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Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One – Bonds have more fun

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One – Bonds have more fun
Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ is incredibly well made and entertaining, with the caveat that this is one of the more far-fetched of the ‘Mission Impossibles’, feeling like a Brosnan-era Bond film.

After almost 30 years, and six action espionage blockbusters, it’s (reportedly) time for the Mission Impossible film series – at least the franchise as fronted by Tom Cruise – to end. But not before accepting one final task; a mission so dangerous, so epic, so conclusive that it has to be told in two parts.

Enter Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning.

Dead Reckoning Part One parachutes into cinemas this week, with a mix of returning and new faces, as well as filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie back in the director’s chair for his third Impossible outing. The good news from the outset is that this Mission: Impossible, despite being the seventh entry in the series, is pretty accessible for new audiences. Unlike predecessors Rogue Nation (2015) and Fallout (2018), which served as their own unofficial Part One and Two of a single story, and excluded newcomers, Dead Reckoning is a relatively fresh start. 

Pom Klementieff in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

You may not know the characters, and their relationships, but audiences should be able to work things out. If not, Dead Reckoning is adept at walking the tightrope between simplicity and convolution. And the movie does it for a full 163 minutes, with its energy just barely flagging in the lead-up to its action-packed finale. 

For much of the film, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his Impossible Missions Force (IMF) teammates, particularly Ving Rhames’s computer technician and Simon Pegg’s technical field agent, are out to find two parts of a key, and stop them falling into the wrong hands. That’s it. The reason for the urgency is that the key grants control of a sentient AI weapon with the ability to destroy our digitally dependent world. And in case you ever forget what’s going on, and what’s at stake, characters pop up at regular intervals to deliver clunky exposition dumps.

Other than this, it’s a case of the usual Mission: Impossible formula. The IMF must go rogue, and is pursued by its own government. Cruise sprints across various exotic locations; that is when he’s not risking his life (and terrifying Hollywood insurance companies) by performing his own stunts. There’s at least one “infiltration” scheme where everything goes wrong. Betrayals and double-crosses come thick and fast, and characters wear hi-tech masks to sow chaos and trick their adversaries.

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Pom Klementieff in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

The thing is, while every Mission: Impossible film includes these ingredients, tonally they all end up a little different – shifting around on a sliding scale between grounded Jason Bourne and high-flying James Bond. Dead Reckoning goes full Bond, and not in the gritty, cool 007 direction of recent years. Think more like the Brosnan era, where things are unapologetically silly, convenient and glossy. Probably the most Bond-esque thing about Dead Reckoning is its sleek villain Gabriel (Esai Morales) who breezes around like a fallen angel, and who naturally has a link to Ethan’s pre-IMF past. Then there’s Gabriel’s sadistic but stylish sidekick Paris (Guardians of the Galaxy’s Pom Klementieff), an assassin whose loyalties crumble in the face of our Marty-Stu hero’s charm and kindness.

The big action set pieces in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One are coherent and entertaining; and overall, the film runs the full emotional gamut. With the latest series instalment, though, McQuarrie and Cruise seem to be leaning further into absurdity than usual. Unless it’s a case of me misremembering the Mission: Impossible films outside of John Woo’s infamously over-the-top Mission: Impossible 2. In Dead Reckoning Part One, a car chase through Rome with a vintage Fiat 500, and a sequence where characters must escape a train sliding into a chasm one carriage at a time, feel like silent movie slapstick. 

Hayley Atwell and Esai Morales in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Alternatively, it comes across like the kind of cliffhanger-driven Golden Age serial that Indiana Jones has always emulated. Dead Reckoning acknowledges the franchise’s ridiculousness, making jokes about the IMF acronym and having characters continually pinch each other’s faces to check their authenticity.

On the flipside, Dead Reckoning Part One features a fantastic heist in Abu Dhabi Airport, where technology is instrumental to driving up the tension, and turning the pursuit into a chess game. Barring the inclusion of an escape-room cipher component, it’s fairly convincing, and chilling that digital manipulation could be harnessed like that.

Somewhat less satisfying is the film’s treatment of its female characters. Quite a big deal has been made of Dead Reckoning bringing together Hayley Atwell’s pickpocket (a newcomer to the franchise), Rebecca Ferguson’s perpetually-in-trouble MI6 agent, Vanessa Kirby’s black-market dealer, and the already mentioned Klementieff. But while these women are desexualised – they wear tailored suits instead – and treated as devastatingly effective in their roles, if you look closer you’ll realise the film is a Bechdel Test fail. Female characters cannot share the screen for more than a few minutes in Dead Reckoning Part One, and if they briefly interact with one another, it’s only to talk about a male character; never each other. 

Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

It’s disappointing, although Atwell’s Grace is a welcome addition: a civilian, and audience insert, out of her depth in Ethan’s world, but who is resourceful and quick to act when required. She’s definitely not a copy-paste of Michelle Monaghan’s character in earlier M:I films.

At a certain point in Dead Reckoning Part One, Grace is told to stop fixating on details and just run with the plan. That’s evidently a directive for viewers as well. Dead Reckoning is dumb, and it clearly knows it. It’s the kind of movie where characters don’t kill a traitor on the spot, leaving them with an opportunity to help their enemy a short while later. 

All this said, Dead Reckoning Part One is still very entertaining and well-made. It hasn’t dethroned Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol (2011) – AKA the one with the Burj Khalifa – as this writer’s personal favourite Mission Impossible, but it demonstrates a sleight of hand to rival Grace herself, engrossing you even as you’re aware of the artifice. The end result is a strong, bloodless and sexless blockbuster outing for the ages 13 and up. DM

This story was first published on Pfangirl.com

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is in cinemas, including IMAX and 4DX, from 14 July. Dead Reckoning Part Two is set for release on 28 June 2024.

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