I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Mission: Impossible movies might’ve started out as an odd reboot choice back in 1996, but they’ve since become our greatest modern action movie franchise thanks to star Tom Cruise’s dogged determination to outdo himself every. Single. Time.
Each new Mission: Impossible movie comes with even more mind-blowing stunts for Cruise, be it dangling from the Burj Khalifa or holding onto an airplane for dear life as it takes off. Like Jackie Chan, there’s seemingly nothing that Cruise won’t do for our entertainment.
Cruise has said he wants to keep making Mission: Impossible films when he’s in his 80s. So does the franchise’s latest installment — Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One (Part Two comes out next June) — live up to its predecessors? Or should Cruise quite while he’s still ahead? Read on for a quick roundup of critics’ reactions to Ethan Hunt’s latest daring adventure.
Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One would always be compared to the two previous films, and a near-impossible bar for any franchise to try and clear. However, the step back here feels much more pronounced, and the final film being mediocre instead of great or even good is a shame.
But it’s the movie’s almost comical level of self awareness that saves it. Characters still call Ethan Hunt things like “a mind-reading, shape-shifting agent of chaos,” and the movie can never get enough mileage out of the absurd thrills of having some random man pull off his mask to reveal he’s Tom Cruise. Cruise is exceptional at this part — as much credit as he gets for pulling off each amazing stunt, not enough can be said for how good he is at playing an extremely determined guy who is very, very tired.
The Mission: Impossible films are the quintessential modern example of an old concept: if you do everything well enough, if you understand how to keep things snappy and populate the story with characters who feel like real, live people (thus imbuing all the noise with stakes), well, it doesn’t matter what the picture’s about, because what it’s actually about is so instantly relatable. Will they survive? Will they fall in love? Archetype and craft. There’s nothing simpler and nothing more complex.
After an exciting first third, we drift into a series of bloated exposition sessions where thinly drawn side-characters spend far too long talking up the apocalyptic (but actually quite vague) threat of AI. Even the main baddie, Esai Morales’ mononymous creep Gabriel, doesn’t really understand what’s going on. He seems to believe his fast-evolving gadget can actually predict the future, making bold predictions that turn out true for no reason other than he’s said them. The plot borrows from Westworld and aims for cerebral but ends up coming out like a half-baked Christopher Nolan brain fart.
As with every Mission: Impossible film (especially McQuarrie’s), the action’s scale and scope have grown exponentially. And Cruise, ever the beloved mad man he is, shows no signs of slowing down, increasing the stunts magnitude and force. The car chase, where Ethan and spry thief Grace (Hayley Atwell) are forced to drive handcuffed together in a tiny yellow Fiat on the slippery cobblestone streets of Rome, has an air of Buster Keaton-style slapstick. Ethan’s close-quarters alley fight with Gabriel’s deliriously unhinged henchwoman Paris (Pom Klementieff) feels claustrophobic, shading the characters’ psyches through cinematographer Fraser Taggart’s bare lighting.
The action sequences are consistently dynamic, and always adapted to their environment: a shoot-out in a sandstorm focuses on stealth and precision, while a Vespa chase down Rome’s many staircases is all cartoon chaos. It all culminates in an absolutely insane stunt in which Cruise drives a motorcycle off a cliff and then parachutes down onto a moving train. You will leave Dead Reckoning the same way you always do: wondering how Cruise could possibly outdo himself in the next one — until inevitably, he does.
Like McQuarrie and Cruise are doing things no one has ever done before just because they can. There’s a charm in that confidence and as each scene gets more exciting and shocking than the last, it’s hard not to just let the whole thing wash over you. By the time the film gets to its highly publicized scene where Ethan drives a motorcycle off a cliff and base jumps in midair, you won’t be surprised to learn that’s just the beginning.
Largely exhilarating across the board, Dead Reckoning is easily the best installment thus far… and perhaps precisely because the movie is actually about something this time. Not only does it reflect on the poignantly shaped notion of the “greater good,” service, and sacrifice — and putting those ideals to the test in interrogation — but the notion of these ideals as the ultimate burden the main character has to bear: the axis point wherein his higher oath conflicts with his personal desire to keep his friends safe.
In the end, even with its forewarned cliffhanger, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is an unquestionably exciting film, satisfyingly entertaining thanks to its generous heaps of star power, stunt spectacle, and Cruise control — topped with the special sauce of Atwell as a rom-com charmer and Klementieff as a mesmerizing wild card. Its twists and turns are dulled through no fault of its own, but due to the cruelty of comparison to other big summer releases. But it’s still a spectacular time at the movie — if you choose to accept it.
All of this is going to hit real good with action fans — especially the ones who see this film in theaters. Because the Mission: Impossible movies, like Tom Cruise (who’s now synonymous with the franchise), come from a bone-deep belief that the secret to a blockbuster that people will go see lies in showing people performing on a level that explodes past the everyday. These films use movie magic to make real humans look like they’re actually doing outrageous things, rather than using them as faces meant to humanize a digital creation being put through its paces.
That Hunt’s missions will soon be a thing of the past is a depressing reality to contemplate, considering that no other big-budget franchise has consistently matched its bloody-knuckled scale and ferocity. Nonetheless, Cruise makes sure that his penultimate Hunt outing is just as vigorous as its ancestors. And in its remarkable conclusion, he proves that that by risking life and limb to cling tightly to the things he most loves, he continues to be Hollywood’s old-school action-movie savior.
Once again, director Christopher McQuarrie, Cruise, and their team have crafted a deceptively simple thriller, a film that bounces good, bad, and in-between characters off each other for 163 minutes (an admittedly audacious runtime for a film with “Part One” in the title that somehow doesn’t feel long). 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.
There’s almost nothing Cruise won’t do and here, once again, he engages in a wide variety of physical stunts, from firearm-heavy combat in the desert, to multiple, overlapping car chases, and onto what’s become a signature stunt for the indomitable Cruise, falling or leaping from planes, trains, and automobiles (also motorcycles). The higher the physical risk onscreen, the better for Cruise and, by extension, the audience sitting in rapt attention on the other side of the digital screen.
Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One arrives in theaters on July 12, 2023. Watch the trailer below.