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Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)::rating::4::rating::4

Seven movies in, the Mission: Impossible franchise has officially overtaken the 007 series for audacious, indulgent action spectacle.  Of course, they’ll never match the quantity of Bond films (unless Tom Cruise decides to live another forty years), but their quality is now the gold-standard for burly, brainy tentpole flicks.  Also unmatched is Cruise’s steely, batshit resolve to deliver entertainment at all costs.  (I seriously expect to see him traipsing on the moon at some point.) That spirit of total commitment spreads to every facet of this mega-production.  MI:7 doesn’t just chuck in the kitchen sink; it hurls a Viking stove, a beer fridge, and several stew pots for good measure.  Yes, it’s flawed, and way too long, but this Mission gets three of those stars just on effort alone.

You don’t necessarily have to see the previous films to grasp this one–it’s fairly self-contained.  With that said, unless you’ve experienced the litany of catchphrases, spy shorthand, and references to previous characters, Dead Reckoning will feel like a lot of frenetic gobbledegook.  So, for the remainder of this review, I’ll assume you’ve chosen to accept a few of the earlier missions.

We open on a phantom Russian submarine.  She creeps through the ocean trenches, content with her sonar-defying technology.  Suddenly, the onboard AI goes haywire, and disaster strikes.  But was it an accident?  The intelligence community believes that the AI on that submarine has gained sentience, and is presently hacking every computer on the globe.  Any country that could weaponize this new life form would become the world’s dominant superpower.  Of course, that’s assuming this new AI, codenamed The Entity, doesn’t wipe out humanity on its own volition.

Enter Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).  He’s the world’s preeminent superspy, ready to save the world at a moment’s notice.  As you might guess, Hunt is given another, ahem…extremely difficult task:  It seems The Entity is powered by a golden key, which can be split into halves.  Hunt’s mission–you know he’ll accept it–is to find the key and deliver it to his government.  This puts him into an ethical quandary.  Does he follow his orders, or destroy the key and forfeit his own life?

If you’ve seen enough of these movies, you know Hunt doesn’t face this challenge alone.  He assembles his usual team of computer nerds and beautiful women.  The former are comprised of Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames).  Their main function in the movie is to clack away at computer keyboards and guide our hero on his journey to do, you know, some cool spy shit.  These sidekick roles are fairly thankless, but Pegg and Rhames do what they can to add humor and humanity.  The beautiful woman is Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), a superspy who’s become a redoubtable ally.  She’s Ethan’s parallel–icy, brilliant, and lethal.

The bad guys are led by Gabriel (Esai Morales), an urbane psychopath with a deeply personal connection to Hunt.  He works as a human enforcer for The Entity, coolly ushering it toward global domination.  Gabriel’s chief lieutenant is Paris (Pom Klementieff), a nearly-mute young woman who carries out her orders with the reckless glee of a toddler.  As always, Hunt is surrounded by self-serving bureaucrats, whose loyalty often blows with the breeze.  Chief among them is Kittridge (Henry Czerny), the agency director who last traded barbs with Hunt in the very first Mission: Impossible flick.

That’s really all the info I wanna give ya.  The M:I films are built on savvy plot twists and shifting allegiances, and part of the fun is experiencing them in the moment.  Once again, writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has crafted popcorn entertainment of the first order.  The more you can suppress your disbelief, the better time you’ll have with all this.

As with the Bond and Bourne films, the true test of a Mission: Impossible epic lies with its action set pieces.  Here, McQuarrie and Cruise do not disappoint.  The two standouts are a breakneck chase through the cobblestone alleyways of Rome, and a jaw-dropping motorcycle BASE jump from a rocky mountainside.  Cruise’s face is clearly visible during those and every other action beat.  I know CGI is a thing, but I also know that Cruise actually free-climbed the Burj Khalifa for Ghost Protocol, and clung to the side of an ascending Airbus in Rogue Nation.  With that resume, he’s bonkers enough to try just about anything.  That fact only adds to the frantic excitement of Dead Reckoning.

After the action, the next thing to scrutinize are the performances.  Cruise is as agile and self-assured as he was twenty years ago.  Think what you will of the man’s eccentric (and somewhat belligerent) spiritual proclivities, there’s no denying the magnetic charisma and skill Cruise brings to every single role.  As a superstar, he’s almost without peer.  Amongst the newcomers, Hayley Atwell has the most fun, playing a high-end pickpocket who accidentally steals the wrong prize.  She and Cruise have a solid interplay, thus giving the franchise a transfusion of new blood.  The villain by Morales seems fairly one-dimensional–he’s all suave and calm, but not much else.  His beef with Ethan Hunt needs more exploration, but I’m guessing we’ll get that in Part Two.

That leads with my beef with this film as a whole:  At two hours and forty-four minutes, this is wayyy too long for a “…to be continued.”  Things get set up, but we’ll have to wait for the payoff till later.  For a story this dense, a firmer resolution would’ve been far more satisfying.  Movies like this are defined by what comes next, so a complete assessment of Part One will be impossible until the sequel comes out.

Still, as placeholders go, Dead Reckoning is pretty spectacular.  In a world where so many filmmakers half-ass everything and hope you won’t notice, it’s hard not respect players who leave it all on the field.  M:I 7 is relentlessly thrilling and brilliantly acted.  If the next one can hit these notes, it will conclude one of the best action franchises ever made.

164 min.  PG-13.  On demand.


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