Thanks to re-runs, someone of my age was able to be familiar enough with the Bruce Geller-created Mission: Impossible television series so that the announcement of the 1996 Brian De Palma Mission: Impossible film starring Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt and John Vought as Jim Phelps drew excitement. Even 27 years later, the initial film holds up with its stunt work, creativity, and thrills. Over time, the series has improved its technology to make tools like the masks more life-like before the cowboy switch, while also doing its best to keep the stunts as natural as possible, reducing CG to make a cleaner look versus executing a whole action piece. Though the series has had its low moments, since 2011’s Ghost Protocol, the films have done more than just bring back characters for new missions, they began crafting a connected narrative that elevated the films with action to match. It’s currently unknown if the Mission: Impossible series will be ending with its eighth film (now pushed to 2025 due to AMPTP’s unwillingness to bargain with SAG), but one thing is certain, 2023’s Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is a heck of an entry into the M:I series, tapping into narrative pieces established in the initial 1996 adventure that not only amplify the themes of the film but make the dramatic tension all the more palatable. Now, Dead Reckoning Part One is out on home video in digital and physical formats, including a limited edition steelbook, with six different featurettes to learn about the stunts, a feature-length commentary track from returning M:I director Christopher McQuarrie (Rogue Nation; Fallout) and returning editor Eddie Hamilton (Fallout), an isolated score track, and more.
Impossible Mission Force (IMF) member Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is tasked with tracking down Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) as she’s believed to be in possession of one half of a key being sought after by rogue forces bent on global domination. As usual, things are never as simple as they appear. Getting Isla’s half or tracking down the other only matter if Ethan can discover what it is that it unlocks and the location of that object. What is not a mystery is that the rogue force is a former digital asset, codenamed the Entity, which seems to have evolved to have a will of its own and has hand-picked a man known as Gabriel (Esai Morales), someone with deep ties to Ethan’s past, as its harbinger. From the deserts of Abu Dhabi to the streets of Venice, a war is being waged and the only ones aware enough with the means to prevent it may not be able to pull off the impossible this time.
If you’d like to learn about Dead Reckoning Part One from a spoiler-free perspective, head over to EoM Senior Critic Hunter Heilman’s theatrical release review. Moving forward, you accept the mission and all the details that comes with it.
In my theatrical release review for 2018’s Fallout, the sixth entry in the series, I wrote about how since McQuarrie joined the franchise, the ways in which the films became more serialized aided in them carrying more weight and excitement. The connective tissue served to remind us that this isn’t just another espionage or high-octane adventure, but stories about real people just trying to keep the world turning and its people — all people — safe. From the ending moments of Rogue Nation (2015) to the end of Fallout, there was one single story that pushed Ethan and his team forward. Now, in the script from McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen (Ithaca), Dead Reckoning Part One pulls out characters from the first film and introduces us to others from Ethan’s unknown-to-us past, crafting a film that reminds us that, as long as we’re alive, our past will forever remain a part of us, creating obstacles we may be forced to face time and again. Amid a series of incredible stunts that get more impressive after the last thanks to the work from Wade Eastwood (Fallout; Rogue Nation; Edge of Tomorrow) and Lucy Cork (Fallout; Rogue Nation; Hobbs & Shaw), what makes Dead Reckoning truly memorable is the way the narrative never forgets itself. It’s not the referential nature of Ethan and returning character Kittridge’s (Henry Czerny) quip regarding whether or not Ethan is upset, but the way that the two come face-to-face early in the film and the way that Ethan escapes (use of a mask). That alone is fun and exciting, but nothing beats the acknowledgement vocally and physically of how Ethan’s getting away, a recognition and acceptance by Kittridge that demonstrates respect for someone of Ethan’s skillset based on years of working within the same sphere. New character Grace (Captain America: The First Avenger’s Hayley Atwell) finds herself in over her head, yet Ethan manages to talk to her calmly even when he’s trying to outdrive their opposition from the passenger’s seat. The way he speaks to her feels like a callback to his time as a trainer, as indicated by J.J. Abrams’s Mission: Impossible III (2006). When Luther and Benji (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, respectively) are explaining to Grace about “the choice,” something which has come up several times early in the film, the two reference how they each came to such a crossroads. Now, this is new information for us regarding Benji as we met him when he worked in the lab in M:I III, but our introduction to Luther was as someone who’d been disavowed. His working with Ethan was a third chance and Rhames’s performance brings incredible weight to this realization. Time and again, the script reminds the audience in ways subtle and obvious that this is a lived-in world where the stakes are always high, the risks are always insurmountable, and it’s all the steps they’ve taken along the way that make their connection to each other the thing that helps them pull off the impossible like it’s any other day ending in y.
