Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Movie Review: Tom Cruise Goes Up Against AI

Surprisingly for an action thriller, the latest in the Mission Impossible franchise makes space for quiet, lingering moments
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Movie Review: Tom Cruise Goes Up Against AI

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Erik Jendresen

Cast: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Czerny

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One Review

Where does Ethan Hunt go from here? At the end of Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018), the IMF spy (Tom Cruise) had saved the world, yet again, found catharsis and closure in his relationship with his former wife (Michelle Monaghan) and finally gave in to the first flush of a tender romance with MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). Hunt, so fond of speed-running full tilt towards the next big hurdle that his sprints are now their own setpieces, finally seemed to have found himself a place to rest. So where else is Dead Reckoning Part 1 to reach for future adventures but in the same place that so many sequels in recent times have — right back into the past?

This is a film that invokes the Dutch angles, paranoia and close-ups of Brian De Palma’s Mission: Impossible (1996), the emotional undercurrent JJ Abrams brought to Mission: Impossible III (2006) and the death-defying stunts the films first introduced with Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011) and later become synonymous with ever since director Christopher McQuarrie took over in 2015. Dead Reckoning Part 1 isn’t above building a home in the past, even as it pokes fun at the blocks that have laid the foundation of this franchise. Impossible Mission Force? Kind of a silly name. Face-swapping techniques? Thrilling when they work, hilarious that they even do.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Movie Review: Tom Cruise Goes Up Against AI
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Even Hunt’s iconic run becomes a background gag early on in the movie, only for it to be invoked to wrenching effect later, during a chase to a bridge that echoes a similar scene in the first Mission Impossible, in which Hunt also arrived too late to save someone he cared about. If Fallout pointed out that everyone who makes it out of these movies alive survives because of Hunt, Dead Reckoning Part 1 makes the case that he can’t save everyone. Characters die, but not everyone is resurrected. IMF director Eugene Kitteridge (Henry Czerny) reappears for the first time since the first movie but he isn’t the only ghost on Hunt’s tail – the terrorist Gabriel (Esai Morales), a reminder of the spy’s past failures from before the franchise even began, resurfaces to haunt him. At the same time, Hunt himself appears well on the way to becoming a ghost, slipping into a mentor role at various points during the film, seemingly ready to hand off the franchise to a successor. If the film is cloaked in memories of the past, however, its villain couldn’t be more of the current moment – an artificial intelligence that Hunt must get his hands on and destroy before it falls into the hands of the wrong person.

The AI makes it such that no digital information the characters receive can be trusted, planting a seed of suspicion that McQuarrie visually complements by cutting between both sides of the characters' faces as they talk, underlining that no one can be taken at face value. The idea that reality can’t be trusted fits in well for a series that’s always been about two-facedness and duplicity, but the film doesn’t do enough to fuel a sense of paranoia. Instead, it restricts the all-powerful AI to tampering with the IMF team’s communications instead of really dismantling their lives. It makes for a nice meta touch though - who better than Tom Cruise, longtime champion of practical effects over digital, to convince his team to go analog this time?

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One Movie Review: Tom Cruise Goes Up Against AI
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Dead Reckoning Part 1 is instead a looser, slower instalment, which is a frankly insane thing to say about a film in which the countdown to disarm a bomb with a billion potential coded combinations is just a side
quest, but this is also a movie that likes to linger. Like a firecracker with a long, long fuse, it makes space for quiet moments – a pair of hands tenderly held here, an assassin gently dozing off before a big fight there – before finally exploding into an all-out action extravaganza. The film sags during long sequences of exposition – of which there are many – but these are simultaneously crucial to understand the plot’s many machinations. All of them, however, slow the momentum between the several impeccably-put-together action sequences the film races between. A shaky camera and almost-blinding light heighten the sense of disorientation that characterises a fight inside a cramped bylane. A car chase through Rome is just as much an opportunity for physical comedy as it is an action sequence. When Hunt rides his motorcycle off a cliff, McQuarrie lets the scene go completely silent for a few seconds – a bated breath before the sound design envelops the falling rider in a rush of wind. The final bit of a three-part climactic train sequence sees Hunt and Grace (Hayley Atwell), a professional thief he’s formed a tenuous bond with, nimbly leap through the various compartments of a train in time as it hurtles off a bridge. Atwell is a standout, bringing a choreographed chaos to a franchise that has always thrived on the best-laid plans gone awry, but fellow new addition to the series, Pom Klementieff as an assassin, gets too little to work with.

At two hours, 43 minutes, Dead Reckoning Part 1 is a whole lot of movie, but the point at which it cuts off simultaneously creates the impression that part two isn’t enough to sustain its own film, and could’ve comfortably slotted itself into this one. The endgame that this film deprives viewers of is clear in the next one, which is a bit of a letdown. The AI, dubbed The Entity, might know how all of this ends, as it repeatedly states, but for fans of a franchise that has navigated five directors and as many tonal shifts, the thrill has always lay in the unpredictability.

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