wed 28/02/2024

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One review - buckle up | reviews, news & interviews

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One review - buckle up

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One review - buckle up

Tom Cruise and team offer another exhilarating mix of spy spoofery, intrigue and action

You told me you'd passed your test. Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in 'Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One'Getty Images

After 27 years and half a dozen instalments of a franchise predicated on its ability to up the ante on itself to ever more dizzying heights of ingenious, character-driven, genuinely heart-in-mouth action, the killjoy or cynic may well be lining up an alternative title for the latest: Mission: Impossible – Anti-climax. But they would never get to use it. Not a chance. 

Dead Reckoning – Part One lives up to its fanfare, and then some. Its near three-hour running time barely has a loose thread, as it seamlessly stitches tricksy, diabolical, topical intrigue with pathos, comedy, camaraderie, and innumerable action set pieces, each with its own dazzling USP. 

In fact, it speaks volumes that producer-star Tom Cruise and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie can offer online a substantial, behind-the-scenes preview of their most death-defying stunt, comfortable in the knowledge that they have so much more to shock and surprise now that their film has reached the big screen. Mission: ImpossibleThis is Cruise and McQuarrie’s third MI together; given, also, the latter’s script duties on Top Gun: Maverick, it is a partnership totally in synch. The harmony creates a greater freedom within the franchise formula, particularly in finding space for character and comedy in action sequences, and the confidence to allow their plot to positively baffle at times. The key to keeping up here is, literally, the key: while it may, ultimately, be a McGuffin, keep your eye on that and you’ll make it through. 

A prologue involves a pithy story of a Russian super sub, equipped with a state-of-the-art computer system that, in a sudden, glorious reversal, becomes its undoing. Cut to a darkened room, where Ethan Hunt (Cruise) instructs a young courier in the basics of spy speak, before hitting play on his latest mission brief. 

This is a sombre Hunt, looking his age a little, feeling the loneliness of years spent, as he tells the kid, living and working “in the shadows”. While the Impossible Missions Force won its latest reprieve in the last film, Fallout, there still appear to be few benefits for the team, almost certainly not a pension. And it remains a thorn in the sides of the suits in the US, who despair at Hunt’s “habitual rogue behaviour”. One wonders why he bothers. 

And yet he does. A state-of-the-art AI system, known as The Entity, has become sentient and, actually, gone rogue. Every government and crooked organisation in the world is in search of the key, divided into two halves, that will win back control of the system and, by extension, offer global domination. Ethan’s boss Kettridge (Henry Czerny, reprising his role from the very first film) points him in the direction of one half, in the possession of Hunt’s former collaborator and lover, MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). 

What follows is a cat and mouse between Ethan’s trusty team (Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, all pictured above, with Cruise), the deceptively flirtatious arms dealer Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby), freelance thief Grace (Hayley Atwell) and the shadowy Gabriel (Esai Morales), who appears to be working directly for The Entity – as the key changes hands between them. Meanwhile a couple of hapless CIA agents keep popping up, to add bodies and chaos to chase scenes, while the shifty Kettridge and others underline the sense that the American agencies are, perhaps, the chief villains of the piece. As Kettridge informs Ethan: “Your days of fighting for the so-called greater good are over. You need to pick a side.”Mission: ImpossibleMoral ambiguity, duplicity and betrayal are common elements to Mission Impossible; here, all that’s left for team motivation seems to be loyalty to each other, a particular Achilles heel of Ethan’s that is again exploited, now by the AI, and comes to a head in a deeply moving sequence at the heart of the film. 

Trust is also an ongoing theme that informs the comic riffs between Hunt and Grace. “Do you trust me?” he asks at one point, their lives in the balance. She shakes her head – in the negative – a brilliant, counter-generic touch that adds levity just as the tension is cranked to the maximum. 

Action aside, the addition of Atwell as the new female lead is the hugely enjoyable highlight of this instalment. As a character, Grace is capable, independent, often amused by events that would make others look for the exit; her progression from bit player to central protagonist is offered as an echo of similar journeys – from the wrong side of the tracks to world-saving secret agents – of Ethan and his team. As a performer, Atwell, whose mortal spy Peggy Carter invariably outshone her costumed costars at Marvel, is a brilliant partner to Cruise, sassy, sexy and charismatic, the pair’s sparky rapport at its best when in extremis.

In a very funny car chase through Rome, the handcuffed Cruise and Atwell exchange quips and the wheel with choreographed aplomb as their pathetic yellow Fiat 500 is pursued by a fleet of police cars and a chunky behemoth driven by Gabriel’s sidekick (Pom Klementieff, above, best-known as the empath Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy, having a blast as a gleeful, peroxide assassin). And in the climatic sequence, involving a train that is falling, carriage by carriage over a precipice, the benefits of having these actors genuinely in the thick of the stunts reaps profound benefits: as Cruise and Atwell literally clamber over each other in their effort to climb to safety, the physical effort is palpable and makes the characters’ predicament feel so much more real. Mission: ImpossibleEven when offering rote action scenes – a hand-to-hand atop the roof of a train, for example, or in one of Venice’s narrow alleyways – McQuarrie and his team add new texture and authenticity to proceedings. And, as ever, Cruise throws himself into everything with breathtaking abandon. What is often overlooked when his exploits are discussed, even by the actor himself, is the emotional involvement and humour he brings to these sequences. The remarkable ride off a mountain offers an extraordinary, visceral, vertiginous high, even from the comfort of your cinema seat; but, in context, there is no suggestion of devil may care heroics, with Ethan sweetly flabbergasted that this is the only option he’s been given. And his landing is a hoot.

Whether this is the best instalment will be subjective. I continue to have a fondness for Mission: Impossible III, because of Philip Seymore Hoffman’s villain for the ages, the introduction of Pegg’s engagingly geeky wannabe field agent, and the intensely dramatic, very human climax. That said, this film does continue the upward curve of the “complete package” that is the Cruise-McQuarrie template. For a change, a film doesn’t suffer for having its denouement postponed till the next instalment; though, as always, it’s impossible to imagine what Cruise and co are going to come up with next.

The remarkable ride off a mountain offers an extraordinary, visceral, vertiginous high, even from the comfort of your cinema seat


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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