Wednesday, July 5, 2023


 by Rob DiCristino

Choose to accept it.

You know, you really have to feel for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the IMF stalwart who routinely risks life and limb to topple rogue dictators, smash unruly computer systems, and generally act as an all-purpose tonic for a never-ending cavalcade of catastrophic apocalypses. Secret agent or not, a person can only scale so many skyscrapers and dangle precariously from so many airliners before they start to wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze. Hunt’s relentless pursuit of justice has already cost him a marriage, after all, as well as handful of teammates and any semblance of personal identity he might have scraped together over his thirty-plus years in the Impossible Mission Force. A life spent in service of this ludicrously-named clandestine agency requires a total commitment to an objective, a series of cold and logical calculations that rate the collective fate of nations far higher than any individual’s prosperity. Hunt has always been willing — eager — to roll those dice, but we all reach a breaking point eventually.

The dizzying Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One certainly offers ample motivation for a career change. Ethan and his team — computer experts Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), as well as disgraced MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) — are in pursuit of an artificially-intelligent superweapon known as The Entity, the keys to which have become hot commodities for international weapons brokers like the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby, returning from 2018’s Fallout) and enigmatic terrorists like Gabriel (Esai Morales), a ghost from Hunt’s tragic past. Also on the trail are American intelligence boss Kittridge (Henry Czerny, reprising his role from 1996’s original film), Gabriel’s silent enforcer Paris (Pom Klementieff), and Grace (Hayley Atwell), a hardscrabble pickpocket looking for the ultimate payday. Global espionage ensues as the various parties cross and double-cross each other with reckless abandon, each hoping to gain control over The Entity’s game-changing capabilities.
So the fate of the world may once again be in Ethan Hunt’s hands, but as Dead Reckoning Part One makes abundantly clear, he asked for it. He and his compatriots knew the mission when they chose to accept it, a refrain that acts as the thematic spine of this two-part final movement in the Mission: Impossible saga. “You’ll be given a choice,” Ethan tells Grace as she faces apprehension for her crimes. “We were all given a choice,” Benji concurs. “We’re here because we want to be.” The motivations behind that choice vary, of course — the nature of Ethan’s criminal history is one of several threads left hanging for Dead Reckoning Part Two — but it does explain why Ethan never tires of throwing himself headfirst into no-win scenarios with barely a coherent plan of action (“Plans tend to just get in the way,” says Benji). As the IMF faces its most existential threat yet — a MacGuffin that embodies the inevitability of death — Dead Reckoning Part One returns to the series’ core mantra: Your mission, should you choose to accept it.
And you should. In the twenty-seven years since Brian DePalma’s original film, the Mission: Impossible series has grown into our premier action/adventure spectacle, a commercial and creative juggernaut that has made the most commanding argument for the enduring power of cinema since Avatar or John Wick. With each entry, producer/star Cruise has pushed himself — and our expectations — to the absolute limit, combining old-school silver screen magic with the latest and greatest in filmmaking technology. In designing this penultimate episode, however, co-writer/director Christopher McQuarrie returns to DePalma’s playbook, staging a claustrophobic cat-and-mouse game that plays out in close-ups and canted angles reminiscent of the very first Mission: Impossible adventure. Careful viewers will spot a host of other echoes and homages — both films climax in a thrilling train heist, for example — but Cruise and McQuarrie aren't merely trading in cheap nostalgia; instead, they’re coming full circle on one IMF story while sowing the seeds for another.

That isn’t to say that Dead Reckoning skimps on the pageantry. Running a towering 163 minutes in length, the film indulges audiences with all the in-camera, done-for-real theatrics we’ve come to expect from Mission: Impossible, including moonlit sword fights, horseback sniper attacks, and a thoroughly irresponsible motorcycle stunt that culminates in the most effective and unexpected beat of comedy you’ll see in an action movie this year. Riveting, too, is a midway car chase that finds Grace and Ethan struggling to navigate the narrow alleys of Rome while handcuffed together in a tiny Fiat (with a maniacally joyous Paris close behind in a military-grade Humvee, no less). While the ins and outs of Dead Reckoning Part One’s storytelling are more convoluted than ever — don’t even bother trying to remember where each half of The Entity’s keys are at any given moment; that would just spoil the fun — we trust Ethan and the IMF to be one step ahead of the bad guys, even as the clock ticks close and closer to certain disaster.
It’ll be difficult to feel the full weight and scope of Dead Reckoning until Part Two hits next year — if Part One has a weakness, it’s the sheer number of moving plotlines that go unresolved — but it’s clear that Cruise and McQuarrie are leaving everything on the field for Ethan Hunt’s grand finale. Living manifestation of destiny or not, Ethan can’t do this forever, and Dead Reckoning is his opportunity to settle old scores, pay off outstanding debts, and show a new generation of secret agents just how far they’ll have to go to complete the world’s most impossible missions. Though Tom Cruise will undoubtedly headline blockbusters well into his dotage — especially with Harrison Ford throwing down the gauntlet at age eighty — this will be the defining moment in his latter-era (era) career. Cruise and Mission: Impossible have been at the forefront of blockbuster action filmmaking for thirty years, but it will be up to us to learn, listen, and choose to accept the responsibility of carrying it on long after they’re gone.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One hits theaters on Wednesday, July 12th.


  1. We’re lucky to live in a world where this franchise and all the wild stuff within it exists and I’m so glad it’s still worthy of my excitement. I can’t wait!!

  2. the IMF stalwart who routinely risks life and limb to topple rogue dictators

    Er, IIRC, the series has never once featured a non-American non-political (or not part of the elaborate spy game) villain. Even in my personal favorite, II, the evil scheme is strictly financial. Since III, the baddies have all been bland arms dealers or absurd apocalypse-seekers, without a hint of any recognizable real-world political agenda, with the Bond and Fast movies following suit, and it's grown tedious as hell, IMO. Great stunts and a charismatic cast are cool, but how many hours and movies of random crosses, double-crosses, and disposable MacGuffins are we going to put up with?!

    The franchise is so bland, it won't even give us a white supremacist, let alone a Black (remember Killmonger?), Islamist, or Hindu one. The Chinese government is operating literal concentration camps, but we can't have even a rogue Chinese ultanationalist, noooo. (TV's excellent The Last Ship did, though!) Hell, say what you like about it, Die Another Day had the modicum of guts to give us a North Korean villain. (Who was even thoughtful enough to turn himself white, so Bond wouldn't have to punch someone who didn't look just like him!)

    And now these context-free cat and mouse dirties are running 160 minutes for just half a story?! I dunno, man. I dunno.

    1. I don't agree with mostnof what you said, but the half-movie part is really annoying. It's like they just press Stop

  3. The new M:I still has great action sequences and charming characters, and I had fun with it, but I thought it had easily the dumbest plot of any movie in the franchise--really one of the dumbest plots of any movie I've seen in a while. Please, Zeus, I really hope Part Two has 900% fewer mentions of "The Entity."