Written by Tom Augustine.
Of all the many long-running franchises that dominate the cinemascape in 2023, the Mission Impossible series sits peerless at the top, the only franchise with a grand total of zero bad entries (yes, even the much-maligned Mission Impossible 2 is deserving of another look). From the early, auteur-driven days, when the likes of John Woo and Brian DePalma were invited to put their idiosyncratic spins on the material, through to recent efforts like 2018’s exceptional Fallout, which represented perhaps the pinnacle of journeyman filmmaking in the modern era, the series has kept its eye on the elements that consistently set the series apart – the stunts, the bombast, the propulsive score, the betrayals, the masks, the gleeful seesawing between high-stakes tension and self-aware fun, and at the centre of it all, Tom Cruise. Like other recent Cruise vehicles Top Gun Maverick and the Jack Reacher series, the Mission Impossible series – the crown jewel, if you will – is ultimately a loving ode to old-school blockbuster entertainment, of which Cruise is one of our last remaining figureheads.
For the latest entry, the bisected Dead Reckoning – Part One, Cruise reteams with the steady hand of Christopher McQuarrie, the scribe of almost every Cruise project since 2008’s Valkyrie and the director of previous Impossible entries Rogue Nation and Fallout (as well as the underrated Jack Reacher). McQuarrie’s direction is unflashy, yet remarkably muscular – his handle on action, tension and physicality has a cleanness to it, a machine-like focus on maximum results shot through with a quiet good humour and humanity that is lacking in, say, much of the work of Christopher Nolan. McQuarrie seems aware that Cruise is the guiding force of the Mission Impossible machine, its creative heart. His Ethan Hunt is a wonderful character – heroic, elastic, yet fallible. Put him up against any other hero of the modern era, your John Wicks or your superheroes, and he’d seem helplessly overmatched. It’s this that makes him so engaging, and the Mission Impossible series so compulsively watchable and rewatchable. There’s the sense he’ll figure it out, somehow, but you never know in exactly what way the chips are going to fall.
Returning for one last Mission, the first half of star Tom Cruise’s reported swansong for his most beloved series is a wondrous concoction that blends the paranoia and purposefulness of Brian DePalma’s original film with the utter spectacle of later entries. In terms of blockbuster entertainment, nothing else in the modern cinemasphere comes close.
Dead Reckoning – Part One continues the unfortunate trend of 2023 that befell Across the Spider-verse, in that it is a bisected half of a full story. The choice to split the final entries of a series in half is not a new one, and consistently produces mixed results. For every Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part One there is a Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part One . The aim is to tell a story that feels full and satisfying while offering up a cliffhanger that feels earned, rather than simply blocking audiences from experiencing the entire story – some that Dead Reckoning in a far more accomplished way than Across the Spiderverse. The film presents a story that feels meaningfully immense, too big to cover in one entry, giving the sense that it has been designed to reach two different peaks within its narrative structure. This is purportedly Cruise’s final Mission, and Dead Reckoning gazes backwards at the series’ long run while setting itself a goal to take Hunt further than he’s ever been before. Dead Reckoning succeeds at this, and then some.
Tellingly, the mission of Dead Reckoning centres on Hunt and his team racing to access and destroy an artificially intelligent entity that has the capability of overriding and gaining control of any and all digital systems across the world. It is a signifier of absolute and total power for the rest of history, manifested through the world’s total submission to digital life. Cruise and his team’s deep wariness of the modern state of filmmaking – its shift from analog to digital, the worrying potential of AI, the abandoning of so many of things that make cinema an essential artform – are here transformed into an enormous, world-threatening villain. Moreso even than Maverick, in which the old ways die hard, Dead Reckoning is an offering of spectacular entertainment and a warning against giving up the ghost to the ‘conveniences’ of a digital world. To achieve this, McQuarrie goes back to the source, evoking in mood and in shooting style the original Mission Impossible, which under the direction of Brian DePalma contained plenty of bombast but memorably soaked all this in glorious paranoia. It’s a move that sets Dead Reckoning apart from the sleek, flab-free thrills of Fallout, making for a messier film that’s all the more intriguing for its mixing of this earlier iteration of Mission Impossible with its later era ambitions.
Dead Reckoning’s extended runtime means that McQuarrie can take a little longer to set everything up. Where Fallout rather hilariously laid out the entire plot in an exposition dump opening sequence, now the mystery of what Hunt is actually hunting, and who has control of it, is allowed to play out over a lengthy first act full of intrigue and menace. At the heart of it is not only the events of the first Mission Impossible, but the man Hunt was before even then. There are references to an early tragedy in his life, and the emergence of figures from his past (including Harry Czerny, as the serpentine CIA boss of the first Mission). As well as usual late-era regulars like Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, series highlight Rebecca Ferguson once again returns. McQuarrie also adds new talents with aplomb, particularly Hayley Atwell as a sly pickpocket in well over her head. Atwell and Cruise’s chemistry is fiery, and their interactions serve as some of the best moments of Dead Reckoning.
It would be nothing, though, without the action. Recent Mission Impossible films have been about, among other things, an ever-escalating game of chicken between Cruise and death, in which he undertakes stunts of jaw-dropping intensity for our enjoyment. He hung off the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol, clung to the side of an airborne plane in Rogue Nation, and leapt out of planes and scaled helicopters for Fallout. As has been well-teased in previews of Dead Reckoning, Cruise’s big stunt involves driving off the side of a cliff with a motorbike. The best thing about Dead Reckoning is how this incredible moment blends seamlessly with a range of other action sequences that match it for thrilling tactility and breathlessness. Indeed, the scene that follows the jump arguably one-ups it, in which Cruise must climb a set of train cars slowly falling off a bridge. It’s testament to the absolute dedication of Cruise, McQuarrie and company that by the conclusion of Dead Reckoning, one is left exhausted, wrung out, on the brink of heart failure, and totally eager to walk into the next session and run it all again.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One out now in cinemas.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning - Part One
Movie title: Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning - Part One (McQuarrie, 2023)
Movie description: Returning for one last Mission, the first half of star Tom Cruise’s reported swansong for his most beloved series is a wondrous concoction that blends the paranoia and purposefulness of Brian DePalma’s original film with the utter spectacle of later entries. In terms of blockbuster entertainment, nothing else in the modern cinemasphere comes close.
Date published: July 17, 2023
Country: United States
Author: Bruce Geller, Erik Jendresen, Christopher McQuarrie
Director(s): Christopher McQuarrie
Actor(s): Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Pom Klementieff
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller