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Review - Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

Objective. Obstacle. Solution. Complication. Rinse and repeat until the goal is achieved. Over the course of almost three decades, the Mission: Impossible series has refined its formula to near perfection. The latest installment—the cumbersomely titled Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One—does it again, but bigger: the stakes are higher, the stunts more awesome, the locations more numerous, and the pace more relentless.

Beneath its surface-level spectacle, however, the film is also surprisingly intimate. The plot, after all, is rather basic and busy—with our intrepid heroes pursuing a vaguely defined McGuffin from set piece to explosive set piece—and shootouts, car chases, and train top brawls, no matter how immaculately framed and impeccably choreographed, can only carry a story so far; it is the characters that keep the audience invested in the action.

For perhaps the first time since the original movie, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt feels like an actual human being (M:i:III’s awkward, unconvincing attempt to portray him as an average Joe between assignments notwithstanding). Make no mistake: he’s still a cape away from being an outright superhero; he jumps a motorcycle off a mountain, survives injuries that would reduce a mere mortal to pulp, and is explicitly stated in dialogue to be the one person on Earth capable of thwarting the villains’ schemes. But director Chris McQuarrie manages to find the chinks in our protagonist’s durable armor; Hunt doesn’t stick every landing, is frequently outmaneuvered by his foes, and occasionally fails to save his friends. Here more than ever, it is evident that his success relies more on luck than skill or cunning; indeed, the relative inexperience of rookie operative Grace (Hayley Atwell) serves to highlight the utter absurdity of his propensity for improvisation.

Hunt’s vulnerabilities aren’t just skin deep: he is fiercely protective of his allies—even at the expense of the mission. To him, casualties and collateral damage are totally unacceptable; while the Secretary is heartless enough to simply disavow knowledge of their existence, the loss of an agent would (and does) haunt Ethan for the rest of his days. This unwavering loyalty manifests as intense fear—and Cruise’s steely conviction absolutely sells it.

The supporting players are equally compelling. Of particular note is Henry Czerny’s Eugene Kittridge, returning to the franchise following a twenty-seven-year absence; the incomparably charismatic actor, who could recite a grocery list with gravitas, makes bloated, unwieldy exposition sound as musical as Shakespeare’s sonnets. His adversarial relationship with his subordinate likewise enriches the central conflict; Hunt is too well acquainted with his boss’ jingoism to trust him completely, and Kittridge resents Hunt’s tendency to “go rogue” at the slightest provocation—but each man nevertheless grudgingly respects the other, and they will immediately put aside their differences should the situation require cooperation.

Pom Klementieff delivers the real standout performance, though, lending depth and complexity to what could easily have been a generic minion. As the maniacal Paris, the actress—best known for her comparatively subdued role in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy trilogy—projects a wonderfully chaotic energy; this is a baddie that thoroughly enjoys her violent work, relishing the wanton destruction left behind in her wake. But something resembling a conscience lurks within her cruelty and savagery, and its gradual emergence is the film’s most delightful twist.

These memorable minor antagonists compensate for the otherwise uninspiring heavies. As the enigmatic mastermind pulling the strings from the shadows, The Entity is adequate enough, propelling the narrative from Point A to Point B… but as a purely digital construct, it inherently lacks screen presence and personality. That’s where Esai Morales’ Gabriel is supposed to come in. As the AI’s handpicked flesh-and-blood avatar, he succeeds in providing Ethan with a physical foe with whom to trade blows… but there simply isn’t a whole lot of substance to him beyond this superficial function; essentially, he’s as anonymous and forgettable as the literally faceless computer program to which he’s pledged his fealty. And considering Hunt is implied to have a personal vendetta against him (owing to an encounter in their mutually mysterious past, briefly glimpsed via poorly integrated flashbacks), this is a glaring flaw.

I assume that Gabriel, at least, will be further developed in the upcoming sequel, currently scheduled for a 2024 release. Fortunately, this is the sole thread that remains unresolved; unlike Across the Spider-Verse, which abruptly ends mid-scene, Dead Reckoning Part One arrives at an organic conclusion—the only “cliffhanger” here is the mangled wreckage of the Orient Express. And that sense of closure makes the wait for the next chapter significantly more tolerable.

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