'Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One' Cruises to Dizzying Heights

Directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Starring Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Henry Czerny, Rob Delaney

Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Jul 12, 2023

So far this year, we've seen John Wick traipsing through the desert, Vin Diesel and co. on a car chase through Rome, and Indiana Jones searching for the missing half of a MacGuffin. In theory, yet another blockbuster full of a flashy chase scenes should be at a disadvantage. Unless, of course, that movie is led by Tom Cruise.

In the age of franchises, Mission: Impossible has done what few have been able to even come close to: sustained excellence across multiple decades. With Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, this tradition continues with humour and plenty of awe-inspiring stunts.

Rather topically, the antagonist in Part One is artificial intelligence, an unseeable menace referred to as "The Entity" that knows the secrets of anything and anyone with a digital footprint, and can adapt (and deceive) on a dime. Since chasing after a hard drive is so 2018, Part One embodies this threat via an elaborately designed gold key that is split into two halves and unlocks something in a Russian submarine that went down during the first scene. Look, it's a silly MacGuffin. Within the film itself, all parties searching for this key admit to not knowing what it actually unlocks, simply chasing it with the belief that what it could potentially unlock would be devastating in the wrong hands. 

After accepting his mission to find the key, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) travels the world with his trusty friends and colleagues, Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson). Along the way, the IMF team is reacquainted with black market arms dealer Alanna (Vanessa Kirby), who's in cahoots with Gabriel (Esai Morales), a terrorist with ties to Ethan. Joining forces with Ethan is Grace (Hayley Atwell), a pickpocket who was hired to steal the key, finding herself in the middle of more than she bargained for.

There's an element of retrospection to Part One that previous instalments haven't included. Gabriel represents the first time we're given a glimpse into Ethan's life prior to joining the IMF, adding an element of character depth that's surprising to see seven movies in. Moreover, fans of the franchise will warmly welcome the return of Henry Czerny as Eugene Kittridge, the director of the IMF, whose one and only appearance was in 1996's Mission: Impossible.

The use of AI as the big baddie is an exercise in give and take. On one hand, its prevalence in our present-day society is extremely visible, along with all of the very real concerns that go with it, and the realization that analogue technology might be safer. (There's a great scene in Part One where rows upon rows of workers sitting at typewriters manually transcribing government secrets that illustrates this perfectly.)

But on the other hand, the execution of the premise feels a bit goofy — but that is arguably part and parcel to using a program as a villain. Without anything tangible to fight for or against, many films have resorted to thumb drives as the carrot on the stick, and some credit should be given to Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie for coming up with an intricately designed replacement, but it's not without its corny quirks.

All that said, let's be real — we don't go to watch Mission: Impossible movies for the plot (even though the storylines in the most recent films have been particularly strong). Every single one of the action setpieces in Part One is tremendous. From the car chases to the hand-to-hand combat scenes, Cruise and McQuarrie more than deliver on creating a high-octane, thrilling action film for the summer. 

The centrepiece of Part One is undoubtedly the extraordinary cliff jump that sees Cruise ride a motorcycle off a cliff and then free fall into a rocky chasm. A quick look at any number of the trailers released for this film shows this jump, slightly diminishing the shock value — but seeing it on a big screen is like nothing else. It's an exceptional sequence that comes about in typical Mission: Impossible comedic fashion. In that way, that moment encompasses everything we have come to love about the series: playful banter with a side of death-defying stunts. 

In recent years, Cruise has informally taken the title of Hollywood's Last Movie Star as one of the remaining actors working today who can sell a movie (to studios and audiences) on his name alone, and without a doubt, he still lives up to the hyperbole. There will come a day when Cruise hangs up his trainers, and beyond a Part Two scheduled for next year, the future of Ethan Hunt hasn't yet been announced. While we can, we'd all be well-advised to see Tom run. (Run, Tom, run.)
(Paramount Pictures)

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