When Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol dropped in 2011, I hadn’t seen any of the other films in the series, but the trailer’s promises of acrophobic suspense shot in full 70mm IMAX pulled me in. I was so enthralled by its clever action and jaw-dropping sense of scale and tangibility with the on-screen stunts performed by Tom Cruise, I soon fell victim to the charms of the rest of the series (sans Mission: Impossible II, which I can’t say I love, but don’t hate as much as others do). Since then, and especially since the onboarding of director Christopher McQuarrie with the follow-up to Ghost Protocol, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (my favorite in the series), the series has taken off as perhaps the most respected action series currently still making films, and as a testament to the chaotic good hubris that Tom Cruise has as a movie star with what I can only describe as a wish to die on camera doing the biggest stunt possible. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One was initially set up as the build-up film to the final film in the series, Dead Reckoning Part Two, where Tom Cruise would bid farewell to the legendary IMF agent Ethan Hunt, though, in the heat of this Part One press tour, we’ve now learned that Cruise, ever the workaholic, would like to play Ethan Hunt well into his 80s. While eventually I would like to see a graceful bowing out of the series, perhaps in lieu of another series reaching for the heights that this one goes for each and every time, I can’t look at a film like Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One and not want anything but films like this forever.
When Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team, Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), are tasked with obtaining two parts to a mysterious key that holds the power to shut down a malevolent AI known as “The Entity” that is gaining sentience, they begin a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with duplicitous figures looking to gain power from ownership of the key which could control the fate of mankind in the face of certain annihilation, including old friends like Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Alanna Mitsopolous (Vanessa Kirby), and Eugene Kitteridge (Henry Czerny), new ones like the enigmatic thief Grace (Hayley Atwell), federal agents Jasper Briggs (Shea Whigham) and partner Degas (Greg Tarzan Davis), and NSA director Denlinger (Cary Elwes). As well as assassin Paris (Pom Klementieff), employed to destroy anyone in her way at the behest of her employer, the untraceable malefactor Gabriel (Esai Morales), who serves the chaos of The Entity and holds a dark past with Ethan. As stakes rise in the fight for power, Ethan realizes that this mission might not end the way he has planned.
I seem to be in the minority in this, but I’ve always appreciated when Mission: Impossible goes for the smarter route than that of the plainly bigger one. While the previous installment, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, is generally regarded as one of the finest action films of the 21st century, I find that it’s more square focus on bigger and badder action sequences, however stunning they are (and they really are), doesn’t give me the same sort of euphoria as the smart, tightly constructed sequences of clever espionage on display more in Ghost Protocol, and especially so in Rogue Nation. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is this type of film and not that of Mission: Impossible – Fallout Part Two, which I feel like many people were hoping for. It’s hard to call Dead Reckoning – Part One a pared down film since we’re still talking about a film where Tom Cruise actually rides a motorcycle off the side of a goddamned mountain, though much of the film surrounding said sequence is comfortable being a much sleeker, sharper espionage film than merely a showcase for stunt work. That’s what makes Mission: Impossible the stunning franchise that it is, even if those hankering for another Fallout might feel a bit in the cold.
While the franchise has cycled through supporting casts over the years, the solid formation of the Ethan, Luther, Benji, Ilsa team has brought a stability and chemistry to the series that producers (who luckily are Cruise and McQuarrie, but oddly not J.J. Abrams anymore) would be stupid to let go. Yet, it’s the new addition of Hayley Atwell’s slippery thief Grace that is Dead Reckoning Part One’s real crown jewel. While not as morally duplicitous as Ferguson’s Faust, who has leveled out since her first volatile appearance in Rogue Nation, there is such a magnetic charm to Atwell’s performance that provides so much nuance in her initially unshakable confidence in her work that slowly descends into mortal fear as she realizes the danger that she has put herself in by coming in between the IMF and the unrelenting Gabriel. It’s a wonderful emotional journey that can sometimes be missing from these films, but Atwell provides it in absolute spades.
Also, despite everyone else doing a great job, I have to also give a very honorable mention to Pom Klementieff’s performance as Paris, too. While I wish there was more of her (and maybe there will be? Who can ever be sure?), if there’s one thing as a shameless homosexual I love, it’s a typically affable actress getting to have 10 tons of fun playing an entirely new level of deranged, but also, like Atwell, gets her moment of grand emotion as well.
While this being a Part One film might instill shudders of fear into the spines of viewers experiencing flashbacks to the slower paces of YA films like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010), The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 1 (2011), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014), or the forever unfinished The Divergent Series: Allegiant (2016) (of which I will forever laugh at), or even that of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023), this never feels like an incomplete film that solely exists for the sake of teasing audiences to show up again for a Part Two. Dead Reckoning – Part One is more along the lines of something like Dune: Part One (2021), where it exists as its own singular film that merely uses the final moments after the conclusion of its own story to lead into the finale, not as a 163-minute prologue to said finale. Unlike so many other Part One films, I have no idea what they’re implying or leading into that could possibly be in Dead Reckoning – Part Two, and I wasn’t teased by some grand cliffhanger that makes an audience feel cheated by its existence. This is a complete experience.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One feels like a narrative mix of the first film in the series directed by Brian DePalma in 1996, as well as the more grounded approach to the material like Rogue Nation, and perhaps that was intentional as it can serve as a steady gradient into whatever huge plans they have for Dead Reckoning – Part Two that might mirror the scale seen in Fallout. However, that is not, and will never be, a complaint from me. Dead Reckoning – Part One is the perfect mixture of everything I love about this series: sleek filmmaking, wonderfully staged action, smart balance of said action with the more tech-focused espionage that thrills me like a schoolchild, and in this case of this film, the most emotional core to a Mission: Impossible film yet, not only raising the stakes for our IMF friends, but clearly breaking them to prove that they aren’t messing around now. We are (allegedly) in the endgame, and I am waiting on bated breath to see just how they can top themselves one more time here (or perhaps many more times, since “final installment” means nothing anymore).
In theaters July 12th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Mission: Impossible website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.