Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Review

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Screenwriters: Erik Jendresen, Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Frederick Schmidt, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Henry Czerny, Greg Tarzan Davis, Shea Wigham, Cary Elwes

Superstar actor, producer and filmmaker Tom Cruise has undergone something of a renaissance in the eyes of the filmgoing public since his last appearance as Ethan Hunt in Mission: Impossible – Fallout in 2018. He was one of the first stars to publicly visit a cinema following the COVID closures of 2020 and 2021, and was one of the filmmaking giants to demand that television manufacturers include an option to turn off motion blur to better preserve filmmaking intent. As such, his relentless ambition to provide each of us with a reason to go and watch the biggest films on the biggest screens has been re-evaluated as the positive that it is. And, now, in 2023, he is one of the foremost champions of cinema – one of the last remaining bastions of the theatrical experience, a man using his reach to help save the box office. In 2022, he brought audiences of all ages back to the cinema with the summer’s biggest box office hit, Top Gun: Maverick, and in 2023 his mission is to bring them back again. While Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is unlikely to have the same vast appeal to casual filmgoing audiences as his decades-long sequel in the making did in 2022, there remains the same Once In a Lifetime aura around this latest Tom Cruise project. Dead Reckoning Part One is all Dutch angles, fast-paced chases, astonishing stunts, and earnest declarations of love; a fitting tribute to the history of the Mission: Impossible franchise and mainstream Hollywood cinema as a whole.

There’s an Artificial Intelligence seeking to end the world, or at least the world as we know it, and to stop the beastly “entity” from enacting global change, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his rag-tag crew of favourites (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson) must track down a key said to threaten its very existence. The issue is that every world-leading state, government agency and criminal is looking to control the power that the entity possesses, and will do anything to find the keys necessary to wield it.

The villain is a supercomputer using algorithms to enforce evil, and the old-school hero who won’t sacrifice his friends is leading the charge against it – it’s almost meta. Cruise publicly fought studio Paramount to release both Top Gun: Maverick and this Mission: Impossible film theatrically as studios began to transition their releases to streaming in the midst of uncertainty surrounding the box office, and his outspoken support of the theatrical experience is one of the reasons we haven’t lost cinema to the algorithmic forces of streaming giants just yet. In a franchise that has always been very self-aware, has always sought to pay tribute to film history, and has been dedicated to pushing the spy and action genres forward since its inception, Dead Reckoning – Part One is one giant allegory for the potential end-days of the theatrical experience. And it’s a whole heap of fun to boot!

Director Christopher McQuarrie has been a long-term friend and creative partner of Tom Cruise – their relationship having started in the mid-2000s – and the director certainly knows how to marry his visions to those of his iconic leading star. His Mission: Impossible films – Rogue Nation and Fallout – have each featured boundary-pushing action sequences and been rapidly paced, as well as deeply allegorical and loaded with stakes. His films have been brilliantly balanced between the energy and appeal of action and the character dynamics needed to underpin everything with meaning. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is another worthwhile addition to his oeuvre, and another thrilling and emotive Mission: Impossible film.

There are evolutions to the director’s storytelling style that are noticeable in Dead Reckoning Part One, with the aforementioned Dutch angles the most quickly noticeable. In a film filled with characters related to Ethan Hunt’s past, and indeed about foregoing a total reliance on technology, this latest Mission: Impossible movie revisits the filmmaking principles evident in Brian De Palma’s 1996 original, borrowing visual techniques and paying homage to fan-favourite characteristics in a way that not only best pays tribute to the history of the franchise and the techniques of old masters, but delights in its effectiveness to the story being told.

It isn’t all thrills and chills, however. The film wrestles with its status as the first part of a longer narrative – it lays out a lot of information in the prologue, and loses momentum in some sections where the mere presence of some characters is supposed to maintain interest. It’s understandable that the filmmakers looked to provide depth to their overarching narrative at the beginning, and it no doubt adds to the intrigue of the villainous entity and the human beings orbiting its presence, but as a result Part One isn’t quite so thrill-a-minute as predecessor Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Furthermore, it is almost entirely absent of the comedic appeal of the other films, with Simon Pegg’s Benji a notably more traumatised, stressed out and serious version of the character than before – and understandably so – and the world-ending stakes overriding most of the idiosyncrasies of the usual group dynamic we’ve come to love, though Hayley Atwell’s addition to the cast is written effectively and played tremendously well. These are issues that, overall, are by no means off-putting to anyone already interested in the group’s story, or the Mission: Impossible franchise as a whole, but it means that Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t swagger quite like the previous two films.

Real stunts and a clear objective to avoid computer generated imagery assist the spectacular location scouting in offering that which every great action movie should aim to offer: something we’ve never seen before. And they act doubly to reinforce the very purpose of the allegory underpinning the story. In filming sequences such as Tom Cruise driving a motorcycle off the edge of the cliff, there is also so much to become wide-eyed about, and it’s all so beautifully driven home by Lorne Balfe’s arguably franchise-topping work on the score. In Dead Reckoning – Part One, there is a classic sensibility to Balfe’s work, a timelessness that makes for good company to the film’s wider intent of celebrating cinema.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is an exciting time at the movies. The kind of film you’ll want to hear with the best speakers around, and will want to see on the biggest screen possible. Tom Cruise remains as magnetic as he ever was, and the series remains as exciting as it can possibly be. There may be some elements that feel underwhelming in comparison to the franchise-topping work of the past movie, but for what it adds and how it champions what it champions, Dead Reckoning – Part One is another worthwhile celebration of spy-action cinema that leaves you chomping at the bit for its 2nd part. Tom Cruise was right to champion this as a theatrical release.

Score: 18/24

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