The 2023 summer movie season has been extremely rough. From The Flash to Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, we’ve been getting disappointing blockbusters and box office bombs left and right. Well, just like last year with Top Gun: Maverick, the industry is once again relying on Tom Cruise to save it with a cinematic experience that demands to be seen on the biggest screen you can find. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is just that, and although it might not be the strongest in the franchise, it absolutely boasts the type of movie magic and spectacle that most (if not all) blockbusters have been missing this year. With more gadgets, more death-defying practical stunts, and a lot more money shots of Tom Cruise sprinting at full speed, the seventh Mission: Impossible film is easily the most absurd yet, and it’s all the better because of it.
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie returns for the third time in the franchise, this time with the help of co-writer Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers), to create a two-part sequel event. Even if Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse just proved to be a highly successful “first half” at the box office, this trend of two-parters is, admittedly, starting to wear thin, and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is no exception. Ethan Hunt’s latest mission is his most complicated by far, and with the runtime clocking in at 2 hours and 43 minutes, this can be both a pro and a con. This isn’t to say that the movie is overtly confusing, but it sure is pretty dense for essentially being the first half of a story. However, with these added layers comes higher stakes and even more extreme thrills, all organically earned by McQuarrie within the complex nature of his screenplay.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One brings Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) together to stop the most powerful A.I. program in the history of the world. The A.I., which can be everywhere and nowhere all at once, was originally created to secretly propel its host nation to the top of the global food chain. However, it of course went rogue and is now self-sustaining and smart enough to operate as its own sinister force, which everyone refers to as “the Entity.” The first step in stopping the Entity is retrieving two halves of a special golden key that can access what most characters assume is its source code. I say “assume” because the first half of this mission isn’t just about getting both halves of the key, but figuring out what exactly it unlocks.
With every global superpower in the race to complete the key in order to try and control the Entity for themselves, including the United States, Ethan and his team plan to destroy it for the greater good. Though, the Entity, with its ability to calculate the future step by step, has employed an old foe from Ethan’s past to act as its physical avatar. The cold-blooded Gabriel (Esai Morales) makes this mission personal for Ethan, and he soon learns that the only path to stopping the rogue A.I. will cost him dearly with the lives of everyone he loves at risk. Along the way, we cross paths with returning adversaries like the White Widow, Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby), new threats like an elite French assassin nicknamed Paris (Pom Klementieff), and old allies like former IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), who makes his return after appearing in the first film.
The biggest newcomer of them all is Hayley Atwell as Grace, a master pickpocketer who gets reluctantly thrown into Ethan’s mission and is way in over her head. Tom Cruise and Atwell take up most of the spotlight in Dead Reckoning Part One and make for an electric pairing. Cruise and Atwell’s back-and-forth banter is always on point and when they’re thrown into the most chaotic action set pieces together against their will, the film is at its very best. It’s just not all fun and games though, for Ethan and Grace develop a genuine bond by the end that is unlike his relationship to his other fellow spies. Atwell is yet another brilliant addition to this franchise, and seeing both of her dramatic and comedic chops being utilized at such a high scale is much welcomed (especially since her role as Peggy Carter in the MCU deserved way more).
Whereas Haley Atwell takes center stage in Dead Reckoning Part One, Rebecca Ferguson’s Isla Faust unfortunately takes a back seat. The Dune and Silo star is fantastic as usual, yet when almost everyone else has so much to do in this script, it’s disappointing to see her receive the short end of the stick. This is a rather bizarre decision on Christopher McQuarrie’s behalf since he was the one who made a star out of the character in Rogue Nation and Fallout. You also can’t help but feel like Dead Reckoning Part One falls into some old action genre tropes by shoving one female character to the side in order to let another one thrive – as if this movie couldn’t allow Atwell and Ferguson to shine together. Maybe Ferguson’s shooting schedule is now too packed to even include Mission: Impossible? Regardless, it’s the most damning aspect of this sequel.
Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg are on top of their game as they’re forced to step out of their comfort zones in the fight against the Entity. The duo keeps the energy alive in their own unique ways in between Cruise getting all the major action beats; it’s a formula that’s been working for the last few films in the franchise and is still proving to work as strong as ever. The only downside here is that given how dense the script is, Luther and Benji do most of the heavy lifting with exposition and their dialogue can often come off as too clunky when explaining the Entity. Going from heavy to minimal dialogue, Pom Klementieff makes a killer impression as the fierce French assassin, Paris. Despite being mostly quiet, the Marvel star chews up the scenery and is clearly having a blast playing a villain for once.
Obviously, above all else, people are going to be rushing to cinemas to see Tom Cruise do what he does best: laugh in the face of death! Dead Reckoning Part One may not be the best franchise entry in terms of narrative, but it’s a top contender for being one of (if not) the most thrilling of the series for sure. Credit to McQuarrie and Cruise, the pure entertainment value of the film never runs dry from start to finish. The various action set pieces – not just the huge moneymaker of Tom Cruise literally riding a motorcycle off a mountain cliff – all offer new sets of tension and suspense. From a wild car chase across the streets of Venice in a small yellow Fiat to a knife fight on top of a runaway train (as it’s passing through an extremely tight tunnel!), nothing delivers thrills like Mission: Impossible.
Although, Dead Reckoning Part One is sometimes so ridiculous that it dips the franchise into Fast & Furious levels of disbelief. Mission: Impossible has always thrived in the realm of partial reality, due to Cruise actually doing a lot of these insane stunts himself, but Ethan Hunt has as much plot armor in this sequel as Dom Toretto. It’s not entirely the same, but this type of Looney Tunes logic matches well with the evil A.I. story and is exactly why this movie works. Tom Cruise has never radiated this much hilarious Buster Keaton energy and for that reason alone, Dead Reckoning Part One carves its own place in today’s blockbuster cinema. Cinematographer Fraser Taggart further defines the sequel’s identity by using specific close-ups, dutch angles, and unconventional framing to build a palpable atmosphere of paranoia, resulting in sleek visuals that feel totally unique to this film as well.
The few narrative setbacks of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t stop it from being one of the best action films of the year, right under John Wick: Chapter 4. It would also be wrong not to mention that the film makes perfect use of the underrated Shea Whigham, who’s hilariously grunting his way across the world chasing Ethan Hunt and his crew for the CIA. On that note, Dead Reckoning Part One is as funny as it is riveting, creating a natural balance between the layered script and its high-octane action. While it’s only half of a story, this sequel is a complete experience with an ending that makes way for Dead Reckoning Part Two to kick off with its own special bang. Suffice it to say, this is a must in IMAX or Dolby Vision. After this lackluster summer, you won’t want to miss out.