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Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 Review: Bigger Explosions and Self-Effacing Humor Save Latest Tom Cruise Action Flick

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Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 / Paramount

Tom Cruise is perhaps the last great action hero, and the Mission: Impossible series his last, grand stand. In the latest installment, Dead Reckoning, Part 1, the band that has worked well together for the last two movies, including Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg return for a new high-stakes adventure that is as predictable as it is exciting.

The end result is a movie whose biggest flaw is ultimately its length and greatest asset is not the megastar at its core but the self-deprecating nature of the script and story, courtesy of the series’ recent writer-director Christopher McQuarrie. Hollywood as we have known it is ending—or at least changing—with the Mission: Impossible series one of its few remaining, old school franchises.

As should be familiar to all fans of the story, Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, an agent on a deadly mission of worldwide consequence on behalf of the rogue government agency known as IMF. It does not stand for “International Monetary Fund,” as one character quips early on, nodding to the story’s lack of originality and perhaps dose of silliness at inception. Instead, it means “Impossible Mission Force,” and sets members upon objectives—should they choose to accept them—that can only be pulled off against all odds, with small chance of survival, and no official backing by any official country. 

Hunt is aided throughout by sidekicks Luther (Rhames) and Benji (Pegg), two gadget wizards that stream the coordinates of baddies to Hunt as the trapezes around various locations. In another amusing sequence—where a nuclear bomb countdowns at the airport and is deactivated with 00:00:00.02 seconds left on the time—Benji, too, comments on the somewhat ludicrous nature of these adventures. These are Dead Reckoning’s best moments, those where it both throws back at some of the more successful sequences from the past six movies, but, importantly, where it does so with self-reference, self-critique, and sincere humility.

(L-R) Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 / Paramount

The plot is where this chapter of Mission: Impossible begins to stumble. A computer called “The Entity” has become sentient. The program—which exists everywhere and nowhere (sort of)—can attack countries as well as people by infecting, always permanently, anything connected to electronics and the internet. Hunt is tasked with recovering control of this being before it falls into the wrong hands, including potentially those of his benefactors.

Vanessa Kirby also returns as Alanna Mistopolis, a ruthless arms dealer that is as beautiful as she is deadly. Pom Klementieff is Paris, a deadly assassin with questionable motives, and Esai Morales is Gabriel, Ethan’s principal adversary in this story. Hayley Atwell plays Grace, this film’s ingenue—eh, serial thief who ping pongs in loyalty but who predictably is slated for Hunt’s protective arms. All of these actors are excellent in their own ways, and the cast jives perfectly with each other. Perhaps the most honorable mention goes to Henry Czerny, who returns for the first time since the original 1996 film as the former director of the IMF.

Cruise (R) with Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 / Paramount

Dead Reckoning – Part One proceeds from this premise as you would expect. Ethan repeatedly obtains and then loses the keys needed to control the Entity. The action careens from the Middle East, to Rome, to a fast-paced, heart-pounding train chase aboard The Orient Express. Cars are chased and smashed, loyalties are betrayed. It is all remarkably exciting and incredibly predictable, with nearly overt references to sequences gathered from films as far and wide as Back to the Future and Titanic, not to mention the original Mission: Impossible itself. Below the line, too, the filmmakers acquit themselves acceptably. Eddie Hamilton’s editing is crisp and preserves the exciting nature of proceedings. An impressive score that riffs off of the classic theme song by Lorne Balfe keeps the audience subconsciously distracted. 

Ultimately, however, this Mission Impossible is merely good, and certainly not great. Why was another extended 25 minute action sequence needed? Why is every twist and turn of what is supposed to be a film where no face is what it seems, so predictable? The answer is perhaps that the nature of film itself has changed. Audiences want bigger, badder, better, in these experiences, and are paying skyrocketing prices to prove it. Three-hour John Wick films, 150 minute Spider-Man cartoons. The filmmakers have the means to deliver them, and so why not?

The ”not” is simple—there is no need for a film with a plot this simple to shoot itself in the foot by persistently showcasing its own lack of creativity. While Dead Reckoning unquestionably has some brilliant action moments—that aforementioned train sequence at the end is stuck in my head, and similar to other closing scenes in these films—it has so many unnecessary ones to make itself its own worse enemy. Will Hollywood ever learn? I doubt it—anymore so, anyway, than the IMF agents will ever learn not to “accept their mission” and put themselves in improbable yet entertaining situations.

The problem will come, however, when the message these films are sending self-destructs five seconds after delivery…

Grade: B

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One will be released on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. 

Twitter: @jdonbirnam | Instagram: @awards_predix

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