It’s because McQuarrie and Jendresen so greatly understand that it’s these relationships and the way they need to function in this world in order to win the day, that I don’t believe for a moment that these writers would fridge Ilsa. The script points out that Ethan was given his “choice” because of an interaction with Gabriel in his youth and the loss of someone he cared for as a result of that interaction. It’s likely here, if not before, that Ethan’s mantra, weaponized in Fallout, of promising to care more for his friends than himself was born. He also understands, even if he must grieve them, that each member of his team, officially IMF or not (like Ilsa), are professionals at their work and can handle what is thrown at them. Therefore, I cannot accept that, with all the use of misdirection and sleight of hand, with all the talk of The Entity and knowing how they operate using data sets to predict future actions, that in the brief sequence before Isla and Ethan separate, with all of their glances to each other and slight movements, that a plan hadn’t already been formed in how they would stage her death so that they could get the two halves of the keys. Ilsa’s become too integral a part of the series to go out as she does (it’s a fantastic fight) and moved on from quickly. Sure, one can argue that the runtime is beefy enough that taking the time to mourn Ilsa would slow the momentum, but I’d also argue that this is the same team that has tricked us into believing all kinds of realities before moving sound stage equipment, pulling off masks, and any number of impossible things to take this death seriously. Rather, knowing what they know about The Entity, it makes far more sense to remove her from the board and keep her off grid until they need an ace for Part Two, whatever is shall be named. This is, of course, a personal theory about the future, but since one of my strongest ones related to Vanessa Kirby’s The White Widow (first introduced in Fallout) is all-but-confirmed in Part One, I’m feeling in the zone about this one. However, there’s still plenty yet to be explore and time is sure going to tell whether I’m right or not, but, if past is prologue, then McQuarrie and company won’t let us down.
While the characters are what make the world rich, let’s be honest, the increasingly wild stunts are what make the films jaw-droppingly outstanding. This film contains several set pieces and six of them are featured via the bonus features. Granted some of these have already been released online via Paramount Pictures’s marketing campaign, but none in full. For instance, we’ve been able to watch nearly three-minutes of behind-the-scenes material centered on the speed flying stunt that gets Ethan onto the train for the final location of the film, but the one included on-disc and digitally is just over four minutes. It’s not much in terms of difference, but, like with the “Train Adventure” and “Venice” featurettes, even a little bit more is enough to help fill in gaps regarding how they executed the stunts and how much of the cast were involved in the scene. While I’m typically not one to bring down one film to raise up another, watching the real cars and actors first bounce and then drive down the stairs in Rome made one realize just how ridiculous a similar scene in this year’s Fast X looked with the CG car instead. The realism of the stunts make the action more dramatic and tension-filled, resulting in far more excitement during and delicious release when the set pieces are over. Most impressively, due to the design and execution of each stunt sequence, none overstay their welcome in the way the helicopter sequence begins to do in Fallout, leaving one wanting more and more from each without any of the stunts coming off as unnecessarily bloated or the audience being possessed by a sense of “get on with it” by the end. It certainly helps that the use of physical comedy and surprise has become a natural extension of a series that’s gone on as long as they have, where even yelling “Mission Accomplished!” as in Ghost Protocol was fun but slightly out of place, whereas Ethan bursting through the wall of a train car, saving Grace in the process, is wonderfully absurd, brilliantly staged, and completely unexpected yet totally on-brand for the IMF team.
