Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Premise: The seventh Mission: Impossible film. An artificial intelligence has infected the world’s computer networks including intelligence agency assets. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team race other parties for possession of a key that can control the renegade AI.
What Works: The Mission: Impossible series’ raison d’être is to create spectacular action set pieces and Dead Reckoning Part One has them in abundance. There are some impressive chases and fights in this movie, namely an extended car chase through Rome and a climactic train crash. For all the chaos, the movie remains focused on the human beings at the center of the action and the car chase in particular is filmed in ways that emphasize the kineticism and danger. The film is also paced remarkably well. Dead Reckoning runs two hours and forty-three minutes but it does not feel that length. The narrative runs breathlessly from one location to another and strings together set pieces without feeling like overkill. Recent Mission: Impossible films have worked on adding human warmth and Dead Reckoning does that especially well. Reprising his role as Ethan Hunt, Tom Cruise is paired with Hayley Atwell in the role of a professional thief. Cruise and Atwell make a likeable pair and they add characterization and comedy into their scenes. Dead Reckoning draws together characters from some of the previous Mission: Impossible movies but does so without feeling forced. In fact, the presence these characters heightens the stakes and the return of Kittridge (Henry Czerny) from the original film gives Dead Reckoning an existential quality as the purpose and integrity of the IMF comes into question.
What Doesn’t: The weakest element of Dead Reckoning Part One is the villain. This story is built around the familiar conceit of an evil artificial intelligence. In most movies featuring this kind of villain the system is either manifested physically as seen in Ex Machina and 2001: A Space Odyssey or the system has an agent that works in its interests as in The Matrix or The Terminator. The AI of Dead Reckoning remains an abstract and it works through Gabriel (Esai Morales), a human character who has a past connection to Ethan Hunt. The performance by Esai Morales is sufficiently threatening but it is unclear who he is and why he has committed to working on behalf of this artificial intelligence. Morales’ performance hints at a cultish allegiance to the artificial intelligence but this whole aspect of the film is flimsy and with that the stakes. The strongest narratives generally have concrete conflicts between discernible forces with specific desires. The conflicts and interests of Dead Reckoning are vague and so the action set pieces lack dramatic weight.
Bottom Line: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is only half of a story and that makes it difficult to assess. The story thus far is not as compelling as some of the other Mission: Impossible films but it does have terrific action set pieces.
Episode: #958 (July 23, 2023)