Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One: a thrilling blockbuster that continually ups the ante

Tom Cruise is relentless in his quest to show off his enduring action-star abilities, and this slick, stylised instalment in the Hollywood franchise reaps the benefits.

4 July 2023

By Jason Anderson

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Sight and Sound

Along with last year’s all-conquering Top Gun: Maverick, the seventh film in the Mission: Impossible franchise demonstrates Tom Cruise’s determination to defy the usual ravages of time. He’s not content to be the last stalwart of the age of Hollywood A-listers through the 1980s and ‘90s, when industry wisdom deemed a certain name on a poster was an even greater guarantee of success than any now-coveted piece of IP. Ever-eager to show that he’ll do what any action scene requires of him, the now-61-year-old actor will not concede there’s been any diminishment in his agility or virility in four decades of superstardom. 

But he’s not too vain to recognise the comedic potential in occasionally puncturing any illusion of enduring invincibility. The funniest example arrives in the middle of the new film’s second major set piece as hero Ethan Hunt evades a panoply of pursuers on (and eventually below) the streets of Rome. He and his IMF team – still on the fringes of the American intelligence community but useful all the same – are part of a high-tech goose chase to capture a pair of keys that are essential to controlling a villainous, globe-threatening AI. One of Ethan’s complications is Grace (Hayley Atwell), the nimble pickpocket who’s his main foil here. Given that Ethan and Grace end up handcuffed together after a run-in with the police, driving would be a challenge even if he didn’t then get stuck behind the wheel of an emasculating tiny yellow Fiat. Initially unable to master even the windshield wipers, Ethan looks at his passenger with an expression of utter hopelessness and bewilderment – he could be a senior citizen dealing with too many remote controls.

Of course, the film’s generous array of ornately stylised and briskly paced action sequences gives its star and producer ample opportunities to show off what he can (still) do. We’re given a ridiculously close-quarters fight scene in a narrow walkway, a race with the Orient Express and several more examples of Cruise’s affection for dangling from perilous heights. 

Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

Potentially more impressive is the ability of Cruise and co-writer/director Christopher McQuarrie – back for his third outing in the series, which has continued to improve during his tenure – to find yet more ways to up the ante. One secret to the franchise’s success is its ability to tailor a variety of thriller modes to its own purposes, beginning with the Hitchcockian elegance that Brian De Palma brought to the original big-screen instalment in 1997 and continuing with John Woo incorporating his signature bullet ballets for Mission: Impossible 2 (2000). While subsequent entries by J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird integrated the terser action aesthetic popularised by the Jason Bourne films, Cruise and McQuarrie now favour the cool-tempered kineticism of Tenet (2020) and the more baroque sensibility of the John Wickiverse. 

The latter’s influence is especially clear when all the players convene in Venice for the centrepiece, a nigh-operatic display of expertly calibrated mayhem involving guns, blades, boats and Pom Klementieff – whose chic killer here benefits from the wit and deftness she displays as Mantis in the Guardians of the Galaxy series (inexplicably costumed like Adam Ant circa 1980). 

Though Klementieff is the most memorable new addition, Esai Morales boasts the necessary panache as a nemesis from deep in Ethan’s past. Likewise, Atwell acquits herself with sufficient savvy to keep from being outflanked by Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby in their return appearances. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames – back as Ethan’s allies Benji and Luther – can be forgiven for seeming a little less spry given how many times they’ve now endured the series’ notoriously arduous shoots. 

But the painstaking efforts clearly pay off here. With the often sloppy look of recent instalments in the MCU and Fast & Furious series – the result of unrealistic timelines, tightening budgets and other worsening conditions for VFX houses – Cruise’s flagship has arguably become the only contemporary Hollywood franchise that reliably puts its money on the screen. Likewise, it may feel increasingly churlish to begrudge Cruise for his efforts to maintain his power and prowess when his old-school spectaculars trump its competitors so completely.

 ► Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is in UK cinemas from 10 July. 


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