Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Review | Everybody Wants to Rule the World

by Andrew Parker

The dictionary definition of everything an action packed summer blockbuster starring Tom Cruise should be (and then some), Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One takes the now seven movie franchise to new heights with a few perceptive and novel looks to its past. In terms of giving the viewer what they paid for in the form of wall-to-wall bombast, spectacle, and derring-do, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of John Wick Chapter 4 in the “bang for one’s buck” department, and at times crosses the line into the sublimely ludicrous territory normally reserved for Transformers and Fast and Furious movies, albeit without sacrificing narrative quality and mechanics like those series have been known to do. It’s as satisfying as a ten course meal with an unlimited dessert buffet, and probably the best entry of Cruise’s series thus far, depending on who you ask and what they look for in one of these. (I’m still partial to Ghost Protocol, but really, there are no wrong answers here.)

This time out, Impossible Mission Force member Ethan Hunt is trying to track down two halves of a crucifix key that will unlock a secret McGuffin on board a downed Russian submarine that lies at the bottom of the sea. The contents of the submarine are of tremendous value to pretty much every power broker and arms dealer on the planet, as they could be used to control a powerful artificial intelligence algorithm that has become sentient, constantly referred to as The Entity. Aided by his closest allies – tech wizards Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) and dangerous confidant Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) – and a potentially double crossing master thief (Hayley Atwell), Ethan tries to stay one step ahead of not only the human villains who wish him harm and their shifting allegiances, but also a computer program that’s capable of making all of their lives a living hell from a distance.

Returning director and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie has firmly settled into a confident and fully capable groove with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. Three films into their working relationship on this franchise, McQuarrie and Cruise have firmly established what they want the series to look and feel like: jaw- dropping, large scale action sequences where the leading man literally puts his own life on the line to entertain crossed with zig-zagging spy movie plotting designed to enthral the viewer just as much as the showier stuff. Both the script and the overall vision for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One are impeccable in their maximalism; layer after layer of moving parts and varied ingredients assembled with clockwork precision and white gloved care. 

Cruise’s commitment to making sure the viewer’s pulse stays racing throughout is practically unparalleled, as he also displayed by almost singlehandedly reviving moviegoing last year with Top Gun: Maverick. As much as the film is directed by McQuarrie, it’s clear that Cruise is the guiding force behind these films. As Ethan Hunt, Cruise has shown an ability to take an idea spun off from an old television show and turn it into a showcase for not only his own talents as a dramatically and physically capable performer, but for hundreds of other craftspeople at the top of their game professionally and dozens of character actors equally capable of killing it on screen. There isn’t a performance, line of dialogue, or stunt that feels out of place, and considering that Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is as much of a cinematic behemoth as the title suggests, that’s one hell of an accomplishment. On screen and off, Cruise is a team leader in the truest sense of the term, whether he’s trying to make sense of everything around him as an actor or leaping off the side of a cliff.

Dead Reckoning is peppered with familiar faces who haven’t lost a step, including Henry Czerny, returning as a character that hasn’t been seen on screen since the first film. Atwell is an ace addition to the cast, capable of matching Cruise almost beat for beat when it comes to action, charm, and acting ability, as is Pom Klementieff who plays an enigmatic assassin of sorts. McQuarrie knows precisely how to utilize character actor Shea Whigham, who plays a military agent tasked with bringing Ethan in and stop his quest for the key. But perhaps the biggest standout here is Esai Morales, who turns in one of the best performances in his perpetually underrated career as the film’s villain, a chilling, cunning psycho with deep ties to Ethan’s past. While Cruise is the star of the show, everyone here is given a chance to shine and show off in their own way.

The film also offers up clear nods to past instalments, not only in terms of its returning characters, but in subtler ways. Visually and narratively, Dead Reckoning is highly indebted to Brian De Palma’s first film, with the twisty narrative offering a nice point of comparison, and cinematographer Fraser Taggert utilizing a lot of tight, low angle shots. The sometimes playfully surreal action sequences, which include a comedic car chase where two drivers are handcuffed together and a whopper of a grand finale that somehow incorporates deep fryers and pianos, is reminiscent of John Woo’s second franchise instalment. McQuarrie also lifts the emotional weight of the third film, the globe trotting glee of the fourth, and the overall structure of his own two previous franchise efforts. It initially seemed like Cruise and company were trying to break away from the past from the fourth film onward, but now the series seems to be striking a nice nostalgic balance of the old and new.

The film’s contextualizing of “the ghost in the machine” as something quite literal is admittedly silly, and the plot can be just as exhausting to keep up with as the relentless action sequences because pretty much anything that comes out of any character’s mouth can be construed as a lie. It’s a lot of movie with almost no letting up, but when the overall construction is this creative, resourceful, and detail oriented, it’s hard to complain, even though, as the title suggests, the movie itself isn’t technically over after viewers leave the theatre. It’s not only the most movie you can see this summer for the price of admission this summer. It’s also one of the best.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One opens in theatres everywhere on Wednesday, July 12, 2023.

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