MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE
FILM REVIEW: MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE
Release Date: 10th July 2023
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Cast: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Erik Jendresen
Cinematography: Fraser Taggart
``pure perfect escapism``
Welcome to the seventh instalment in the long-running series, “Tom Cruise Tries to Spectacularly Kill Himself”. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One sees the franchise in rude health. No mean feat, considering it has now been running for an incredible 27 years. With the notable exception of John Woo’s execrable Mission: Impossible 2, these movies are an all-too-rare example of a big-budget action franchise that gets consistently better instead of worse.
The action kicks off on a Russian submarine beneath the Arctic Icecap. On board are two halves of a very important key that fits an AI doo-hickey. When the Russian sub is destroyed, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and the rest of his IMF team are tasked with recovering the key before it falls into unscrupulous hands. Using the usual bag of tricks (laptops, latex masks, and lots of running), Hunt pursues the key from Amsterdam and the Arabian desert, to Rome, Venice and the Austrian Alps. Which, of course, Cruise jumps off. Series regulars Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson and Simon Pegg are joined by newcomer Hayley Atwell who plays a petty thief called Grace whose allegiance shifts like, well, like Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief.
The action – as you would expect – is breath-taking. Not only do the Mission: Impossible movies set the standard for the modern action blockbuster, they consistently raise the bar. But what sets Mission: Impossible apart from lesser big-budget brainshakers like the Marvel movies or the execrable Fast & Furious series is that all the hard work and effort that goes into the stunt work isn’t buried under hyperactive editing and murky CGI. Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie don’t try to bury anything. On the contrary, they want us to see every moving part in lurid detail. There are no murky night time sequences here. Everything happens in broad daylight. Having Cruise perform his own stunts may be a health and safety nightmare, but there is no cutting. There’s no place to hide. It’s seamless. This is action you can feel in your bones.
Whenever there’s a fight on the roof of a moving train, there is always the niggling sense that we’ve seen all this before. Many times. Indeed, the first Mission: Impossible way back in 1996 did something similar. However, the final act of Dead Reckoning Part One set in, on and under the Orient Express is an extended action set piece that begins as one thing, then switches to another, then does it again. It builds and builds, eventually developing into one of the most audacious and thrilling sequences you will ever see.
If Dead Reckoning Part One has a weak spot, it’s that it fails to come up with a decent villain. In this case the main antagonist is a sentient AI algorithm called “The Entity”. Although the threat posed by malevolent AI is certainly prescient, a glorified computer program is a poor substitute for a proper bad guy, considering previous entries gave us the delicious, psychotic villainy of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Michael Nyqvist and Sean Harris. The motivation here seems a bit vague and ambiguous. Besides blowing up Russian subs, The Entity’s main skill appears to be the ability to stage an alfresco Eurotrash techno bash, all by itself. Scary stuff indeed.
Given that Dead Reckoning Part One is the first of two supposedly linked stories, this often feels more Chatty Cathy than Action Jackson. Make no mistake, there is breath-taking, white-knuckle action aplenty, but there does seem to be more expositional segments than usual. Although there was a very loose story thread weaved through them, watching the other six movies prior to sitting down to this one is not necessary. Dead Reckoning Part One is obviously doing a lot of narrative prep work for the next one, and the dialogue gets quite repetitive and clunky.
The only person on the face of the planet who is still trying to turn Simon Pegg into a top-tier draw, is Cruise himself. Pegg – an actor with all the appeal of a dose of flu – has now spent five movies shouting “go left, right, right, no not that way” into Cruise’s earpiece. And with each movie his redundancy becomes increasingly apparent.
But these are all slight irritations in the grand scheme. Once again, Mission: Impossible has upped the ante in terms of adrenalin-soaked spectacle. Contrary to other long-running action franchises, this is a series that just goes from strength to strength. Nothing else compares in terms of providing pure perfect escapism. And against all the odds, Cruise has somehow managed to not kill himself, so we’ll be back here in 2024 for part two.