The track record of long running franchise tends to not hold up under scrutiny. It’s hard to continually maintain the integrity and allure of the story after so many films dealing with the same characters over and over again. That’s why so many of them decide it best to reboot the whole thing or move towards an anthology approach. One doesn’t have to look further than The Fast Franchise to see what I mean, so aside from the continued boundary pushing stunt work and death defying set pieces, the fact that “Mission: Impossible” continues to deliver at such a high level after 7 entries spanning almost 30 years is an achievement all on its own.
“Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part One” does suffer from being overlong and overstuffed. Which stifles the nonstop thrill ride the previous entries have delivered. But what it lacks in pacing and narrative, it makes up for with some of the most astounding practical stunt work ever put on film.
We can point to the jaw dropping work of “John Wick 4” as the new standard (which would be fair), but if we’re being honest, it’s Tom Cruise that literally ran so that John Wick could crawl. “Dead Reckoning” once again pushes the limits of what Cruise is willing to do and what Christopher McQuarrie is willing to let him attempt, and together it makes for some truly big screen magic. We’ve all seen the big cliff jumping stunt for what seems like forever, but I can tell you in the context of the film it’s like seeing it for the first time no matter how many times you’ve watched the clip online. It just hits different, and Cruise’s crusade of trying to bring movies back to the theater is a gamble that pays off big time. Regardless of how you feel about the narrative itself (more on that later), this isn’t a film that will translate at home. He’s absolutely right: the film NEEDS to be seen on the big screen. Though as a whole it doesn’t have the same gripping, edge of your seat effect that the previous 3 entries have had, “Dead Reckoning” is still larger than streaming, and the only way to feast your eyes on the spectacle is the biggest screen you can find.
McQuarrie returns to the directors chair after helming “Mission: Impossible-Fallout,” and co wrote the screenplay with Erik Jendersen. The film has Cruise returning for the 7th time as the titular character Ethan Hunt, as well as other returning members of the IMF team with Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Furgeson (“Dune“) reprising their roles. “Dead Reckoning” also adds Hayley Atwell, Esai Morales, Cary Elwes, and Pom Klementieff.
The film follows Hunt and his team accepting another mission and having to (surprise surprise) go rogue to stop a deadly world ending threat. This time though, the threat is not a single megalomaniac bent on world domination through destruction. In a timely turn of events, they are up against a sentient AI know as The Entity, using an enemy from Hunt’s past in the form of Gabriel (Morales) to realize its ultimate goal. Of course, the ultimate power of an all knowing, all seeing AI is bound to attract the most dubious and power hungry individuals, and the race is on for Hunt to try and get to its source and destroy it before everyone else gets to it to try and control it to reshape the world in their image.
That’s about as simple as I can make the story of “Dead Reckoning,” as it is even more convoluted despite being relatively simple than it has been in a while. It’s not that the story is hard to follow, just that it never really feels as balanced or properly fleshed out to warrant a real investment in what’s happening and why anyone is doing anything outside of Hunt and his team. There’s is a LOT of talking, with massive exposition dumps from just about everyone we meet at any given time. That’s the first major flaw. The stunt work is very much a show don’t tell but the narrative is actively working in opposition. The physical representation of The Entity in the form of Gabriel is never fully realized, only told to us through (you guessed it again) exposition dumps. All we ever really know through what is told to us is that he’s a bad dude and Hunt knows him from his past. We are never really given anything more than that. His origin, his motives, his ties, what drives him are all muddled in constant mumbo jumbo about keys and the key and the entity and the entity key and the key entity.
Additionally, “Dead Reckoning” is stifled by its more somber tone, with a sense of finality that permeates through the whole thing with very little room for whimsy. I’m not saying there aren’t some funny moments, but there’s much more self seriousness that overshadows the more silly, entertaining spy aspects that usually sell the films. It’s not so far off that it takes away from how fun the film is overall, but at 2 hours and 45 minutes, the lack of comedy and cohesion really make it feel longer than it should. This also compounds the impact of the action set pieces, with all of them feeling slightly disconnected from the others. It IS a lot of exposition about keys and entities, ACTION SET PIECE, then back to meandering exposition. It’s not that it’s dull, just that despite one upping every single practical stunt, it doesn’t feel nearly as captivating or thrilling as you might have hoped it would be. We get plenty of Cruise running, and the action is truly stunning, but it doesn’t feel like a complete film in its own right, which is often a folly of part 1 entries.
Luckily, Atwell understood the “Mission: Impossible” assignment, and shows up as a delightful thief who gets in way over her head, getting caught up in the cat and mouse game that is afoot. It’s been a struggle for her to find a vehicle that could really showcase her charisma outside of the MCU, and “Dead Reckoning” is the first real film to use her right. She’s a great addition the franchise, oozing with seductive playfulness, great chemistry with Cruise, and injects the kind of whimsical character that seems to lack elsewhere.
Pom Klementieff also gets to shed her MCU skin and try something new, and though she’s vastly under utilized you can tell she’s having a blast playing someone complete different and outside of the Mantis box she’s been stuck in. Morales’ Gabriel is fine, and he probably would be a worthy adversary if the fim had any interest in fleshing him out in the slightest.
I think after such a stellar run that seemed unimpeachable, “Dead Reckoning” feels like the smallest crack in the teflon armor. It’s good, and in all honesty these narrative missteps and tonal imbalances probably matter more to me than it may to someone else. And that’s perfectly fine, because regardless of whether or not the story grabs you, the brilliant stunt and camera work most certainly will. “Dead Reckoning” is yet another testament as to why practical effects are so important and how much they stand tall among their CGI contemporaries. We have been inundated with a plethora of shoddy special effect heavy films that look like technology is getting worse by the day. So if for nothing else, “Dead Reckoning” is a breath of fresh air that makes good on its promise to wow with its action craft. It may not be able to bring it all together as cohesively as its ambition is striving for, but it is impossible (no pun intended) to not be taken aback by the lengths this team has gone to do everything in real time.
“Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part 1” is held back from greatness by being a little too messy and not feeling like a complete part one, more like half of a much longer movie. It is too long and not interested enough in moving its characters forward to have complete arcs (outside of maybe Atwell) and the overemphasis on the macguffin starts to get exhausting toward the end. But my god does it deliver on incredible action, and sets yet another bar for the franchise and puts even more pressure on Part 2 to drum up some new unbelievable feat for Cruise to conquer. “Dead Reckoning” is very good, but lacks some of the thrilling elements of its predecessors to make it great.
Also, can we leave Rome alone for a while? I think the city steps have had enough cars barreling down its banisters this year. Give the city a break.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
“Mission: Impossible- Dead Reckoning Part 1” is now playing in theaters. You can watch the trailer below.