The era of Tom Cruise domination continues. After Top Gun: Maverick resulted in a savior-like box office run, Cruise’s return to Mission: Impossible hopes to keep the momentum going. Cruise returns with Christopher McQuarrie for the third consecutive film. As usual, the combo works wonders with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, delivering a high-octane thriller with plenty of indelible moments. Despite this, a surprisingly thin screenplay leaves us wanting more from the most recent entry.

Ethan Hunt (Cruise) must find Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). The secret agent on-again-off-again romance puts them on opposite sides of a global chase for an unorthodox key. The key provides a literal path to unprecedented power. Somehow, it controls the most powerful Artificial Intelligence ever created, known as “The Entity.” However, as Hunt and his team at the IMF attempt to recover the key, a thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell) accidentally finds her way into the dangerous world. Hunt and Grace must survive two acolytes of The Entity, with Gabriel (Esai Morales) and Paris (Pom Klementieff) hot on their tail.

Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Cruise and McQuarrie up the ante once more with Dead Reckoning‘s stuntwork. Pushing Cruise to his limits, McQuarrie lets the action flow through his star. The spoiled jump off a mountain remains as epic as promised in the context of the Dead Reckoning, but plenty of other scenes were hidden for audience enjoyment. Combining close-quarter combat, car chases, and always iconic sprinting Cruise make for creative showcases. McQuarrie mirrors many of De Palma’s iconic sequences but also adds a more personal element to many of them. While Mission: Impossible may not have carried the emotional stakes of Dead Reckoning, it’s clear that the influence remains strong.

Additionally, the text allows Cruise to push back against establishment power. This message rings true, especially in light of WGA and SAG strikes. Mission: Impossible always threaded this idea through their stories, yet it’s exceptionally relevant here. Hunt (Cruise) fights off the government (Movie studios) for control of an algorithm (streaming) they cannot wield functionally. All of this is fun subtext until you remember it comes from a franchise based on an IP TV series. Additionally, it features a surefire box office draw who would not turn the reigns over to a younger actor (Renner). At the same time, without the credibility McQuarrie and Cruise developed over the last decade, it’s unlikely this version of Mission: Impossible would exist.

However, Dead Reckoning suffers in two major ways. First, it underwrites Grace to a shocking degree. There have been women in the MI franchise that need Hunt’s help. None feel so hopelessly under-equipped to survive like Grace. Even Julia Meade (Michelle Monaghan) seemed aware her life was on the line. The way that McQuarrie and company showcase Grace, she seems unwilling to believe any of the danger. We can buy this in the first and arguably second scene, which she shares with Cruise. When she enters a party hosted by Alanna (a scene-stealing Vanessa Kirby), Atwell is forced to play oblivious and unqualified. Throughout Howard’s End, Captain America films, and British television, Atwell has proven her best self when playing a worldly, knowledgeable role. In Dead Reckoning, she’s reduced to a damsel in distress, seemingly to fuel Cruise’s messianic complex over Atwell’s agency.

The other major issue lies in the framing of an all-knowing antagonist against Hunt. We are now locked into a two-film story where Ethan faces off against a nameless and faceless foe. Even with Gabriel stepping in, he begins to color in the background for a character that needs none. We carry six films and twenty-five years of knowledge about Hunt, only to flashback to a gunned-down woman. Rather than cash in the chips on one of the very talented actresses that have started opposite Cruise, the emotional heft is put on a character, we know nothing about. Add dozens of AI buzzwords and seemingly nonsense character motivations to follow an all-knowing being. Sadly Dead Reckoning delivers the weakest story since Mission: Impossible 2.

MIssion: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One
Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

The ensemble nature of these films continues to impress. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg remain brilliant as ever. They add considerable heart and stakes to a movie that desperately needs it. Ferguson gets to showcase her action bonafides once again and remains the standout star alongside Cruise. She radiates chemistry with the man, and Dead Reckoning suffers when she’s absent. Klementieff rules as a physical threat, and Morales carries an incredible swagger. While their character motivations do not work, these actors make you believe any of their nonsense makes sense. That much commitment, and Klementieff’s pure excitement at driving a hummer through police vehicles, push Dead Reckoning up a level.

Kirby brings an unsettling gaze and power to her role. She seemingly stares through every scene partner. She sly looks up and down every figure in the way a Lion eyes a gazelle. There’s an almost vampiric approach to her worldview. Most impressively, she turns into an entirely different character in the final act, completing one of the more impressive supporting performances in any Mission: Impossible films to date.

Action set pieces and visceral action make Dead Reckoning an ideal blockbuster triumph. However, enough goes wrong in Dead Reckoning to leave it as one of the weakest entries in the very good franchise. Cruise and McQuarrie may have a fantastic finale in the chamber, but this one is not to their standards.

Alan’s Rating: 7/10

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