Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning: Part One movie review (2023)
Some of the overcooked dialogue about the importance of this particular mission gets repetitive, but then McQuarrie and his team will reveal some stunningly conceived action sequence that makes all the spy-speak tolerable. Hollywood is currently questioning the very state of their industry. Leave it to Ethan Hunt to accept the mission.
After a desert shoot-out that ushers Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) back into the series, the first major set piece in “Dead Reckoning Part One” takes place in the Dubai airport, where Hunt discovers that there are other players in this espionage chess game, including a familiar face in Gabriel (Esai Morales), a morally corrupt mercenary who is one of the reasons that Hunt is an agent in the first place. Gabriel is a chaos agent, someone who not only wants to watch the world burn but hopes the fire inflicts as much pain as possible. In many ways, Gabriel is the inverse of Ethan, whose weakness has been his empathy and personal connections—Gabriel has none of those, and he’s basically working for the A.I., trying to get the key so no one can control it.
But that doesn’t matter because people aren’t here for the White Widow’s backstory. They want to see Tom Cruise run. The image most people associate with “Mission: Impossible” is probably Mr. Cruise stretching those legs and swinging those arms. He does that more than once here, but it seems like the momentum of that image was the artistic force behind this entire film. “Dead Reckoning Part One” prioritizes movement—trains, cars, Ethan’s legs. It’s an action film that’s about speed and urgency, something that has been so lost in the era of CGI’s diminished stakes. Runaway trains will always have more inherent visceral power than waves of animated bad guys, and McQuarrie knows how to use it sparingly to make an action film that both feels modern and old-fashioned at the same time. These films don’t over-rely on CGI, ensuring we know that it’s really Mr. Cruise jumping off that motorcycle. When punches connect, bodies fly, and cars crash into each other—we feel it instead of just passively observing it. The action here is so wonderfully choreographed that only “John Wick: Chapter 4” compares for the best in the genre this year.
There’s also something fascinating thematically here about a movie star battling A.I. and questioning the purpose of his job. Blockbusters have been cautionary tech tales for generations but think about the meta aspect of a spy movie in which the world could collapse if the espionage game is overtaken by a sentient computer that stars an actor who has been at the center of controversy regarding his own deepfakes. There’s also a definite edge to the plotting here that plays into the actor’s age in that Ethan is forced to answer questions about what matters to him regarding his very unusual work/life balance, a reflection of what a performer like Cruise must face as he reaches the end of an action movie rope that’s been much longer than anyone could have even optimistically expected. Cruise may or may not intend that reading—although I suspect he does—but it adds another layer to the action.
Of course, the most important thing is this: “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is just incredibly fun. It feels half its length and contains enough memorable action sequences for some entire franchises. Will Cruise save the blockbuster experience again? Maybe. And he might do it again next summer too.
In theaters on July 12th.
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