In a summer marked by stale spectacles—a Flash in the pan, Transformers flying under the radar and even the crack of Indiana Jones’ bullwhip failing to generate excitement—the extravagant escapism of Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One makes for the summer’s best movie and the only to deliver a winning trifecta of high bar craft, star wattage and rousing spectacle.
This seventh installment in the long-standing film franchise that commenced nearly three decades ago marks the third consecutive collaboration between producer-star-resident daredevil Tom Cruise and co-writer and director Christopher McQuarrie, the pair’s creative fusion delivering a contact high of a movie that keeps topping itself with a game, stellar ensemble, how’d they do that? stunts and glossy international globetrotting.
Cruise and McQuarrie, a formidable movie alliance, have been upping the series’ ante since 2015’s Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation followed by 2018 zenith Mission Impossible: Fallout, which stood on par with the best modern 007 pictures (with the exception, perhaps, of Sam Mendes’ sterling 2012 Bond epic Skyfall).
Much of the fun in their latest involves Cruise, a consummate showman, fearlessly embracing any physical challenge that promises to entertain. Careening, handcuffed across Rome in a tiny electric Fiat? Check. Battling a nemesis, Buster Keaton style, atop a speeding Orient Express? Sure. And hurtling off a towering, 2000-foot cliff on a motorcycle? Piece of cake. Such daring is, at its essence, a testament to Cruise’s peerless devotion to craft and audience, an unrestrained determination to deliver singular audience thrills.
This time out the prescient plotting, penned by McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen, pits the covert anti-espionage team against a super intelligent AI antagonist bent on—what else?—world domination (certain to strike a chord with currently striking screenwriters and actors). The pursuers of this would-be supremacy prove many, all chasing a sought after gold key—the film’s MacGuffin of sorts—which controls an increasingly sentient, algorithmic ghost in the machine named The Entity, able to wreak mass havoc.
In the gripping opener a Russian sub—which can’t help but echo current geopolitical events—runs afoul of the chilling digital villain, able to manipulate any technology platform toward catastrophic results. Aboard the vessel is one-half of a coveted, ornamental key. But who holds the other half? And what happens if both pieces are joined? What does it unlock?
Enter Cruise as venerable IMF operative Ethan Hunt, dispatched by former director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) to track down series favorite Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson, expectedly terrific), hiding out in the Arabian desert and in possession of they key’s other half.
The action comes on fast, skipping to an Abu Dhabi airport rendezvous and introduction of a tremendous Haley Atwell, superb as Grace, a career criminal and super thief who pilfers they prized item before jetting off to Rome, which provides a bang-up sequence as Ethan and Grace, handcuffed in a speeding minicar, are pursued by the police, CIA and a feral blonde (a relentless Pom Klementieff). On Ethan’s side are one-step-ahead mainstays Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), getting their man into and out of trouble.
Mixed up in the intrigue is Director of National Intelligence Denliger (Cary Elwes) and a wily, entertaining Vanessa Kirby, reprising her Mission Impossible: Fallout turn as the enigmatic White Widow. Perhaps the deadliest is a cool customer from Ethan’s past named Gabriel, played by a flinty, stylish Esai Morales (terrific to see in a high-profile mainstream role) as a vision of debonair, break-no-sweat evil, and one who just may hold The Entity’s secrets and coveted source code.
Shuttling from the Middle East to Rome to Venice to Austria, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One culminates in a bang-up, extended final act set aboard the Orient Express, snaking its way through the Alps making good use of series’ staples, including ticking time bombs, rubber masks, clever doubling and high stakes transactions. It is also home to the film’s most-talked about stunt, that glorious motorcycle cliff drop which Cruise reportedly performed six times on the first day of shooting. And then there’s an expert showdown between Cruise and Morales atop an out-of-control train, a hand-to-hand, mano-a-mano marvel.
The extended finale involving a series of train cars plummeting off a cliff while Cruise and Atwell attempt to survive the escalating melee is a herculean feat of remarkable production design, lensing and editing. Such sequences, of the highest caliber imagination and craft, are a lot of fun and a reminder that practical ingenuity and stunt work are the stuff of genuine movie thrills.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One is an exemplar of superb action filmmaking fueled by the fearless commitment of its star. There won’t be as entertaining a film this summer or likely next on the arrival of its concluding chapter.