Image: Paramount Pictures

‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ is the post-modern blockbuster perfect for today

Tom Cruise has seemingly declared himself as the man undertaking the ‘Mission: Impossible’ of resuscitating struggling cinemas. Although a bold claim, he again proves that he is perhaps the final movie star alive. Following the incredible success of Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise follows it up with another home run in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has nowhere to hide, as he is tasked with finding and stopping a terrifying new weapon that, in the wrong hands, poses a threat to the future of humanity. Unbeknownst to him, this very weapon is set on tracking him. Hunt’s mission is complicated by his unwavering adamance to protect the lives of those closest to him, including the formidable Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), whilst the entrance of a new player in the game, Grace (Hayley Atwell) throws a further spanner in the works.

In today’s landscape, with the emergence of OpenAI, the realistic threat proves unsettling and can switch the film’s genre in your mind from action to horror

Despite filming commencing back in 2020, the seventh installment of the Mission Impossible franchise is remarkably relevant to our contemporary climate. The opposing force in this film is no man, but rather artificial intelligence. The film astutely outlines the potential dangers of such technology — the ability to access national security secrets, to impersonate individuals, and to know every last detail of your life, so much so that your future can be accurately predicted. In today’s landscape, with the emergence of OpenAI, the realistic threat proves unsettling and can switch the film’s genre in your mind from action to horror. Such is its ability to predict the future, with a submerged vessel being pivotal to the plot, evoking memories of the recent collapse of the Titanic submersible, that it is easy to question whether Cruise himself is man or machine.

The franchise’s previous entry, Mission Impossible: Fallout, has gained recognition as the magnum opus of action cinema, through its towering scale and impeccable fight choreography. Surpassing the heights of its predecessor in those areas would be a mission that even Ethan Hunt would find impossible. Recognising this, Cruise and his team are able to instead focus on delivering a more thrilling narrative and shine a further lens on the character of Hunt. The film harkens back to the earliest installments in the franchise and the classics of the genre through capturing the essence of the ‘spy game’. Hunt uses skills in his repertoire that exclude simply punching his way out, including his use of the franchise’s trademark mask hijinks. But make no mistake, as, even though Henry Cavill is not there to reload his fists, the film doesn’t lack in memorable action, with the standout being a set piece on the Orient Express. Even if it has already been showcased online prior to the film’s release, Cruise’s superhuman stunt of driving a motorcycle off a cliff does not disappoint, and makes you sit back in awe of his dedication at the age of 61.

Cruise is the face of the franchise, but the way writer and director Christopher McQuarrie has rejuvenated the franchise since his arrival on Ghost Protocol deserves recognition. The Mission Impossible films have highlighted the importance of a close-knit team even in a ruthless industry, and McQuarrie is one of the select few close to the enigmatic Cruise, aiding him by partially writing last year’s Top Gun: Maverick. And whilst Cruise remains at the forefront on the screen, the Mission: Impossible franchise deserves credit for its strong treatment of its female characters, portraying them authentically. Cruise has consistently uncovered diamonds in the rough, by finding underappreciated working actors and giving them their time to shine. Following in the footsteps of Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby, Hayley Atwell is a standout in her role as Grace, a highly skilled pickpocket caught up in a world larger than her, whilst imbued with both internal strength and vulnerability. Kirby’s White Widow, like in Fallout, is a scene-stealer despite her limited screentime, though the positive narrative regarding the franchise’s treatment of female characters might be marred by a creative decision made about the widely popular Ilsa Faust.

Although modern cinema audiences have gravitated towards a binary in their taste, with a growing appetite for R-Rated fare devoid of levity, Cruise demonstrates that making a film for all audiences does not necessarily mean compromising its quality. The movie is extremely funny, and its narrative is woven naturally, through humour deriving from realistic decisions made by the characters. Simon Pegg’s Benji is again at the forefront of the comic relief, but Shea Wigham’s CIA agent does his best to challenge that.

The film is clear to illustrate that the notion of there being ‘good guys’ in the theatre of international covert warfare is fiction, with each party’s primary focus on being their own interests, no matter the cost

Even though the film shares many similarities with Cruise’s summer sensation of last year, Top Gun: Maverick, including its reliance on practical effects alongside the remarkable scale and high-quality action scenes, the film distinguishes itself by keeping its own identity through the black-and-white nature of the spy game, as opposed to the unashamedly patriotic Top Gun. Although the opening scene initially leads you to believe we are dealing with stereotypical Russian villains, the film is clear to illustrate that the notion of there being ‘good guys’ in the theatre of international covert warfare is fiction, with each party’s primary focus on being their own interests, no matter the cost.

Even though the film truly stands on its own and isn’t reliant on the forthcoming sequel, like many other ‘part ones’, it isn’t perfect. The lead human antagonist, Gabriel (Esai Morales), is rather undeveloped, and his background of being a previously unmentioned foe from Ethan’s past results in him feeling like a villain straight out of the Fast and Furious movies. The use of A.I also opens a can of worms, as the limitations of its power are extremely difficult to define and result in the plot not being as tight as would be ideal. Fortunately, next year’s ‘Part Two’ has the ability to provide a resolution to these qualms.

Whilst the Mission: Impossible franchise has not garnered a single Academy Award nomination in its 27-year history, it doesn’t need to. Cruise has been incredibly open that the objective behind his films is to draw audiences to the cinema theatres, and something certainly is wrong with the state of the box office if this film cannot do that. Through its contemporary thematic resonance, reliance on practical effects, strong performances, and accessibility, Dead Reckoning Part One fires on all cylinders as a summer blockbuster.


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