3 out of 5
As if resorting to the irritating and, frankly, greedy trend of splitting a film into two is not enough, as if the interminable length of 164 minutes of this part is not enough, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One fills up the time with endless talk, lots of talk. Most of it involves talking up its super villain, dubbed “The Entity”. Variously, different characters take it upon themselves to describe it as a) an A.I. programme that has become “sentient”, b) an “agent” that has gone rogue, c) “an enemy that is everywhere and nowhere, has no centre”, d) “the most powerful killing machine”, e) some sort of cosmic star burst looking over everyone, and f) well, you get the drift. My wife, who came to see the film with me, even commented at the end that she'd need to see it again because there was lots of talking (or exposition).
Even without the current A.I. fears floating around – this film was actually started pre-pandemic, hence it couldn’t have gotten luckier with the timing of its release. We know what we are dealing with here, and have known it since Stanley Kubrick gave us HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The other object of Dead Reckoning’s constant obsession (talking) is Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). The Agent No. 1 of the ‘Impossible Mission Force’ (IMF, for short) is also discussed by several characters at length here, with the description “incarnation of chaos” finding a mention.
The mission this time is stopping or controlling the Entity – with very little dividing the bad people from the good, in this world of giant industrial military complexes (this gets referenced). No surprise which side Ethan chooses to be on. Before he gets there though, he must first procure a key, split into two parts, which when put together can give the source code to the Entity – thus giving the one who cracks this the power to rule the digital space and, by extension, the world.
Ilsa, (Rebecca Ferguson), the former British MI6 agent who Ethan has a thing for, is holding onto one half of the key. Grace (Hayley Atwell) may or may not be holding onto the other, but even if she is, given the thief, pickpocket, counterfeiter, etc, etc that she is, no one can be sure.
The man who keeps popping up painfully in Ethan’s course, not in a good way, is Gabriel (Esai Morales), a ghost from the past who will hopefully get more fleshed out. Here, he just goes about snarling and talking in mysterious ways about his own deal with the Entity. Vanessa Kirby reprises her role of the arms agent White Widow, but gets very little screen time.
Ethan has his loyal comrades Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) with him, toiling away at their computers and gadgets, all to make Ethan look good. Ethan may, but Cruise perhaps less so. Age is now showing on the actor’s face, even if he remains as superbly fit as ever, and as nimble when he runs his heart out, like he does. The grand finale of a train dangling over a steep river ravine, with its carriages falling in one by one, as Ethan and Grace scramble to get to the back coaches, clutching at everything, dodging tumbling furniture and kitchen supplies, is one of the most admirable action sequences in a long time. The car chase earlier through Venice, in a micro Fiat, with Ethan and Grace handcuffed together, finds admirable tricks to pack in too.
The big stunt is in the trailer and it's the motorcycle/parachute jump onto a train. It feels shoe-horned in or just contrived.
Humour has always played a part in the Mission Impossible films and this is ramped up quite a bit. Normally the quips fall to Simon Pegg's character but even Cruise gets in on the gurning and grimacing.
Director and co-writer Chris McQuarrie has created a good entry into the franchise (again) however pacing is a little off. I felt it sagged a bit in the middle - probably during more of the talky bits. Some of the action sequences, in particular the fight on the roof of the train, felt like a re-hash of the first Mission Impossible film. Some might think it fan-service or a nod to the first film but I thought it a bit lazy. That is not to take away from the brilliance of its pacing, editing and filming. It is breathless stuff.
Could the acknowledgement of Cruise’s advancing years have added some genuine love to all this movie admiration? Possibly, but then, this is how it is with Cruise. And this film adds to his long myth of what’s possible – should you choose to accept it.