Review: ‘M:I Dead Reckoning Part One’ is a Summer Blockbuster in its Purest Form
by Manuel São Bento
July 14, 2023
We all have our favorite cinematic sagas and Mission: Impossible tends to be a fairly common choice for many lovers of the seventh art. Nowadays, the dependence on visual effects is increasingly accentuated, so the fact that there are franchises of this scale still concerned with cinema realism and immersion by filming in real locations with as little CGI as possible is a great relief for any cinephile. That said, everything has its end, and Dead Reckoning – Part One is the first half of the epic conclusion of one of the most popular sagas of all time. Personally, expectations couldn’t be higher… Fallout was the last & best installment in the franchise, so Tom Cruise & co had a very difficult, some might say impossible, mission. Despite not reaching the level of its predecessor, DR – Part One is yet another exceptional entry in a nearly perfect set of films.
With a premise unironically-timely centered around one of the most debated topics in recent months – the limitless use and potential of artificial intelligence – and, consequently, an enemy constantly ahead of the IMF, filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie returns to command the troops (from a screenplay co-written with Erik Jendrensen) through a crescendo narrative without many pauses to stop and breathe. The film’s 163 minutes fly by due to the frenetic pace and focus on action sequences to move the story forward. Dead Reckoning Part One is extremely hectic, and for some viewers, Eddie Hamilton’s quick editing and Fraser Taggart’s dynamic camera work may be too overwhelming, but it fits with the insane levels of adrenaline & energy that the cast & action emanate. Furthermore, the saga is known for its impressive, big-scale stunts, not so much for fight choreography – this equally incredible accomplishment clearly belongs to John Wick.
Dead Reckoning Part One continues the trend of the most recent installments in trying to create even more ridiculously extraordinary set pieces than before. On one hand, I don’t believe that the technical team has managed to achieve the same level of awe, despite the dedication and life-risking of the stunt team always being worthy of total praise. On the other hand, these are still exciting sequences accompanied by composer Lorne Balfe’s fantastic score, which elevates all these moments even further.
The cast and all of their respective characters (new & returning) are the main reasons behind the enjoyment of these movies. The usual gang is all back, while unexpected returns from the past and new additions further enrich one of the most chemistry-filled ensembles of any saga. It may seem strange that the standout of a Mission: Impossible flick isn’t Tom Cruise, but the truth is that Dead Reckoning – Part One is, in many ways, Hayley Atwell’s film. The British actress plays Grace, an incredibly effective thief who goes through an arc never before seen – at least this explicitly – in the franchise.
Atwell is superb and shares the spotlight with Cruise, including in the dozens of action sequences in which she also participates several times. All the actors who had the pleasure of working on this saga confirm that they feel the need to dedicate themselves more due to how much Cruise risks his well-being to offer the best entertainment to the viewers and Atwell demonstrates this perfectly. Whenever she takes the wheel – quite literally at times – it’s like a charisma bomb explodes right in front of the screen. With the right amount of humor in the mix, Grace quickly becomes an intriguing, essential character for the overall plot, having to face numerous moral dilemmas that impact the unraveling of the story.
She’s by no means the only female character that deserves compliments. Rebecca Ferguson returns as Ilsa Faust with an emotional performance due to the more intimate, personal arc the character receives this time. Dead Reckoning – Part One puts everyone at the epicenter of danger and the consequences can be fatal for any agent, so accompanying my favorite secondary character from this saga throughout this movie contributed immensely to the suspenseful environment brilliantly crafted by McQuarrie and his team. In addition, Vanessa Kirby makes good use of the few minutes she has as Alanna Mitsopolis / White Widow.
Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg continue to ascertain why they’re one of the most iconic duos within the genre, returning to don the skins of Luther and Benji as the important logistics companions (and friends) to Ethan Hunt. The banter stays alive and creative, but in Dead Reckoning – Part One, both have their own action moments during an extremely tense sequence at an airport. Pom Klementieff (best known for playing Mantis in the Guardians of the Galaxy saga) is a surprising delight! With virtually no lines, the actress embodies Paris, a French assassin with such a fascinating expressiveness that it will give some viewers nightmares – her evil smile makes me wish she could play the lead role in the next big horror movie.
Finally, actor Esai Morales plays the new antagonist of the saga, Gabriel. The mysterious character shares a past with Hunt that impacted the latter’s life drastically and serves as a representative of the Entity, the A.I. system that is, in fact, the real “villain” of this two-part finale. Dead Reckoning – Part One raises some potential issues regarding this section of the script, some of which can only really be analyzed in more detail a year from now when the continuation and eventual culmination of the series is released. “Problems” the come from only watching only half of the story, although the big question is related to the lack of a good reason to divide the last chapter of the franchise into two films to begin with…
Meanwhile, some other storylines are left open and it’s impossible to deny some issues related to the film’s narrative details that I cannot dwell on without resorting to major spoilers. Exposition scenes are a classic characteristic of Mission: Impossible, but when these continue to occur beyond the first act, unnecessarily and unnaturally, it feels like the movie is stopping on purpose for reasons external to the actual film. The messages and dialogue around the theme of A.I. and the consequences that this technology can bring are too generic, leaving Dead Reckoning – Part One without any thought-provoking conversation on the subject.
Personally, the most disappointing aspect isn’t even related to the film. The fact that DR – Part One over-publicized its main stunt – from behind-the-scenes footage to countless clips of the stunt itself practically complete, never before has a movie in the saga shown so much before its release – significantly dampens enthusiasm and anticipation for this very moment when it appears in the film. There’s a whole build-up for something that all viewers not only know when, how, and where it will happen, but the “magic of cinema” almost disappears from the scene. There’s no sense of astonishment or surprise. It’s a pity that, nowadays, it’s truly an impossible mission to enter a movie theater without knowing most of what we’re going to see, such is the incessant amount of movie studio marketing content always spread across the internet.
Fortunately, these are minor issues when compared to the multitude of positive aspects that encompass this flick. I’d like to end this review with a massive thank you to the man who continues to defy the laws of physics and fight for the unique big screen experience. Tom Cruise is, and will forever be, a cinema legend. Passionate about the art of filmmaking and a strong voice in supporting the continued success of the most immersive atmosphere possible for movie-loving audiences all around the world. Thank you for your unparalleled personal commitment and sacrifice. Thank you so much.
Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One delivers precisely what it set out to do: stunningly frenetic, relentless on-location action with adrenaline-charged energy levels. A 163-minute runtime rarely feels this light, thanks to the contributions of the sublime cast – Hayley Atwell is outstanding – and the truly memorable score that elevates all the otherworldly set pieces. It has the “problem” of being the first of two parts, with some unnatural, repetitive exposition scenes that get in the way of its progress, in addition to a somewhat generic, ambiguous narrative around A.I. Nevertheless, it’s a summer blockbuster in its purest form, as you’d expect from the icon Tom Cruise, to whom we owe our allegiance.
Manuel’s Rating: A-
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