Your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to read about the seventh entry in a long-running action franchise. One that, despite each entry more or less repeating the same story beats every time, continues to captivate audiences. A film led by adrenaline junkie Tom Cruise, whose insistence on performing his own stunt work has pushed the movies into crazier and crazier stunts, allowing the films to have a riveting realism unlike many other modern action franchises. An actor whose battle for analogue over digital effects has now infiltrated the script itself, becoming a kind of commentary on modern action filmmaking. This review will self-destruct in five seconds.
OK, not really. But Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 (what a mouthful) brings more of what fans of this franchise love: death-defying stunts and sequences, spies and intrigue, and that iconic theme. Billed as a Part 1 (the third such instance of that this summer), the film uses its expansive runtime to deliver a story of a hunt for a golden key, one that unlocks the source code of a sentient AI, the main enemy force in the film. This is perhaps the most refreshing part of the film. Finally moving past terrorist networks and rogue agents, the film has a unique and timely enemy, given the recent prevalence of more robust AI. It allows Ethan Hunt and company to have a new challenge, one where their precious technology can no longer be blindly trusted. It also speaks to Cruise’s desire for movies to stay more practical in their action sequences.
And those action sequences are a real ride. While a car chase though the streets of Rome isn’t quite up to par, the scene where Tom Cruise drives a motorbike off a mountain and dives into it using a parachute lives up to the franchise’s best sequences. That Cruise did it himself is visible and adds to the pulse-pounding nature of the scene. Another sequence that, while ignoring physics somewhat, featuring a series of falling train cars is also really exhilarating to watch.
It’s the film’s script where the movie suffers. It doesn’t really have enough story to fill its long runtime, and like the other two-parters this summer, it ends on something of a cliffhanger with no real resolution. The film also has some awkward internal logic at times, using more than a few contrivances to get its characters together. By nature, the AI’s goals are left unclear to create suspense, but it also results in the film’s main antagonist having no clear objective, which can be frustrating.
It’s also these little touches of modern blockbuster themes that add to the frustration. The script has Marvel-inspired quippiness, but without the intelligence of the best Marvel quips it falls a little flat. And the homage to the first Mission: Impossible‘s train fight sequence can’t help but highlight how realism has left even this franchise. A highlight of that train fight was how it depicted wind buffeting the characters, who were barely able to stand to fight. Here, they are entirely unaffected.
Still, the cast is still up to snuff. Returning allies such as Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Ferguson all do a good job, even if Ferguson is a touch underused. Newcomer Hayley Atwell is sparky, happily transitioning from British Marvel agent to thief in this film and proving a good foil to Cruise, even if the film oversells how quickly Hunt develops feelings for her. Another MCU-comer, Pom Klementieff, also has fun as a very different character from Mantis, though she also feels a tad underused.
Even if the franchise keeps repeating the same story beats, Dead Reckoning is still a thrill ride. While it drags on a bit, there’s still plenty to enjoy to make this a welcome continuation of a series that still fires on all cylinders. It feels like a palate refresher in a box office dominated by CG-driven films. For that alone, we hope Cruise keeps up the good fight.