Warning: this article contains major spoilers for Dead Reckoning Part One
Reviewing a movie which lasts close to three hours is no mean feat: Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One is filled to the brim with fights, chases, characters and more characters. Here, we follow Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team as they face an AI gone rogue, nicknamed the Entity, and Gabriel – an enemy from Ethan’s past – who serves it. Throw into the mix some CIA agents, a group of arms dealers led by the returning White Widow (still masterfully played by Vanessa Kirby) and a pickpocket named Grace (Hayley Atwell), all looking for the key to control the Entity. Add in a bonkers car chase in Rome, a motorcycle cliff jump which took 500 skydives to practice, shake well and enjoy!
One step forward…
Yes, all of the elements of the M: I formula are present, and for his third outing as director, Christopher McQuarrie proves that he has mastered it. The action scenes are simply breathtaking, and varied enough for viewers to not feel like they are watching the same sequence five times in a row. A special mention goes to the car chase in Rome, which features a handcuffed Ethan and Grace trying to escape through the city in a yellow Fiat 500 (Bond fans will be reminded of Four Your Eyes Only’s yellow 2CV). Hot on their trail is Pom Klementieff as Paris, the villain’s right hand woman, who has a blast running over as many cars a possible with her Hummer (and is a pure maniacal delight throughout the film).
As expected, the set pieces are nothing short of amazing and immersive. Behind the scenes footage really outlines the effort put into bridging the gap between reality and fiction, in order to make the action as palpable as possible (the crew built a real train just to derail it!), and this can be felt on screen. The movie’s cinematography remains as good as in the previous two instalments, with interesting changes in colouring as the characters embark on their journey.
…and one step back
While Dead Reckoning totally delivers in the thrills department, its plot isn’t as tight: Fallout was especially well structured, with every team member playing a part in the main mission. Conversely, Dead Reckoning struggles to introduce all of its (ever more) numerous characters and give them something to do, and has to resorts to flashbacks. The M: I saga has never been renowned for its dialogues, but they feel really expository here – sometimes slowing down an otherwise good pacing. The one who suffers the most from this “bloating” of the plot is the main antagonist, Gabriel. The villain completely disappears behind the all powerful (and vaguely defined) AI. It’s a shame, as Esai Morales brings a threatening aura to the character, but he is never properly developed.
Of course, the most divisive plot point of the film will Ilsa Faust’s death. Played by Rebecca Ferguson, the mysterious agent seemingly meets her end at the hands of Gabriel in Venice – a demise which angered a lot of M: I fans who loved this badass spy. While Ilsa’s character arch did come to an end (she seemed to be close to joining the team in Fallout, and has skills which are very similar to Ethan’s) her death does feel quite underwhelming. It doesn’t do justice to her fighting abilities, and has little impact on the plot, as she is quickly “replaced” by Grace. Hopefully Part Two will bring us some proper closure on the matter – whether Ilsa’s death is confirmed or not.
This feeling of a cheap feminine replacement – not an aspect of the old Bond movies that needed to be copied – doesn’t help Grace to start off on the right foot, but Hayley Atwell still steals the show: she is neither an ultra-competent spy, nor a powerless damsel in distress, and feels believable as a charming thief trying to make her way out of a web of lies.
Going full circle
No matter which of his three entires is your favourites, Christopher McQuarrie can be praised for trying new things every time: after Rogue Nation’s neo-noir style and Fallout’s sober elegance, Dead Reckoning gets back to the franchise’s roots. It definitely has more jokes and a goofier atmosphere than the past two instalments – and can be compared to Ghost Protocol. But most of all, McQuarrie and his team offer some subtle (and not so subtle) hints that the film is tied to Brian De Palma’s first entry in the franchise. From the omnipresent Dutch angles to the magic tricks, going through Ethan losing a loved one on a bridge and meeting Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), the film is filled with smart homages to the first M: I. Even Lorne Balfe’s main theme sounds more similar to the original this time around!
What can we make of this? Well, Tom Cruise has expressed interest in making more Mission: Impossible films after the second part of Dead Reckoning, but it does seem like this adventure will be (at the very least) the end of Ethan’s character arch as we know it.
A mission you should choose to accept
Let’s conclude with the movie’s ending: the film smartly avoids the usual cliché of having a part one ending with a victory for the villain – which can leave viewers feeling dissatisfied. Instead, it does feel like its stands on its own two feet and offers a story which – while not as compelling as Fallout – will take your breath away in several instances. Dead Reckoning was made for the big screen. Tom Cruise has never hidden his intention to bring viewers back into cinemas, and Dead Reckoning’s stellar action makes it the perfect summer blockbuster for it. When it comes to judging it as a M: I movie and not as a regular action flick, the film can feel like a step-down, but remains highly enjoyable. Some of its issues could also be corrected by Part Two, but in the meantime, the first half of the mission is complete. Dead Reckoning Part One is both a great action flick and another solid entry in the M:I franchise.