In a media landscape that’s overly saturated by mass-produced, CGI soulless superhero films, it’s a refreshing reminder that blockbusters can feel and be original. In that sense, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One builds on the highs of the previous entry, Mission: Impossible – Fallout. Christopher McQuarrie’s commitment to harnessing and enhancing the magic of this franchise since he took the helm back in Ghost Protocol continues to be successful in this latest M:I film. Dead Reckoning only gets bolder in its action sequences and still makes viewers care about the characters on screen. Tom Cruise proves he is one of the last remaining movie stars as his Ethan Hunt becomes almost a necessary part of the film canon in the action film genre. The mission is to see Cruise pull off deadlier stunts time and time again.
Hayley Atwell is a beautiful addition to the franchise that doesn’t feel extraneous. While her character Grace does feel a little forced at the beginning, by the middle of the film, you’re entirely on board. It’s hard not to when Atwell’s charm oozes through the screen. Also back is the merry band of outlaws that follow Ethan wherever he goes. Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) are undeniably just as integral to the success of these last three M:I film as is Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt. They’d be the Scooby-Doo gang if the Scooby-Doo were international spies living on the fringes of society, facing both personal and global threats daily. It strikes an outstanding balance of humor and drama that crystalizes the franchise as one of the best action franchises of recent times.
Tom Cruise remains at the gravitational center of this widely successful franchise and surprisingly continues to humanize Ethan Hunt. This is where most superhero films fail. They’ve lost sight of the humanity of its characters and rely entirely on the generic Easter egg hunt of a franchise that’s quickly lost sight of itself. Mission: Impossible always pauses to center itself around what matters: Ethan and those he cares about most. Ilsa Faust is a great example of this. Cruise’s and Ferguson’s chemistry throughout the franchise has been crucial to the reinvention of the M:I series. It gives Ethan a purpose higher than saving the world (while still acknowledging how important that is). Ethan is no longer just a rogue agent who miraculously survives jumps no human could ever survive. He’s human. A man who, the second he meets Ilsa, loses some of the control he so carefully wielded. In Dead Reckoning, Ethan shows us a side unwilling to compromise regarding the safety of those he loves. The higher good is no longer enough for him.
*The following paragraphs will include massive spoilers for the film*
Yet, there are parts of the film that feel a little strangled. The film’s overall plot is hazy and confusing in an attempt to up the stakes. Should I be asked what the “entity” is, I’d have to refer to the Wiki page of the film’s plot summary. Even then, I’d still bet no clear explanation is available. But that doesn’t matter when the real stakes of the film are Ethan’s love for his friends. What’s more important than love? According to Ethan, nothing is. He believes so much so that at one point in the film, he is willing to sacrifice the entire world (as one Ethan Hunt does) to avenge Ilsa Faust. Ultimately, he avenges Ilsa by sparing Gabriel’s (Esai Morales) life (for now) to serve the greater good. That one flickering moment where Ethan considers damning the rest of the world for Ilsa is very Shakespearean and much appreciated.
Perhaps Dead Reckoning’s biggest hurdle is moving on without fan favorite Ilsa Faust, a personal favorite of mine as well. Ferguson has made a groundbreaking performance out of Ilsa, where even the thought of another film without Ilsa is hard to swallow. Even harder still is not to initially feel like Atwell’s character plays off as a replacement for Ilsa. Depending on how to view this narrative choice, Atwell is still a solid addition to the franchise. There are never enough great female characters in the action genre. Also, who’s to say Ilsa is completely gone? It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in the second part of this film.
This first part masterfully sets up everything for the culmination of this story but without making it all about a setup. There’s a forward momentum to the story already taking place in this first installment of a two-part film. Like many other franchises, it would’ve been easy for this film to rely entirely on setting up a part two. Thankfully, McQuarrie is well aware of making every minute count. Dead Reckoning is bold, unassuming, and very much the summer’s action flick. It’s like coming home to an old friend who’s only gotten wiser with time.