Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One does the MI formula right

4 out of 5 stars

There is a certain beauty and simplicity to what the Mission: Impossible movies do each time out to the point where I wrote an intro to this particular review, thought it wise to go back and look at what I had written about the previous two installments in the franchise and discovered that I had already said what I wanted to say today — twice. There’s essentially nothing left to say to set the table here — these movies come out once in a while, they have largely indecipherable plots and slightly evolving configurations of actors, and they generally rock. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is a worthwhile addition to the series in that it does nothing particularly new, but absolutely nothing badly, either.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has once again gone rogue, it seems. Originally tasked with a mission targeting an all-powerful AI called the Entity, Hunt has found that the AI has made its way into every facet of his job, making everyone around him a potential AI creation, all technology unreliable and putting the future of the world on the line. The Entity falling into the wrong hands means that any transmission from his tech guys (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) might be compromised, that no one has to be exactly who they seem and that the entire world might well fall into the hands of a deepfake-hungry version of ChatGPT. Deciding that the only possible outcome to the problem is to destroy the Entity, Hunt finds himself in a globe-trotting race against time as he faces all comers in an attempt to locate two halves of a mystical key that can help destroy the Entity.

(Incidentally, finding two halves of some magic, all-powerful key is also the plot of the last Transformers movie. It is just as dumb here as it is there, but otherwise, there’s not much to link the two.)

Apart from being split up into two parts and thus withholding a true conclusion from the audience, Dead Reckoning Part One follows the blueprint to a T and establishes itself firmly as, if not the heir to the James Bond throne, certainly the parallel competitor to beat. As preposterous as it all is, the franchise has yet to integrate time-travelling and multiverses to its grand scheme and instead focuses on the real bones of the action genre: motorcycles, little European cars, submarines, planes and trains. Slightly more vehicular in nature than its predecessors, Dead Reckoning Part One nevertheless builds on true old-school notions of one-upmanship. Hunt’s new foil / ally / Hunt girl (a thoroughly sexless proposition in these films, mind you) is a brilliant thief and master of sleight-of-hand played by Hayley Atwell, allowing for some setpieces that don’t even rely entirely on Tom Cruise risking his life by doing something stupid. 

Cruise continues to fashion himself as the absolute best vehicle for these types of thrills, a relentlessly gung-ho figure of optimal competence, confusing charisma and rapidly diminishing human relatability. It’s a marvel that these movies work so well, considering we’re well past the point of seeing Hunt as a human who eats and showers and rips farts while watching Succession. If there’s one real flaw to Dead Reckoning Part One, it might be that the formula insists on pairing Cruise with female leads with whom he has little to no chemistry. Sexual or romantic chemistry isn’t the point, necessarily, but there are essentially three female leads here that Cruise gets to stare at blankly between daring feats of derring-do and not an ounce of rizz to be found.

Dead Reckoning Part One even does nostalgia right, trotting out Henry Czerny’s Kittridge from the first installment with minimal rib-poking fracas and even plumbing Ethan Hunt’s pre-movies backstory for a little bit of welcome trauma. A new character played by Esai Morales is presented as being from Hunt’s past, a device that often requires tons of unspooling nonsense and smoothed-out CGI flashbacks to set up properly. Not here. Dead Reckoning Part One even does those tedious things right. Though the franchise currently hangs on the precipice of running out of things to have Cruise jump off of, it still finds a way of doing its homework properly.

It’s become customary in the wake of these ever-expanding franchises for people to rewatch the entire series before a new installment, thereby allowing for a better idea of where said new installment falls in the pantheon. I did not do that and, frankly, I can barely tell these movies apart through any means other than their villains. I suppose the fact that these kind of melt into each other could be taken as a negative thing given that they operate at a level that few franchises do, but consistency is an underrated quality in a world where Mattel is on the precipice of unleashing dozens upon dozens of movies based on action figures, dolls and board games. I cannot accurately place Dead Reckoning Part One anywhere on the pantheon of these movies, but one thing I do know is that there’s no reason for them not to keep making them exactly like this. ■

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 (directed by Christopher McQuarrie)

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1 opens in Montreal theatres on Wednesday, July 12.

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