In the midst of a disappointing summer movie season rife with failures both critical and commercial, a savior appears: Tom Cruise, the adrenaline-seeking action megastar who resurrected a cheesy mid-80s flick about fighter pilots and turned its sequel into the fifth-highest grossing film of all time at the US box office. Now, this certified cinematic deity is back on the big screen to inject some much-needed life into multiplexes across the globe with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One, the seventh installment and most clumsily titled entry in the long-running spy series.
For the past several films, plot has taken a back seat to Cruise’s increasingly dangerous and death-defying stunts: scaling the Burj Khalifa in Ghost Protocol, clutching the side of a cargo plane as it takes off during the opening of Rogue Nation, and completing a HALO jump in 2018’s Fallout, which remains my favorite installment in the franchise. Director Chris McQuarrie, who helmed the last three films, wisely elects to stick with the formula, lining up a series of breathtaking sequences staged against the backdrop of gorgeous locales, stopping occasionally for exposition dumps before once again stomping on the accelerator. No sense trying to fix something that isn’t broken in the first place.
That said, the core elements of the plot are intriguing despite being undercooked: an artificial intelligence developed as a superweapon goes rogue and sets in motion a labyrinthine plot to prevent anyone else from ever deactivating it. This might play quite sinister, stoking our own fears about advancements in AI and digital fakery, but the grimness of following this thread to its inevitable conclusion is undercut by characters dubbing their new cyber enemy “The Entity” and then repeating the moniker about every fifteen seconds for the film’s colossal 163-minute running time.
As an old-school spy in an increasingly tech-driven world, Ethan Hunt feels like an extension of Cruise himself, an analog movie star who believes in the power of blockbuster cinema, and rails against the destruction wrought by the streaming industry and its algorithm-driven decisions. Netflix may be willing to invest eye-watering amounts of money into their own IP, but forgettable schlock like Red Notice can’t hold a candle to watching Cruise and series newcomer Hayley Atwell zip through the streets of Rome in a bright yellow Fiat, pursued by a diabolical assassin (Pom Klementieff) wielding an armored Humvee as a weapon of mass destruction.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One is stuffed to the gills with these sort of moments, ranging from nail-bitingly tense to unspeakably cool, the latter evoked most especially by a moonlit swordfight on a bridge between Rebecca Ferguson’s enigmatic operative Ilsa Faust and Esai Morales as an enemy from Ethan’s past. Even though the film’s signature stunt, which finds Cruise driving a motorcycle off a cliff and plunging some 4000 feet into a canyon before deploying his parachute, has been showcased in the film’s marketing materials for more than a year, its awesomeness hasn’t been diminished one iota; it’s still magnificent to behold.
Can Tom Cruise rescue the moviegoing experience from its decline? Perhaps not singlehandedly, but he’s clearly hell-bent on trying, and Dead Reckoning, Part One is precisely the sort of film that begs to be seen on the biggest, loudest screen you can find. So do yourself a favor, and no doubt you’ll be champing at the bit for next summer’s follow-up.