Principal Cast : Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Mariela Garriga, Henry Czerny, Shea Whigham, Carey Elwes, Greg Tarzan Davis, Frederick Schmidt.
Synopsis: Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands.
The seventh (and penultimate?) instalment of Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible franchise, Dead Reckoning Part One continues the latter-stage myth-making and ongoing continuity that started with Ghost Protocol, and has continued under the masterful penmanship and razor-sharp direction of Christopher McQuarrie, a man to whom Cruise has formed a formidable creative partnership and for whom this film – and no doubt the grand conclusion to come – is set to be the legacy of all involved. Whether Mission Impossible continues on following Dead Reckoning’s conclusion in Part Two, set to drop in 2024, or whether its fully reset or rebooted, Paramount Pictures’ preeminent cash cow (no, not Transformers or its palpably silly partnership with the wider Hasbro universe…) has become an enduring staple of the Hollywood superstar’s career, and perhaps the one for which he’s best known.
I don’t say that flippantly, either. For while Cruise rakes in box-office gold in tentpole entries such as Top Gun Maverick and the Jack Reacher brand, or critical bombs like The Mummy or American Made, few would argue that the actor has made the role of Ethan Hunt, the eponymous IMF agent with a penchant for going rogue, arguably his most popular character. The fact that Cruise also uses the Mission Impossible franchise as a platform to deliver batshit-crazy stunts like hanging from the side of the world’s tallest building, or clinging to the side of a cargo plane as it takes off, or performing several dozen HALO jumps in the course of making Fallout, isn’t without consideration either, with the actor’s dedication to authentic audience entertainment a part of the selling point of a film with his name on it. Where stuntmen fear to tread…. Cruise delivers.
Dead Reckoning Part One sees Ethan Hunt and his team of IMF operatives, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luthor Stickell (Ving Rhames), as well as British secret agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), trying to combat the world-ending threat of a super powerful Artificial Intelligence known as The Entity. They are aided by thief and pickpocket Grace (Haley Atwell), who joins their group to fight the Entity’s henchman, Gabriel (Esai Morales) and Paris (Pom Klementieff), while former black market arms dealer Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby) is also circling for opportunity. Hunt is hobbled somewhat by the actions of former IMF chief, now CIA Director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, returning to the franchise for the first time after the original film), who has designs on the Entity’s power for himself, while US Intelligence agent Denlinger (Shea Wigham) is also after Hunt. Thus begins a trans-continental race against technology, with the fate of the world at stake.
One thing to note about Dead Reckoning, a lot of time is spent focusing on the plot’s MacGuffin, known as “the key”. The key, which spends most of the film split into two segments like a really upmarket take on Shazzan, is the primary focus of the film, and truth be told the constant manoeuvring of this plot conceit into various people’s hands (knowingly or unknowingly) represents a lot of running time real estate, something I forgive Christopher McQuarrie for because it’s obvious the whole thing is a setup for what’s to come in Part Two later. But whereas the various things Ethan and his crew have tracked in previous films, such as the NOC list in the original movie and the Rabbit’s Foot in MI3, have almost been adjacent to the overall plot in terms of importance, the Key (and to a similar degree the Entity itself) is the preeminent point of interest for this film and are front-and-center almost the entire time. By placing such importance on these two elements reduces a lot of the emotional underpinning of the movie, which moves at a rapid pace and stops almost for no-one save a few brief interludes with returning co-star Henry Czerny at moments of introspective exposition, leaving the development of the relationship between Hunt and newcomer Grace, played by a terrific Hayley Atwell, and Hunt and his other team members, decidedly in the background.
Instead, the crazy stunts and astoundingly improbable plot contrivances giving our heroes a mandate to travel the globe (well, mostly Europe) take pride of place as Hunt and his team spend a fair chunk of the film trying to outwit and outthink a computer algorithm, ponder the meaning of life, and ultimately engage in a fairly high rate of espionage antics that makes James Bond looks positively antiquarian. From protracted car chases through the streets of Rome, to a quite potent chase and fight through the canals and alleyways of Venice, to a lengthy train-bound sequence upon which the film’s finale hinges, McQuarrie, Cruise and the stunt teams involved pull out all the stops to make Part One of this Grand Finale two-hander as thrilling and entertaining as is humanly possible, and they largely succeed. It is a bit annoying that a lot of the film is spent in a state of near confusion, betrayal and one-upping each other with glances and convenience rather than anything resembling actual character development – Ethan’s girlfriend/wife, utilised in both Fallout and MI3 to considerable effect, has no play here this time – and while I guess the bombast might overcome shallow arcs for our main players it does little to further the growth of Ethan Hunt as a person instead of an ageing action hero.
Cruise is, as always, at his best playing Tom Cruise. Ethan Hunt has, from what I can tell, very little Venn Diagram intersectionality with Cruise the actor, instead almost being a complete single circle. Cruise’s commitment to thrilling the audience is apparent with the much-hyped motorcycle-over-a-cliff sequence that appears in the film’s mighty third act, and no doubt all the driving, falling, fighting and injurious action are all played as real as can possibly be here. There were, however, a few moments in Dead Reckoning where the star is really starting to show his age – Cruise is 61, and while he may have been able to pass for early-to-mid 50’s in Fallout, the advance of time is now starting to catch up with him a little – and the fact he’s continually romantically partnered on-screen with women half his age (or younger) is now starting to become a problem. It’s not a fatal blow to Dead Reckoning, and is perhaps more a problem for whatever franchise he takes up with next, but the cracks are just starting to show here. But his performance dramatically here is from the top shelf, and flawless for a character he’s known for three decades now. Supporting players Simon Pegg, as Benji, and Ving Rhames, as Stikell, are given plenty to do and maintain the rage that Hunt is nothing without his team, a stark contrast to James Bond’s multitudinous solo outings, while Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby have some nice moments to build upon their established characters.
Incoming screen villain Esai Morales, as Gabriel, is quite fun to watch as he scowls and suaves his way through this movie, although he really isn’t a patch on the franchise’s best Big Bad in Sean Harris, playing the role more like Javier Bardem in Skyfall and absolutely providing a terrific foil for the enigmatic Cruise. Morales’ on-screen henchwoman, Paris, is given admirable depth by Marvel star Pom Klementieff, while the likes of Carey Elwes and Shea Whigham offer solid chuckles and motivations in supporting roles. I’ve already mentioned Henry Czerny, but allow me to reiterate: the man plays slimy smug asshole better than almost anyone alive, and he absolutely plays it to the hilt here. The fact he wasn’t brought back to the franchise for any of the sequels before this is arguably one of the only real missteps Cruise and the film’s producers had in the last thirty years. A fantastic actor in a great role, and I hope this role sees his career in mainstream Hollywood blockbusters reinvigorated.
From the bombastic opening theme music (Lalo Schifrin you absolute star) to the multi-pronged train-set climax wrapped in an AI-infused plot torn from today’s headlines, Dead Reckoning Part One is a satisfying action film designed to maximise the engagement of its top-line cast and leading man, the exotic locations utilised in the production, and a convoluted plot trying to overly complicate things, and comes up a winner. It may not be the best of the MI films to-date, but it’s certainly one of the more propulsive and that covers a multitude of sins. Definitely a Big Screen movie, watch this one on the largest format possible and ensure it’s turned up loud. Highly recommended.