise had ever seen up until that point. Fraser Taggart’s work on “Dead Reckoning,” although not without its own notably beautiful moments, suffers from a murky color grading and overall lack of visual flair that makes the film ugly to look at during some points. Perhaps it was the restrictions that were placed during the production during COVID-19? Because otherwise, how else would one explain some questionable editing choices involving many mismatched cuts, odd ADR, and close-up shot selection choices that feel disorienting? All of this, on top of some of the complex motivations of some of the characters, exemplified by one scene, in particular, involving Hunt, Gabriel, Alanna, Isla, and Grace, where the audience is left puzzled by who has the upper hand and who is aligning with who and to what end during the tense scene, places “Dead Reckoning” not near the top of the very best of what the franchise has given us in the past but it’s not necessarily near the bottom either.
Despite these misgivings, the third act of “Dead Reckoning,” with the before-mentioned motorcycle jump off of the mountain onto a moving train, features a dazzling escalation of tension as the cars from the train dangle and slowly fall off the edge of a cliff, placing Hunt and Grace in physical situations which will remind viewers of the kind of practical set destruction and gravitational shifts found in James Cameron’s work. One problem gets stacked on top of another to outrageous degrees of gleeful audience delight as Grace and Ethan climb their way from one car to the next, and each time you think they’re safe, gravity finds a way to keep putting them in harm’s way. And if that wasn’t enough, Cruise makes sure to do some speedflying through the mountains of Norway. Why? Because he can!
“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” represents a curious but fascinating point in the action blockbuster franchise’s history. Its popularity has never been higher; thus, audience expectation has risen to unprecedented heights. It’s fully cognizant of what came before and knows it needs to outdo itself in all areas, from action to story. McQuarrie and Cruise have respectably put together a big-screen movie experience that attempts to tie the story back to the first film in the franchise (even choosing to conclude with a fight on top of a moving train, contrasting how far the franchise has come since 1996) while introducing new characters. The film deals with intriguing themes involving the threat of A.I., which feels all the more relevant and urgent than ever before. Still, we will need to wait just a little bit longer to see how McQuarrie and Cruise wrap up the story when “Dead Reckoning Part Two” releases next summer. Where the franchise goes after that is totally up to Cruise and McQuarrie. While audiences may run just as fast as Cruise still famously does on screen to catch the first half of this epic story, they should head in knowing it’s not the finest “Mission: Impossible” film yet, but it’s undoubtedly the most ambitious.