"Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" stars Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, and Henry Czerny. Released on July 12, 2023, the film has Ethan Hunt and his team tracking down a dangerous AI system.
The film was directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who also directed "The Way of the Gun" and "Jack Reacher". It is the seventh installment in the "Mission: Impossible" film series. Ethan Hunt has been through many death-defying and improbable missions since his big-screen debut in 1996. From stopping arms dealers to skydiving thousands of feet from the air, the IMF agent is a force of nature that can handle any dangerous odds stacked against him. Even better is that he's been portrayed by the fearless Tom Cruise for 27 years. However, his latest assignment could be his most dangerous one yet, so much so that it requires two movies for him to accomplish this high-stakes mission. I guess telling this ambitious story in one movie might be the only assignment that's impossible for the IMF crew to handle.
Since its reemergence in 2011 with "Ghost Protocol", the "Mission: Impossible" movies have maintained their consistent quality regarding the thrilling stories, characters, and incredible authentic action set pieces. This is due to Christopher McQuarrie, who's been helming the series since "Rogue Nation" in 2015. Now, he's looking for a third straight win in hopes of reinvigorating the less-than-stellar summer blockbuster season. But, of course, we can't forget about Tom Cruise's continuous quest to bring people back to the cineplex in ways that no other summer movie can accomplish, even if it means performing the dangerous stunts himself. Were they successful enough to continue the beloved spy franchise, or was it a mission we chose not to accept? Let's find out.
The story centers on Ethan Hunt (Cruise), an agent and leader of the IMF operatives team. His latest assignment has him and his crew confronting an experimental AI called "The Entity". Designed initially to sabotage digital systems, the Entity went rogue and infiltrated major defense and military systems. As a result, many people are racing to gain access to the Entity to prevent further damage or gain control of it. One of them is a ruthless terrorist named Gabriel (Morales), who was once Ethan's ally before Ethan became an IMF agent. Gabriel intends to use the Entity to rule the world. With his team, including Luther Stickell (Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Pegg), by his side, along with a new ally Grace (Atwell), Ethan races across the globe to locate the Entity and destroy it before it falls into the wrong hands.
Two-parter movies are nothing new in the filmmaking business. This narrative tool has been on the Hollywood map since it gained popularity in 2010 when "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was split into two parts. For those who don't know why, it's because the book it's based on was quite long, and no one wants to waste four to five hours watching one film version of its intense conclusion. With the success of that film, Hollywood decided to do the same treatment to other franchise movies, mainly the ones based on popular young adult novels, including "Hunger Games" and "Twilight", for better or worse. Long story short, the treatment began to feel more like a money machine than a tool to enhance the massive plot's quality.
This year saw this treatment making a comeback, especially for recent films like "Fast X", "Across the Spider-Verse", and now "Dead Reckoning". Although, the former might become a three-parter if the studio executives have their way. Thankfully, those movies weren't based on books like "Hunger Games" and "Divergent". I am okay with this strategy as long as the idea makes sense for the story they're attempting to tell and the quality is good enough to make me want to return for next year's second part. Of course, what better way to use it again than for an action franchise based on Bruce Geller's 1966 television series? Well, you don't need artificial intelligence to answer that question, as the film delivered exactly what we expect from a "Mission: Impossible" movie for the better.
Like the previous installments, "Dead Reckoning Part One" offers an enticing and suitably-paced mission involving characters protecting the world from a high-stakes threat. By "threat", I mean "threats" with an "s". Along with the new villain Gabriel, who has ties to Ethan's past, the characters encounter a threatening presence we're currently facing: artificial intelligence. With the appearance of "the Entity", the movie explores how AI can improve or destroy our way of life depending on who controls it. In this case, we have a rogue experimental system that people want to use for selfish gain. Ethan Hunt is on a side that believes unimaginable power like the Entity shouldn't be used by anyone, resulting in him deciding to find and destroy it.