To conduct this home release review, Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment sent a retail copy of the limited edition steelbook. If you’re a physical format person and like to have more than one format per film in your collection (in this case, 4K UHD and Blu-ray), then the steelbook is the only way to accomplish that. Paramount started shifting away from multiple format editions with only one disc and digital code per physical edition, with the exception of their steelbooks. It’s more money for a different package and the additional disc. At least, in this case, the packaging captures two different stunt sequences, making the external look of the case quite dramatic. Using a red background on the front and back, the front features the M: I logo and title with a train car depicted as breaking through the center of the logo, a figure hanging out the back and the back features Ethan flying through the air, motorcycle falling below him, in a design modeled after one of the alt-posters for the film. The inside of the steelbook has a space for one disc on the left (special features Blu-ray) and two on the right (Blu-ray feature and 4K UHD with feature and bonus features), each held in a clear material so as to allow for an internal design to be visible with the discs out. The internal design is a single image that runs across the whole interior depicting Ethan holding onto the train car before it falls on the left and falling debris on the right. Be advised that while it is wrapped in plastic, the back slip is attached with adhesive and it may leave visible residue when removed, should cleanliness be a factor in your format/edition selection.
For a better look, see below:
For a series seven films deep, they’ve yet to make a bad film, just ones that are preferred over others. Dead Reckoning Part One is honestly only as great as it is thanks to each film that came before it. So wherever this film may fall on a series ranking list, it owes all of its successes to the work done previously. The relationships possess their value here because of how they were developed before. Choices and words carry incredible weight because of what we’ve seen before. The resilience of Ethan, his IMF team, his friends, and colleagues (yes, I count Kittridge amount them), is all due to the adventures we’ve been privy to, making the mystery of Gabriel all the more interesting, because if it’s something that shakes Ethan, then there really must be trouble on the horizon. Wherever the next tale goes, rumored to be losing the Dead Reckoning title for the eighth film and direct follow-up, I choose to accept the mission. If it’s nearly half as good as this one, it’ll be a hell of an ending for the Cruise-led series.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Special Features:
- Commentary by director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton—McQuarrie and Hamilton take viewers through each compelling scene with in-depth commentary. (2:43:26)
- Isolated Score Track (2:43:26)
- Abu Dhabi—Explore the exotic filming locations in the desert and at the international airport and discover how each thrilling sequence was shot. (3:56)
- Rome—Take a behind-the-scenes look at the thrilling car chase through Italy’s historic capital, as Tom Cruise’s driving skills are pushed to the limit while handcuffed to Hayley Atwell! (4:13)
- Venice—See the breathtaking city of Venice as it’s never been shown on film. Plus, witness the cast’s dedication and commitment to their training as they prepare to get “Mission Ready.” (4:13)
- Freefall—An extended behind-the-scenes look at one of the biggest stunts in cinema history. Watch never-before-seen footage of the rigorous training as Tom launches a motorcycle off a cliff. (9:06)
- Speed Flying—Join Tom and the crew as they explain the various training techniques involved in pulling off the dangerous speed flying stunts in the film. (4:17)
- Train—See how the climactic train sequence was captured on film. From building an actual train from scratch to crashing it using practical effects, you don’t want to miss this! (5:33)
- Deleted Shots Montage—Director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton share some of the breathtaking, never-before-seen footage that didn’t make the final film. (8:59)
- Editorial Featurette: The Sevastopol—Director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton take viewers through the intense opening scene. (10:10)
Available on digital October 10th, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and limited edition 4K UHD Blu-ray Combo steelbook October 31st, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Mission: Impossible website.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.