Home Reviews 4/5 Review Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One – Film Review

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One – Film Review

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mission impossible dead reckoning part one film review
mission impossible dead reckoning part one film review

We had a panicked moment at the end of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. It is every bit the ‘Part One’: a movie that finishes neatly in the middle, as is the current fashion (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Fast X being other notable examples). But we knew that Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One didn’t make all that much cash. In fact, in some circles, it was considered a bomb. And there’s the small matter of the SAG-AFTRA strikes. Were we ever going to see this story finished?

A quick Google and our fears were unfounded. God bless the hubris of Tom Cruise, as much of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two has already been filmed. It’s aiming for a summer 2024 release date. All is right with the world again. 

We’re worried because we care. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is much the same as the previous three Mission: Impossible films, in that it’s a tightly wound, superlative thriller. Now we just need to see it finished. 

We start the action in a Russian submarine, the Sevastopol, and a sequence that has so many plot pivots that we’re surprised the cameraman didn’t fall down dizzy. Basically, the submarine gets scuttled by an artificial intelligence called The Entity, leaving a locked box that it was carrying on the seafloor. The two, twinned keys that open said locked box are on the bodies of two floating Russian submariners, and those keys end up in the hands of – well – that would be telling. But it seems that all of the intelligence services of all the major powers in the world are after those keys. Why? Because the locked box presumably holds the means of controlling The Entity.

Who do you call when you’ve got a rogue AI, nestled in the cloud, and the world’s superpowers fighting over a couple of keys? Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), of course. He’s tapped up by his old handler Kittridge (Henry Czerny, majestic throughout) to get the keys, bring them to Uncle Sam, and then be happy when the USA uses The Entity to control the world. Of course, Ethan Hunt is unlikely to do any of that – Kittridge should know better – so we have something of a war on many fronts. 

Honestly, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One has more factions involved than an Anchorman battle. We have the Americans, The Entity’s lackeys (led by Gabriel, Esai Morales), the return of The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), various brokers, a conwoman (Hayley Atwell), lots of bounty hunters, the IMF and the odd Russian. If it sounds unwieldy and messy, it really isn’t. Christopher McQuarrie has made a dance of multi-factional subterfuge for many films now, and he manages to pull them in and out of focus like an expert disc jockey.

We think we’re slowly pinpointing how a modern Mission: Impossible works under Christopher McQuarrie. That’s not to say it’s formulaic: it’s more that something is being refined, almost to perfection. Everyone in the movie is stupendously good at what they do. There’s only a whisper of incompetence in the two Americans who tail Ethan Hunt under Kittridge’s direction. That creates a magnetism, as you are watching extremely clever people with high-end resources competing against each other. It leads to one side getting the upper hand over the other, until the opponent finds the merest sliver of an opportunity to reply. 

That’s not easy to make work, since all this cleverness and extreme competence needs to be echoed in the script. But that’s not all that’s needed: you need to orchestrate tense situations that puts all these people in close proximity. You need to up the stakes (a nuclear bomb or two will help here), slap on a time limit, and then completely change those stakes when everything is at its most tense. That’s when you truly get to see Tom Cruise’s surprised face and his Terminator run. 

And woo-wee does it work for much of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’s runtime. An immediately arresting opening sequence segues into an even better one in an airport. A car chase in Rome manages to take extremely familiar ingredients like handcuffs and a tiny car bouncing down Italian steps, and makes them into a Bourne and Bond-beater. Then we get a slight lull in the middle act before Tom jumps off a mountain on a motorbike (don’t worry, it’s in the trailer) and onto a train for a riff on Uncharted 2. Phew. It may be part one of two, but Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t leave anything on the counter. 

But while we love all of the things we’ve just mentioned, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One still doesn’t break our top three Mission: Impossibles. That’s testament to the quality of the series (minus the second one. We don’t talk about the second one), but it’s also because M:M-DRPO (yeah, that’s not going to catch on) has a villain problem. 

We don’t have an issue with Gabriel, the suave and nihilistic counter-agent who is doing The Entity’s bidding. He’s menacing and will no doubt be the thinking woman’s strumpet from now until Part Two. Our problem is with The Entity. To our tastes, it flirts too much with being unintentionally comedic. There’s a chuckle brewing whenever we hear that self-important name or see the silly headset that people wear when talking to it. 

But more importantly, it undermines the Mission: Impossible formula. Being an AI, The Entity can be omniscient and predict, Dr Strange-like, all outcomes. It means that, whenever the script wants it to, The Entity can just ‘win’. Ethan Hunt does something amazing? Oh, The Entity anticipated it. Someone has some information? The Entity already knows. But more importantly, it’s got no personality, which means we don’t get to see it being outwitted. When Jon Voigt was defeated in Mission: Impossible the first, there was a joyful schadenfreude. With Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, you don’t get that satisfaction. It’s like being denied a goal by VAR. You can’t be sure that Ethan Hunt got a win. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, casting an AI as the main villain leaves a charisma vacuum at the centre of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. It’s not enough to make the film unenjoyable or even disappointing, but it does mean that Part One feels less ‘whole’ than its superiors. We’re thinking of Fallout and Ghost Protocol in particular. 

And, of course, the film by its very nature is less than ‘whole’. We have to wait until 2024 to uncover the ending of Dead Reckoning. Above all, we’re fascinated to see whether more key-stealing shenanigans can remain interesting. Perhaps it was just us, but we got fatigued by the key-pinching and pickpocketing in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. If the next film pulls the same tricks, that formula might get wearing. 

But what dazzled us most is that there’s so much more fuel in the Cruise and Mission: Impossible tank. When you expect age and creakiness to begin showing in both of them, they produce Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One – possibly the most sweat-inducing of all the M:I films. We have issue with McQuarrie and Co taking on a very topical but flat villain in the form of artificial intelligence, but we have no quarrel with the rest of the film. Roll on Summer 2024.  

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mission-impossible-dead-reckoning-part-one-film-review<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Cruise has still got it</li> <li>Never-ending action sequences</li> <li>Convoluted plot, in a good way</li> <li>Everyone gives it their all</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>The AI enemy is poorly chosen</li> <li>The same pickpocketing trick is done too often</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Purchased by TXH</li> <li>Running time and release date - 2hr 43mins | 2023 </ul>
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