Before seeing this latest installment in Tom Cruise’s “Mission Impossible” series, “Dead Reckoning, Part 1,” I turned to a friend and offered my pre-review: “The stunts will be incredible, but the plot will be incomprehensible.” After watching the movie for two hours and forty-five minutes, I stand by that eleven-word summary.
The villain this time is The Entity, an all-knowing artificial intelligence system. As with the Dial Of Destiny in the latest Indiana Jones movie, The Entity is merely a MacGuffin, the plot device that gets us from one action sequence to the next. But wow, that’s where the excitement lives.
Director Christopher McQuarrie has worked with Cruise many times, and he knows that the star loves doing his own stunts — and has the skills to pull them off. So, McQuarrie makes sure his cameras get up close allowing us to see it’s actually Cruise doing the work. In an era where deepfakes can fool our eyes and CGI can simulate anything, it’s nice to have a director and actor who prefer practical effects (albeit with some digital magic to erase safety wires). Besides, no movie star has ever been as good at running as quickly and upright as Cruise.
In this seventh “Mission Impossible” adventure, Cruise rides a motorcycle off a high cliff, engages in a fight atop a train in motion, and gets behind the wheel for a high-speed car (and motorcycle) chase through Rome. We already saw an exciting vehicular chase in a major European city (Paris) in the fourth John Wick movie, but complaining that this one’s redundant would be like whining that Jason Bourne has to keep looking over his shoulder to see who wants him dead this time.
One of the things I found fascinating watching Cruise play Hunt again at age 61, twenty-seven years after the original movie, is that McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen have found a way to humanize the character. For the first time, he shows some real emotion and sentiment amid the running, jumping, and fighting. I also smiled at the irony of Ethan Hunt, the IMF agent played by Cruise, getting his assignment to take on The Entity, an ultra-high-tech opponent, via a message on an analog audio cassette player. Which, naturally, self-destructs ten seconds later.
Unlike Wick and Bourne, Hunt doesn’t work alone, so it’s not long before Cruise reunites with his flesh-and-blood team, played by Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Ferguson. In addition to their support roles, they share some witty banter, while Ferguson shows again that she can handle the physical challenges, too. So can Hayley Atwell, the new love interest, and Pom Klementieff, who channels her inner Harley Quinn at the behest of Esai Morales, The Entity’s evil human frontman.
Yes, that seemed silly when I typed it, but again, you don’t have to figure things out to enjoy movies like this. You just have to follow the action and wait until the fight on the train reaches its climax with one of the most remarkably staged stunt sequences I’ve seen in a long time. And if the artificial-intelligence-will-kill-us-all angle isn’t enough, you will also be reminded of other thrillers like “The Hunt For Red October” and “War Games.” Not to mention the recent drama involving the Titan submersible.
That’s a lot to pack into one movie, but despite its 2:45 runtime, it never felt too long. When I saw it, most of the audience stayed in their seats through the end credits, waiting for a bonus scene afterwards, as if they hadn’t seen enough in the previous 165 minutes. There wasn’t, but we will get plenty more scenes next year, when “Part 2” is released.
Cruise has spoken often about how much he loves making movies for people to see in theaters. “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part 1” stands as a classic example of the full potential of the medium. I give it a 9.5 out of 10, and strongly recommend you see it on the largest screen possible. It is best enjoyed in Imax, not on an iPhone.