Review – Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

dead reckoning p1 poster

Overview

Synopsis When a new threat emerges in the world, special agent Ethan Hunt chooses to accept an impossible mission to recover the key to civilisation’s survival, teaming up with a professional thief along the way to keep everything from falling into the wrong hands.

Length 2 hours, 43 minutes

Release Date July 11, 2023

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Paramount Pictures

Directing Christopher McQuarrie

Writing Bruce Geller, Erik Jendresen, Christopher McQuarrie

Composition Lorne Balfe

Starring Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff

The Mission: Impossible franchise is an odd one. The original film was a smash hit at the box office. In a genre revitalized by James Bond the year before, it released at a time when spy movies were rare, offering a sleek, technology-laden thriller. It scratched the itch noir movies left behind and was reminiscent of the special agent-led adventure television shows of yesteryear (Mission: Impossible itself was based off a television series, controversially upsetting the original cast as certain characters had been rewritten).

Naturally sequels followed, yet unlike other film franchises, the quality only increased. In retrospect, the original is now one of the weakest in the series—an anomaly in a cinematic world filled with drowning intellectual properties due to overproduction. Part of its success is due to its lead actor, Tom Cruise, who has continually pushed the boundaries in regards to stunt work, opting to partake in whatever crazy scene is dreamt up, limited only by the sensibilities and safety concerns of the studio and producers. The approach has garnered a lot of respect from both fans and those within the industry, and now the franchise is renowned for its mind-blowing action sequences and grand set pieces.

Yet no one is getting younger, even Tom Cruise, despite him not looking his age. As all good things must come to an end, if it is to be believed, this franchise will only release two more films; one story split over two parts. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is the beginning of the end for this spy saga. Can it maintain its high-quality streak?

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: The film contains several death-defying stunts and intense fighting sequences. Multiple characters are stabbed—there is little to no blood shown. Corpses are shown floating in water. Moderate gun violence; a number of shoot outs although the kills are extremely minimal with gore. People are gassed and fall unconscious. Close up of a knife piercing someone’s hand. Lots of discussion regarding an impeding world-changing war. A train smashes into a car. Lots of vehicular accidents. Many explosions. There’s a train derailment. Threats of falling from a great height. Violent melee fights, with characters getting slammed against objects and barriers.

Language/Crude Humor: The f-bomb is implied but isn’t actually said. Minor swear words lightly litter the film, including some instances of using God’s name in vain.

Drug/Alcohol References: None.

Sexual Content: In a night club/party sequence, naked or scantily clad women dance in the background, mostly in silhouette.

Spiritual Content: The film revolves around Artificial Intelligence, with one character describing it as a god.

Other Negative Content: Many instances of treason, trespassing, theft, espionage, and terrorism.

Positive Content: While many characters are willing to die for a greater cause, there is some pushback on the idea due to a character believing that every person has value in this world. The main conflict can be resolved through selflessness and an understanding that some things are best left alone.

Review

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is another great entry to this entertaining franchise. If there was ever a weakness with these films, then it would be the plot. Just like with the Bourne Identity series, there’s a feeling of barely holding on, gripping with just your fingernails as the action sprawls itself over several exotic locations, each featuring new characters that have only been briefly mentioned in passing, allegiances flipping at a whiplashing pace, and reveals and resolutions that barely seem to make sense. There’s a veneer of intelligence cast over the script, when really it’s lathered on to cover up some serious flaws in the narrative’s design and structure. When the credits roll and viewers are given the chance to breathe, upon reflection things don’t always seem to add up, particularly when it comes to following character arcs and motivations.

Dead Reckoning Part One isn’t too bad in this department. After an intriguing underwater sequence, the film goes against the grain by actually holding the audience’s hand. It dumbs things down and explains the story’s premise not once, but twice over. It’s rather clunky, and begins to lean into a territory of silliness. Yet as soon as the action heads to the airport, the pace quickens, the dialogue is smoother, and the film takes off. There still feels like there are one too many interested parties in the story, and at times it is hard to follow everyone’s motivation, but for the most part this film is one of the easier stories to understand.

