Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

‘Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning’ Is No James Bond

The action in Mission Impossible: Dread Reckoning, Part One merely updates director John Glen’s James Bond set pieces from a more primitive time in cinema: the 1980s.

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One
Christopher McQuarrie
Paramount Pictures
12 July 2023 (US)

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One tries very hard to be the uproariously entertaining James Bond film, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s morose and downbeat No Time To Die clearly wasn’t. In its obvious attempt to ape another spy thriller series, it loses sense of what it means to be a Mission: Impossible entry.

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One, is the story of a secret agent who sets out to weigh the costs placed on his personal life against the glories that await him should he complete the work in ample time. Tom Cruise, now playing Ethan Hunt for the seventh and – as of the time of writing – presumably penultimate time, brings his trademark swagger to the work. Alas, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One, now more action-heavy than prior installments, does little to push his work as an artist. That the film should end on a cliffhanger of sorts only puts him at a greater disadvantage, demonstrating little of the vulnerability he exhibited in 2015’s Mission: Impossible –_Rogue Nation (the series’ most ambitious and successful entry.)

Glossy, high-energy escapism, this entry packs enough to entertain audiences searching for a brainless, popcorn-padded caper, even if it now tends to look more and more like a trailer for a mightier feature. This movie is garrulous, loud and flashy, revolving around a quagmire of ludicrous character points, superficial setpieces, and  – most damagingly – a plot that’s been recycled from the annals of spy-oriented cinema.

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One opens on familiar territory with a Russian submarine testing its stealth capabilities, this time in the shadow of a larger, more nefarious vessel in tow. Ethan Hunt, still recuperating from his past dalliances with death, is tempted by the prospect of aiding Ilsa Faust (played with sultry abandon by Rebecca Ferguson) in what he is told could be his most dangerous mission yet. Fuelled by the presence of The Entity – an artificial intelligence capable of wiping out the human race – Hunt plunges headfirst into the exercise, gallantly informing his teammates ( the Impossible Mission Force, or IMF) that he would rather die than let them perish.

However, the action presented by director and co-writer Christopher McQuarrie merely updates the setpieces spearheaded by British director John Glen (who oversaw five consecutive James Bond films) at a more primitive time in cinema: the 1980s. There’s a protracted motorcycle chase culminating in a parachute jump off a cliff (For Your Eyes Only, 1981); a choppily produced knife fight that explores the breadth of air, sea, and earth (The Living Daylights, 1987); not forgetting a pulsating, protracted train sequence that could easily pass as an outtake from 1983’s Octopussy. In this cocktail (or compilation), McQuarrie and Cruise piece these disparate sequences into one expansive whole, curating an impasto that bursts through the trailer like the weight of a high-speed rail train racing along at the top of its range.

It’s all a grand facade, and anxious Bond fans can settle. Despite a slow, lingering start and a Shafferian-tinted script (there are countless references to mortality and mania), the seventh entry of the Mission: Impossible series seems irrelevant. Simon Pegg, as Benji Dunn, does what he can as spy cinema’s grouchiest spy boffin, but Cruise (who is no Timothy Dalton) cannot bring the warmth that existed between spy and quartermaster in the altogether wittier work that was Licence to Kill.

Elsewhere, Cruise draws on the soulful undercurrent of Top Gun: Maverick, with Hayley Atwell (as Grace) and Ving Rhames (as Luther Stickell) doubling as the vulnerable voices of reason. A scene in which Cruise’s Ethan Hunt defiantly refuses to let a single member of his entourage perish is crying out for a cameo from One Republic, shouting, ‘I ain’t worried!’ The film’s release confirms what Cruise considers the blockbuster to be: Heavy on visuals, light on character development, piecing something comforting, if unsubstantial in its resolve. Meanwhile, McQuarrie’s habit of creating crazy scenarios for his star (this is his third collaboration with Cruise) offers the ensemble precious little to do, and Vanessa Kirby, an Academy Award nominee, looks sheepish behind the torrent of badly written exposition she is expected to recite. 

Somewhere in this overcooked, under-rehearsed vehicle comes the arrival of Henry Czerny’s Eugene Kittridge, making his first appearance in the series since Brian De Palma’s hypnotic debut. Czerny is fleetingly fun as the grouchy director of the IMF, but shackled to the script, which is determined to single out its hero, he is given precious little to work with, making him another caricature the series has put on public display. “Your days of fighting for the so-called greater good are over,” he mutters, the words offering him no opportunity to graduate beyond being an orator or chronicler. “This is our chance to control the truth.”

And so Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One lumbers on its antiquated fashion, although Fraser Taggart’s forensic camera work is worthy of praise. Glued to the central character, the silhouettes bristle along to the inevitable face-punching confrontation that demonstrates Cruise’s athletic abilities. Mission: Impossible fans will find something of value behind the technical display, but despite the impressive talent that worked on the feature, this spy thriller is a letdown. For all its efforts to topple Bond by mirroring/homaging the stunts that came out some 40 years ago, Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One ultimately is but a shadow of something much more interesting and worthy of a Friday night viewing. 

RATING 5 / 10