The rat fucking bastards.
Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part One was made and marketed as the penultimate film in the series. Tom Cruise ain’t getting any younger. J.J. Abrams and Bad Robot — arguably the ones most responsible for making this franchise into an ongoing global phenomenon, next to Cruise — fell out with Paramount all the way back in 2018. This movie cost nearly $300 million to produce! A number of contemporary action franchises are either winding down (Fast and Furious), on indefinite hiatus (James Bond), long since concluded (Jason Bourne), or in transition to something else yet to be determined (John Wick).
By all signs and messaging and logic, the Mission: Impossible film franchise should be wrapping up. Right until a month ago, when Tom Cruise and longtime creative/business partner Christopher McQuarrie stated that they do indeed plan to keep this going indefinitely. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but when a film is so hyped up to be the last or next-to-last in a series, I get a little bit peeved when that promise is broken. Seriously, how can I miss you when you won’t fucking go away?!
Anyway, what’s the big threat this time? Well… it’s Skynet. Yes, I’m totally dead serious.
Our film begins on a Russian nuclear submarine, where a cutting-edge AI called “The Entity” is in use to make sonar readings so accurate and far-reaching that the sub has successfully avoided all attempts at detection. Long story short, the Entity somehow gains sentience and goes rogue. The Entity then proceeds to sabotage its own submarine and kill everyone aboard so it can rest undisturbed and concealed at the bottom of the sea, all while using satellites and wireless networks to assimilate all digital technology worldwide.
To paraphrase a character’s apt assessment, what we’ve got here is a godless, stateless, heartless algorithm, operating at billions of calculations per nanosecond, that can access and tamper with literally any digital records or communications on the planet, and accurately predict anything that anyone might do to act against it.
Granted, the Entity doesn’t have an army of indestructible cyborgs, but who needs ’em? The Entity can bribe or blackmail pretty much anyone, or put its immeasurable power at the hands of any cutthroat who would love to abuse it. Oh, and I need hardly add that this development has sent the international intelligence community back to the freaking Cold War, so it’s not like they’re in much of any position to fight back.
The good news is that a key has recently surfaced — split into two pieces, of course — that can grant the direct access needed to destroy the Entity. The bad news is, the key is kind of useless if nobody knows where the lock is, and nobody even knows about the submarine. What’s worse, that same direct access would allow anyone to reprogram the Entity for their own purposes, effectively granting them absolute and irrevocable control over spy satellites, social media, banking records, you name it.
Thusly, every government agency in the world is out to get the key and control the Entity. Every major criminal organization in the world is out to get the key and control the Entity. Even the Entity itself is fighting tooth and nail to reclaim the key for its own preservation.
There’s pretty much only one person in the entire world who wants to destroy the Entity for the good of all mankind, and it’s Ethan Hunt (Cruise). Which means that he’s once again branded a traitor to his nation and sent globe-hopping to complete his mission while the entire rest of the world is trying to find and kill him. Hilarity ensues.
This time, Ethan’s comrades are Luther and Benji, respectively played once again by Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg. As a reminder, these two are the resident tech geniuses of the IMF. Against an all-powerful AI that renders all digital tech useless, their ability to help is shockingly limited. Hell, Luther peaces out early and skips the third act altogether! We’ve also got a returning Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), though she’s mostly here to dispense exposition about the key and get herself in peril for the sake of Ethan’s motivation. I genuinely hate to see her get fridged so many times like that in one movie, the character and the actor both deserve so much better.
In a franchise that’s always set itself apart by virtue of its rotating ensemble, I’m disappointed that this entry puts such a heavy emphasis on Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell. The latter plays “Grace”, a world-class thief who steals one half of the key and gets herself in way over her head. My compliments to Atwell for so capably playing a self-interested and morally ambiguous female action lead capable of holding her own against the franchise hero. She handles it better than Phoebe Waller-Bridges did in Dial of Destiny, I’ll certainly give her that.
Elsewhere in the cast, we’ve got Henry Czerny, reprising IMF Director Eugene Kittredge for the first time since the first movie all the way back in 1996. He’s here alongside Cary Elwes as the Director of National Intelligence, and they’re both so much fun to hate. As for boots on the ground, we’ve got Shea Whigham acting well within his wheelhouse as the salt-of-the-earth USA agent tasked with hunting down Ethan.
And what of our main bad guys? Well, Vanessa Kirby makes a welcome return as the delectably amoral arms dealer Alanna. There’s also Pom Klementieff, who fits right in as a homicidal maniac cutting throats for the Entity. But the big one is Gabriel (Esai Morales), a psychopath who’s built up to be the freaking Antichrist, acting as the Entity’s muscle and mouthpiece here in Meatspace. Oh, and it’s been retconned that he killed somebody close to Ethan prior to Ethan’s recruitment into IMF, so chalk up another female character getting fridged.
(Side note: Reportedly, Nicholas Hoult was cast as Gabriel until scheduling conflicts got in the way. With all due respect to Hoult — he’s a wonderful actor and Those Who Wish Me Dead proved that he’s more than capable of playing a heartless killing machine — this really was for the best. The role needed an older actor who could sell that history and parity with Ethan Hunt, and Morales is a much better fit for that.)
Then again, it all feeds into the overarching theme of going after Ethan’s friends and those he cares for, a weakness his adversaries don’t have. Given that teamwork has always been a central part of this franchise going all the way back to the original TV show, it makes sense. But it doesn’t work as well as when Fast X played the same angle.
I might add that we get a huge car chase sequence in Venice, and I could’ve sworn that Fast X did a far more spectacular job of tearing up that exact same stairway. For that matter, we get a train sequence that looks suspiciously like the opening of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, and it even takes place near the exact same bridge!
It’s unfortunate that this movie should come out after so many incredible action blockbuster tentpoles we’ve already seen this year. In terms of car chases, this was never going to match anything in Fast X. And no, there’s nothing in terms of martial arts or gunfights that could ever hold up against John Wick: Chapter 4.
But of course neither of those movies had Ethan Hunt driving a motorcycle off a cliff. None of those other movies had anything as bonkers as the falling train car sequence at the climax. Hell, not even Team John Wick has ever staged anything like the two-on-one fight sequence in a corridor that’s maybe 18 inches wide at most. I’m genuinely impressed that anyone was able to choreograph or shoot a fight sequence in such a cramped space.
Let’s be real, this franchise is all about the stunts. Nobody gives a fuck about Ethan Hunt and his pathos or whatever he’s saving the world from this time, it’s all about Tom Cruise and what unthinkable off-the-wall shit he’s crazy enough to film himself doing this time. I’ll say this for Cruise, he gives the people what they want. He doesn’t care about being the next Olivier, he doesn’t give a shit about the Oscars, he’s here because he loves the audience and the audience loves him right back for it.
Even so, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part One shows that the franchise is getting perilously close to its expiration date. In terms of plot and character, it’s unclear how the franchise could possibly top itself or where the characters could possibly go after Part Two. I know that nobody cares about that and we’re all only here for the stunts, but do we really want to see this keep going until we’re watching Cruise’s face CGI’d onto stuntmen for umpteen car chases like with the last two Indiana Jones movies?
With all that being said, I’m giving this one the same verdict I always give to any tentpole two-parter: Ask me again when the second part comes out.