'Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One' Review
July 5, 2023
It’s been close to four years now since, while on a press tour for his newest film The Irishman, Martin Scorsese expressed his opinion about the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “That’s not cinema” is one of the lines he said, equating the ever-expanding franchise of films to a theme park. It was a statement that spawned a million clickbait articles, a follow-up op-ed by Scorsese in The New York Times, and caused an uproar amongst the fans of the superhero genre.
While those that are likely to don Batman’s cape and cowl and Superman’s red tights for Halloween may have tossed a few darts toward a Scorsese-framed board since then, the fans of the Mission: Impossible franchise would be ecstatic to hear the world’s preeminent filmmaker label their favorite films as theme park rides, because that’s exactly what they are.
The seats shook violently and the sound system endlessly roared as I sat to watch the seventh and newest entry in the now thirty-year series: Dead Reckoning Part One. The only thing that prevented my hair from sticking up like I had just gotten off a roller coaster was that I don’t have enough of it on my head, to begin with. But the one thing I did walk away with was a smile on my face and a sense that I had been dazzlingly (and smartly) entertained on a hot summer night, which is a reward that seems to be coming at a premium this year (cue the camera pan over to the dumpster where The Flash sits surrounded by flies).
The beginning of this thrill ride starts in the past as a Russian submarine carries onboard a super-powered artificial intelligence program known as The Entity. It makes trillions of computations per second, using past data to predict the future with unprecedented accuracy. Just as the laws of screenwriting would dictate, something that smart can only be caged for so long. The machine eventually gains sentience, sinking the ship and unleashing itself onto the entire global network. It essentially becomes the HAL-9000 on steroids, unable to be stopped by anything except the conjoined halves of the key that originally powered it on.
The mission to find those keys in the present, should he choose to accept it, lies upon the shoulders of Ethan Hunt. He still has his core team of Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), with a new addition in a pickpocket named Grace (Hayley Atwell) who gets tangled in the web of interested parties, which also includes a mysterious figure from Ethan’s past known as Gabriel (Esai Morales) and the various agencies of the US government, who always seem to have a reason for wanting to arrest Hunt.
Very few movies can attempt to go from the Bering Strait to Yemen to Amsterdam to Venice within their first hour. Dead Reckoning does it with ease as writer/director Christopher McQuarrie propulses the story with a bit of visual and written flair. There’s always an amount of giddy wit involved in the movement of a scene, just like it’s a dance to one of your favorite songs. The ultimate kineticism of the previous entry, Fallout, may not be surpassed, but it is closely reached on a few occasions. No one does a chase scene better than Cruise, with a last-minute one in Venice being a clear highlight because of the sheer athleticism involved and Lorne Balfe’s hard-charging score.
These Mission: Impossible movies aren’t the kinds of films you get pumped for because of the performances, but they’re still better than average here. The character of Ethan Hunt may not stretch Crusie’s acting chops like Magnolia (I’m contractually obligated to myself to mention his brilliant performance and Oscar snub for PTA’s best movie), but there’s a strong dramatic core that goes along with every physically death-defying stunt. This is all still a vanity project for him, which makes it a little hard to buy each of the several times he speechifies about how much he cares about his friends and family. Humility does not serve Cruise well, which has made him a questionable person and a fantastic movie star.
There are also several speeches - some extremely overly-theatrical ones - that are littered throughout the movie so it can properly explain what The Entity is and how big of a threat it poses. To be honest, I’m still not exactly sure what the limits of its power are, as many of the twists it employs on the characters feel like they were just made up on the spot. That’s not really a hindrance to the overall enjoyment since this franchise is built upon pretty silly stuff and pulling one over within the blink of an eye. And when you get to witness another incredible setpiece like the highly publicized motorcycle jump, the complications around the motivations for the action don’t matter that much anymore. All that matters is what’s in front of you at that exact moment, which is usually quite a sight to behold.
Not many franchises and movie stars can boast about getting better with age, especially when you start entering into the third decade of their existence. Tom Cruise and these Mission: Impossible movies have continued to push the envelope not just in terms of action filmmaking, but just plain filmmaking altogether. Dead Reckoning Part One has placed the ball on the tee with gusto, and I’m looking forward to the latter part to blast it away.