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MOVIES: Mission Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One - Review

15 Jul 2023

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Flashback to last year. Hollywood is in dire straights; having just come out of the COVID pandemic struggling to get audiences back to theatres. Studios are counting on a mega hit to revitalise interest in the movies. Enter Tom Cruise, the madman whose desire to kill himself for our own entertainment makes him one of the most exciting movie stars since Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. He’s also the “last” movie star; one of the few holdouts from the streaming slush that has seen many an actor be dragged into for an easy buck. Against all odds, Top Gun: Maverick saved cinema, earned a massive profit, and became one of the best blockbusters of the decade. Now: flashforward a year, and Cruise has done it again. But as a champion of the Mission Impossible franchise and having spent the last week watching all 6 prior movies again for like the third or fourth go on each of them – Dead Reckoning Part One is not just one of the best of these; it’s also one of Hollywood’s best action movies.

After an incredibly tense start that riffs off The Hunt for Red October, we find that Ethan Hunt and his crew of IMF agents are in possession of part of a key that shuts down a smart AI that’s going rogue and learning to the point it has the ability to access any database in the world. Every country wants it: not to destroy it, but to control it – Hunt is the only one capable of doing the thing that needs to be done in order to destroy it so its power isn’t abused, which naturally puts him on the hitlist of his old rivals in the CIA, and the mysterious Gabriel, an agent of chaos who has past links with Ethan, as well as pretty much every government agency in the world. He may have a new ally, though: At a tense airport scene Hayley Atwell’s con artist thief Grace; a woman from nowhere, steals the key from Ethan not knowing what it is – and what follows sets off a chain of events that will shape Ethan’s world forever.

The usual hijinks are there and the much-talked about bike stunt and train set-piece are even more memorable when witnessed in the big screen (see this in the biggest screen possible, please), rendering this franchise spoiler proof: yes, you know these key scenes are coming but you don’t care, you’re there to witness them and see how they’re pulled off. Pure movie magic. This is the film that borrows the closest in tone to that of Mission Impossible 1 or even; to a lesser extent, 2, there’s plenty of dutch angles; McQuarrie reunites Ethan with fan-favourite Eugene Kitteridge, Henry Czerny – now a key player in the American spy agency. It’s the closest in a while, in fact since McQuarrie took over – that the film reverts to a good old fashioned spy movie mode: Dead Reckoning Part One thrills in this fashion. It’s got all the spy tropes, friends in the British Secret Service – there’s a plausible world where Bond even exists in the same reality as Hunt, given the careful nods that McQuarrie’s paid to the British icon – (remember the Aston Martin in Rogue Nation?) – and heaven forbid, there’s a world where Jeremy Renner is now leading a CGI-infested monstrosity of a franchise. That was a corporate decision that Cruise pushed back against and I’m glad – and cinema is glad he did, because the rest is history.

I really like how McQuarrie has bought an air of consistency to the franchise in a way that's aping with the spy movie territory in the best possible way. Hunt's the star, yes, but one thing that has given this movie its sense of danger and state is your connection with the IMF team, especially Benji and Luther - now regulars in the franchise - Luther since day one; no other character in a major franchise has lasted longer with more impact - make you feel like you're with Hunt on his adventures. They're your friends, as well as Hunt's. Putting them in mortal danger helps you emphasise with Hunt's struggle to protect them all the more. Out of the newer faces; Rebecca Furgerson makes an instant impression but she always does, Hayley Atwell delights in playing a con-artist in a much better way than Phoebe Waller-Bridge opposite her in Dial of Destiny in a similiar role; and on top of that - this feels like a movie where coincidentally comparisons to other movies out this year are apparent in more ways than one. The train sequence in the final act of Dead Reckoning is a masterclass; yet the one that opens Dial of Destiny is sluggish and awkward. The Rome set-piece in Fast X; whilst gonzo in its own way, lacks the magic of Dead Reckoning. It shows you how good a director McQuarrie is that he's able to run circles around people like experienced journeyman James Mangold; and really add an air of gravitas to a franchise that not many this deep in have.

Much in cinema discussion lately has been about part ones as a franchise; how they work: how they operate. Fast X and Across the Spider-Verse have come out this year alone. But both films forgot to tell a story in their movie; entirely set-ups, first acts for part two, and came across a little hollow and empty as a result. Thankfully Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t have that problem. It’s a blast – a flat out riot – from start to finish, a concrete bonafide movie movie, and that alone should be praised. You can pick up here and still understand what’s going on without having seen the rest of the franchise; fanservice is kept to a minimum. Facemasks are used sparingly, save for a chilling opening scene. This is McQuarrie playing with the rulebook in a bid to create a big grand showdown; and if this is the penultimate Mission Impossible: (I highly doubt it is) – what a way to light the fuse. If you thought the final hour in Fallout couldn't be topped think again: it does, allowing for one of the best in movie blockbuster history.