With the rise of artificial intelligence, especially in Hollywood, "Dead Reckoning" serves as a subtle warning of this ambiguous tool that blends seamlessly into its straightforward blockbuster plot. It also provides plenty of high stakes and tension in scenarios where the IMF team uses technology to complete specific missions. Part of what makes "Mission: Impossible" successful, including the earlier installments, is that they provide twisty and challenging situations that allow Ethan and the crew to "go for it" and hope for the best, living up to the "Impossible" part of the title. As a result, they provide some of the most breathtaking and authentically tense action sequences in cinema history, especially when seen on the biggest screen possible. That includes Ethan solo climbing the Burj Khalifa in "Ghost Protocol" and the skydiving in Paris scene in "Fallout", two of my favorite scenes in the franchise.
"Dead Reckoning Part One" continues this impressive trend with another awe-inspiring blast of spy antics, impossible stunts, and consistent quality thrills. Is it the best movie in the long-running franchise? Not really. That crown still belongs to "Fallout" for a couple of reasons. One is that the story is, in fact, the first half of a two-part arc that'll conclude with "Part Two" next year. So yeah, it does feel inconclusive compared to the previous films, which is basically the movie's goal from the beginning. There were a couple of elements I thought "Fallout" did better. Regardless, with its compelling characters and storytelling, it provides a fun and enthralling setup to the plot's second half that combines blockbuster action and engaging substance. The other reason is the runtime, which is more than two and a half hours. It caused a few scenes to feel drawn out, but the pacing and McQuarrie's direction of the movie's tension kept me engaged long enough to continue this impossibly beefy mission.
Like in the previous movies, the cast in "Dead Reckoning Part One" continued to shine with their performances that maintained their characters' charisma. Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt never ceased to amaze me in the "Mission: Impossible" films. It's not just because of his stunt work and him running like he's in the Boston Marathon. It's also because of how layered he made Ethan with him facing the balance between completing the mission and protecting his friends. Unsurprisingly, Cruise continues to prove himself to be a genuine movie star who can do action and drama flawlessly. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg were also fantastic as Luther and Benji, respectively, especially the latter. Benji has been the franchise's comic relief since his debut in 2006's "Mission: Impossible III", not just because of Simon Pegg but also because he effectively balances the humor with the action and drama. This film is no exception, as Pegg delivers another batch of effective laughs without overshadowing its tone.
The new additions were also great in sharing the spotlight with the original actors, including Hayley Atwell as Grace. Grace is a professional burglar who unintentionally gets caught in a battle between the IMF and the Entity. However, what I liked the most about Grace is that she resembles a newcomer to the franchise's concept involving impossible stunts and spy techniques. She is an enjoyable addition to the IMF team that benefited from Atwell's performance. Esai Morales also did solid work as the movie's antagonist, Gabriel, who may have an opportunity to be the franchise's best villain if "Part Two" continues to do this character justice.
Finally, we have the film's action sequences. Christopher McQuarrie is another filmmaker who can provide slick, fun, and thrilling action without the constant shaky camera maneuvers and quick cuts. More importantly, he and Tom Cruise understand that the stunt work can be mesmerizing and intense with little to no CGI, unlike most big-budget, visual-heavy blockbusters. "Dead Reckoning Part One" is no exception, with each sequence being just as enticing and well-executed as the last. While some weren't as memorable as the action in "Ghost Protocol" and "Fallout", they're still entertaining and immersive enough to warrant the big-screen treatment. The chase in Rome and Ethan riding off the cliff in the third act are the film's highlights. For the former, it's because of McQuarrie's direction for the action and humor. The latter sequence is due to Fraser Taggart's dizzying cinematography that earns its sense of awe.
Overall, "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" continues to do the impossible by delivering another stirring high-stakes adventure that combines the action set pieces with its riveting quality. It doesn't top "Fallout" as my favorite film in the franchise, and "John Wick: Chapter 4" is still the best action movie of 2023. However, it's still a great time at the movies, whether you're a fan of the "Mission: Impossible" films or a fresh newcomer who chose to accept this mission. The cast was great, the story was intense and well-told, and the action was well-choreographed and full of consistent tension. It further shows that the magic of action cinema still exists in the world of big-budget superhero movies, CGI mayhem, and even artificial intelligence. It's a near-perfect first half of a much larger story in the franchise's universe, and it's one of my favorite movies of 2023 so far.