It’s a timely narrative that for once isn’t about a biohazard (I don’t think audiences would have been too keen on a plot revolving around a pandemic) or nuclear warfare. Instead, it offers an interesting “big bad” that puts a new spin on a certain subgenre; this Mission: Impossible is dipping its toe a bit more into sci-fi this time around. There are several reoccurring characters, so while it’s possible to follow the plot without any prior knowledge of the previous films, doing a “movie refresher course” with the franchise will prime audiences for the best experience. I binged watched all the films back when Mission: Impossible – Fallout was released, so I felt I only needed a quick read over Wikipedia’s plot summaries in preparation for Dead Reckoning Part One. I was wrong, and to reiterate, the narratives of these films are really hard to follow, even in written form! Wikipedia didn’t help much, and it was difficult to remember how the histories of past characters intertwined.

It’s clear this film is aiming to become Ethan Hunt’s most personal adventure, bringing in a character from his past that cheekily isn’t explored in the previous films (even though it will feel like you’re missing something if you don’t plan that movie marathon beforehand to ease your mind). It’s only hinted at during the course of the movie, leaving a few crumbs for Part Two. Yet for the most part, Dead Reckoning Part One does well to not feel like an incomplete movie, unlike Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse that dropkicked the audience at the end of the cliff-hanger.

But enough about the story. What about the stunts? Even though production was hampered by the pandemic, Dead Reckoning Part One still delivers some wonderful set pieces. There’s seemingly only one crazy stunt, and due to some real-world controversy and politics, there’s a bit more reliance on CGI as well. However, while the action scenes are smaller in scale, they are also more incredibly intricate. There’s a lot of fun to be had as well. Like most action movies, there’s a car chase. It’s hard to pull off something memorable these days with something that’s rather standard for the genre. Transformers: Rise of the Beasts tried but it still ended up coming out flat. Instead of aiming for something visually spectacular, Dead Reckoning Part One opts for a different route—they add in a complication thanks to a character’s flaw, making it an amusing ride. I know—who knew that a character-led scene could be wildly entertaining, right?

If you’ve visited the cinema recently then you may have a case of déjà vu. Both Dead Reckoning Part One and Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny have a car chase sequence throughout narrow streets and a lengthy train scene (they actually use the same film location). I don’t want to drag Dial of Destiny because that movie is fine and is unfairly facing negative reviews, but much to Dead Reckoning Part One’s credit, it’s clear that one film handles its action sequences a lot better than the other. Like every Mission: Impossible film, the cinematography is top notch, the editing helps and doesn’t hinder the viewer’s gaze, and every moment is engaging. The movie may lack the grandeur of others in the franchise, but it’s still solid in this area.

Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt might be a calculating character, but he’s also rather emotional, which is simultaneously a strength and a weakness in this particular narrative. The story never dives too deeply into any of its characters, having time to only skim along the surface, but that doesn’t mean the cast isn’t stacked with talent. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg return as Luther and Benji respectively, though Pegg’s involvement feels substantially larger. However, it’s the female characters that steal the show. Hayley Atwell, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, and Pom Klementieff all deliver fantastic performances.

A strong female presence may cause some to be wary, as the premise easily gives off those dreaded Woke “girl boss” vibes, yet Dead Reckoning Part One handles things well. Yes, they are cool, competent characters, but the narrative is also realistic. Spy movies in particular have in the past displayed a habit of pitting lightly-framed women in melee battles against muscle-clad men, where a female victor breaks the suspension of disbelief for many audience members. Whereas in Dead Reckoning Part One, cunning, misdirection, and weaponry are utilized by the story’s female characters in order to sensibly even the odds, though the film doesn’t hold back should the women misstep against their male opponents. However, while these women are grounded more in reality, little is really known about them; they seem cool from the outset, though there’s nothing to connect with, still making these more successful renditions of the “strong female” archetype rather unrelatable, lacking that sensation of being truly seen and understood from a viewer’s perspective.

Yet the criticisms of this film are few and far between. If you have been following this franchise, then you know what type of cinematic experience it delivers, and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One does not disappoint. It’s timely, detailed in where it matters, wonderfully shot, and still manages to offer some of the best action sequences of the year (or even set the bar for years to come). It’s a must-see for the cinema!

Positives

+ Brilliant action
+ Well-rounded cast
+ Great female characters
+ Uses character flaws to its advantage
+ A complete story despite being Part One
+ Best stunt work in the industry

Negatives

- Holds the audience's hand for too long
- Character motivations are hard to follow
- Some shallow character development
- Require homework for full enjoyment

The Bottom Line

Dead Reckoning Part One is yet another solid entry in the Mission: Impossible film franchise. Featuring a well-rounded cast, exciting action scenes, and a timely villain, it’s worth the homework of completing a movie marathon in order to fully appreciate this latest instalment.

 

8.9

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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