When a film’s biggest stunt is not even its most exciting, you know you’re in for a good time and that’s exactly what happens with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. It’s a film that not only sends the Mission franchise in an exciting new direction, it grounds things with a story that feels timely and important, while also being hugely exciting.
Co-written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is the seventh film in a franchise that, by its nature, always has to outdo itself. And this time, like the previous installments, it does just that. However, the escalation here goes beyond just one big, signature stunt. In Dead Reckoning Part One, the franchise elevates itself with a more complex villain and a potential new member of the team, both of which improve, and complicate the film, in several ways.
Let’s first talk about the villain. Without giving away every single twist and turn (of which there are many, almost all of which are wholly delightful), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg) now find themselves trying to stop something nicknamed the Entity, a faceless artificial intelligence that could potentially make any country the leader of the free world. Of course, we’ve seen many movies about the dangers of artificial intelligence over the years — but there’s just something about Mission doing it, at this precise moment in time, that makes it hit a little bit harder. McQuarrie also uses it to his advantage, creating situations and complications that added a strong sense of dread.
To stop the Entity, Ethan and the team must fight against several other interested parties to get two pieces of a key. What does the key do? How can it control the Entity? We don’t know. But we know that a mysterious thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell) has come into possession of one of the pieces. Ethan’s cat-and-mouse games with Grace drive much of the early scenes in the film, including an unforgettable car chase and a simple yet tense walk around the airport. But the character really blossoms when she’s forced to work with the team. Mission: Impossible, for the first time in several films, gets this injection of a pseudo-origin story as Grace must decide if she wants to continue on the run or buy fully into Ethan’s selfless ethos. Again, it’s a new feel for Mission and gives the movie a nice extra layer to consider.
Some issues do arise though. As the film is Part One, complete with the new main characters and a complex, tech-driven villain, Dead Reckoning can get a little convoluted and confusing at times. For example, there’s a nightclub scene featuring almost all the central characters, and as they sit around and talk for 10 minutes you may find yourself looking around as if to wonder, “What the heck are they talking about?” It’s a feeling that peeks its head up a few times throughout, including a subplot featuring a character played by Cary Elwes. However, by the end, the minutia of what’s happening mostly melts away. It all comes down to: get the keys, stop the Entity, save the world.
As always, the Mission: Impossible franchise is also bolstered by its supporting characters. Rebecca Ferguson’s Elsa is back and is as devious, mysterious, and awesome as ever. Henry Czerny returns as Eugene Kittridge, a character not seen since the first film, who has a commanding presence and authority. Pom Klementieff joins the franchise as a vicious assassin who seems to be having more fun than every other single person in the movie. And then there’s Esai Morales as Gabriel, the human face of the Entity, who plays things so cool and calm that you can’t help but be terrified by him.
Then, of course, there’s the action. More than anything, Mission: Impossible is about giving audiences exciting action set pieces and Dead Reckoning delivers those in spades. In fact, the whole thing almost feels like it’s showing off. Like McQuarrie and Cruise are doing things no one has ever done before just because they can. There’s a charm in that confidence and as each scene gets more exciting and shocking than the last, it’s hard not to just let the whole thing wash over you. By the time the film gets to its highly publicized scene where Ethan drives a motorcycle off a cliff and base jumps in midair, you won’t be surprised to learn that’s just the beginning. What follows, and ends the movie, is arguably the best action scene in the series so far. It leaves you on an incredible high which balances the slight disappointment that, yes, it’s only Part One, and there’s still more of the story to go.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One isn’t the best Mission Impossible movie yet, but it’s one of the better ones. It’s a film that will please fans of the franchise, fans of action movies in general, and will sell even more tickets next year when the final piece comes out. It opens July 13.