Film Review: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One


Deep under the ice of the Bering Strait, a tactical exercise on a Russian submarine goes badly wrong. As the bodies of the doomed sub float to the surface, something sinister is hidden inside its hull. The first of a two-parter, Christopher McQuarrie helms the seventh episode of the era’s premier action series.

This time, the impossible mission involves the recovery of a key – in two halves, much like Indiana Jones’ Dial of Destiny – that unlocks something to do with an all-knowing AI with the power to control (wait for it) “Truth” Itself. Naturally, every world government would like to get their greasy mitts on such a thing, while Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his roguish team know that control of “The Entity” – such as the AI is known – is simply too much power for any one person or authority to wield.

The MacGuffin driving the plot is all very contemporary, even if it’s truth-manipulation themes are rather reminiscent of the 1997 Bond entry Tomorrow Never Dies. But for all the mind-boggling stunts, the running around and the body-count the actual stakes aren’t always clear: what does The Entity, which we’re told has recently become self aware, plan to do? Is its goal to destroy humanity, to manipulate world events, or what? The urgency with which Ethan delivers his warnings about the end of the world is never quite as clear or as immediate as the threat that nuclear obliteration was in Dead Reckoning’s predecessor.

Indeed, as jaw-dropping as the stunts are, as impeccable as the editing and cinematography, as glorious as Cruise’s running, one cannot help but feel that McQuarrie is holding something back for Part Two. Which in a sense is only to be expected and certainly as the credits roll one cannot wait for Dead Reckoning’s concluding chapter, but the result is that Part One never quite tightens the screws, emotionally or viscerally, as much as McQuarrie’s previous entries, Fallout and Rogue Nation, which each stand on their own terms.

Moreover, Dead Reckoning can’t help but fall into a few unfortunate clichés regarding its women characters. Pom Klementieff’s Paris is for the most part reduced to a silent, inscrutable Asian assassin stereotype, replete with schoolgirl skirt, while the script simply cannot help itself in needlessly indulging in another tired cliché with another woman character who deserves better. Throughout McQuarrie’s tenure as director, this is a series that has generally acquitted itself better than most other action series regarding its women, so it’s something of a shame to see it resorting to these old tricks.

Nevertheless, Dead Reckoning almost by default easily outclasses every other non-animated action film this year, with the much-touted bike-to-parachute stunt just as deranged and thrilling as anything else Cruise has attempted in the series to date. And while the peril is just as serious as any other entry in the series, Dead Reckoning knows just how daft all this is, with witty panning shots that bring into frame a convenient ramp-shaped structure just as Ethan is trying to figure out exactly how to launch himself off a mountain, or an enjoyably Bond-esque moment in a kitted-out Fiat with an impenetrable interface. His chemistry, too, with Hayley Atwell’s thief Grace is a welcome change of pace, somewhat harkening back to black-sheep entry M:I-2. That said, their erstwhile partnership is more of the mentor variety than the ludicrous baroque romance of Thandiwe Newton’s Nyah Hall, or the more recent fizz of Rebecca Ferguson’s ex-communicated MI6 agent, Ilsa Faust.

Much like this year’s other best action film (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) it feels a little unfair to judge Dead Reckoning – essentially one half of a five and a half hour film – as it stands, but on its own terms, M:I-7 is a superbly-crafted action thriller. Once again, Cruise has outdone himself as Hollywood’s last great movie star, pushing himself beyond the limits of what any insurance liability should. Yet for this reviewer, it felt there was still something left to tighten, some more air to be pumped into the balloon, a little more fuse to let out. No doubt M:I-8 will have the matches ready.

Christopher Machell