Movie review: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One has a lot working against it. 

It’s the seventh(!) movie in a franchise, a number when many other franchises have long since started to overstay their welcome. 

It’s a long movie too, clocking in at almost three hours. 

And it isn’t even disguising the fact it’s only part one of a two-part story, and we all know franchise two-parters that have felt gratuitously bloated (looking at you, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One). 

The summer box office of 2023 hasn’t exactly gone gangbusters, either, with a number of high-profile films underperforming. 

Still, despite all that, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is actually the most purely entertaining movie I’ve seen in theaters so far this year. It’s thrilling, never boring, and timely, thanks to its reflection on the rapid changes artificial intelligence is bringing to our world. The action sequences are fast-paced and breathtaking, and the stunt work is incredible (say what you will about Tom Cruise as a person, but he never phones it in).

I don’t know how the Mission: Impossible franchise continues to do it, but these movies have remained consistently high in quality despite the fact we’re on No. 7. They’re still entertaining, still exciting, and I still want to see more. 

This movie handles its two-part status well. It has enough of an ending to avoid the “abrupt cliffhanger” trope but leaves you with enough suspense to want to see part two. 

I’m going to divide this review into two portions, because I really want to dive into the things I love about this film but also don’t want to spoil some of the surprises. 

For those who haven’t seen it and are wondering if it’s worth a ticket, if you’ve seen any of the previous Mission: Impossible movies and even remotely enjoyed them, then yes, get yourself to the theater and see this summer blockbuster on the biggest screen you can find. 

Tom Cruise once again displays his outrageous commitment to performing his own stunts, including the heavily-advertised scene where he drives a motorcycle off a cliff. Hayley Atwell joins the team as a very welcome addition to the franchise. No spoilers about who her character is and what role she plays in the story, but she’s smart, charismatic, and I can’t wait to see more. As much as I love her as Agent Peggy Carter, it’s nice seeing her flex her acting muscles in a slightly different way here. 

Thanks to ChatGPT and other emerging technologies, everybody is talking about AI these days. I wondered if this movie’s use of AI in the plot would feel a little forced or hokey, but it actually works quite well, feeling believable enough that you could almost imagine this story actually taking place. I find myself both excited and terrified by the capabilities of AI, and this film taps into that. 

This is exactly how you do a modern spy movie, and it reinforces my belief that people don’t actually tire of certain genres; they just tire of mediocre offerings within said genre. Certain superhero franchises could take a page or two from Mission: Impossible’s playbook. 

Now, for the spoilers.

If you’re going to call a movie “Dead Reckoning Part One,” the stakes have got to be high. And it was inevitable that one of agent Ethan Hunt’s closest friends might not survive this mission. 

I was surprised that it was Rebecca Ferguson’s ex-MI6 agent who died at the hands of the film’s villain, the suave and chilling Gabriel (played by Esai Morales). I liked her developing relationship with Ethan, and I have to wonder if her death was perhaps driven more by scheduling conflicts with Ferguson (she’s amazing in Dune). 

I personally don’t think her death qualifies as “fridging,” i.e. when a female character is killed off simply to bring a male protagonist pain. To me, this is more problematic when a female character is treated as an object or given no agency. Ferguson’s character Ilsa Faust is always portrayed as a capable agent in her own right, and her death does serve as an important turning point in the story. I wish she’d been given just a little more to do in the first part of the film, to make that emotional moment hit even harder. 

As mentioned previously, I loved, loved, loved Hayley Atwell as expert globe-trotting thief Grace (possibly not her real name). She’s fun to watch on screen and serves as an interesting antagonist who’s not quite a villain. There’s definitely some chemistry between Ethan and Grace, but I’d be OK if they just kept it subtle.

It’s always great to see Vanessa Kirby as well, and I hope she’ll be in the sequel. 

End of spoilers

I was surprised to see this movie didn’t earn higher numbers at the box office, though perhaps that’s open to interpretation because it released earlier in the week and claims $80 for a 5-day total vs. the $56 million tally for the traditional opening weekend period. 

When a movie gets great critical reviews and good buzz and still performs “just OK,” it does make me worried that Hollywood is in trouble and we might be headed for a content slowdown. Yes, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is a sequel, and Hollywood’s release slate is overstuffed with those. But this is a sequel that 100% justifies its existence. I loved it, and saw it twice this weekend.

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