Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

The problem with something like the Mission: Impossible franchise is that each installment tries to outdo the one before. Eventually, one of two things happens: the franchise repeats itself or it ends up going to silly extremes. (I saw you venturing into space, F9: The Fast Saga!) The latest chapter, Dead Reckoning Part One, doesn’t get to that point, but it’s so exciting and inventive in the action department that Part Two is going to have its work cut out for it.

Tom Cruise – bless his risk-taking heart – returns as Ethan Hunt. This time, his boss Kittridge (Henry Czerny) tasks him with tracking down two halves of a special key that will unlock the mysteries of a highly advanced artificial intelligence program that has grown sentient. If left to its own devices, the program’s choices will be very, very bad for the world. Don’t ask why. There’s a complicated explanation that doesn’t entirely make sense, but who cares when the intense action is coming? It’s a true MacGuffin. Helping Ethan is his team, consisting of Isla (Rebecca Ferguson), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames). A master pickpocket, Grace (Hayley Atwell), becomes integral to the mission, too.

Of course, finding those key halves requires him to go various places around the world, where he encounters a dark figure from his past named Gabriel (Esai Morales), an assassin known as Paris (Pom Klementieff), and an international arms dealer, the “White Widow” (Vanessa Kirby). As Ethan deals with them, he also attempts to outrun the government agents, led by Briggs (Shea Wigham), assigned to apprehend him due to his continual rogue status.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One works best if you simplify the story in your own head. Trying to understand every last detail is an exercise in futility. Everybody wants the key, and the AI is bad. This is all that really matters. The joy of the movie is not in the plot, it’s in the character interactions and the elaborately staged chaos. We get deepening of the bond shared by Ethan and his teammates, a charming cat-and-mouse dynamic between Ethan and Grace, and characters putting on those amazing rubber masks to pose as other characters.

Director Christopher McQuarrie doubles down on the action with a series of elongated sequences that are impressive in their conception and execution. Interestingly, most of them incorporate a little humor, making for a nice touch. A scene in an airport finds Benji forced to figure out a bunch of riddles to avoid a bomb detonation. Ethan and Grace go on a wild car chase through the streets of Rome while handcuffed together. (They take turns driving.) As seen ubiquitously in the marketing materials, we’re even treated to Cruise actually jumping a motorcycle off a cliff. And the train wreck that occurs in the finale? Let’s just say that I thought it was going to be something I’d seen before, only to happily be proven wrong.

Dead Reckoning hits the ground running and never lets up. The pace is relentless, as Ethan moves from one dangerous scenario to the next. Tom Cruise once again proves himself to be an all-time great movie star. Although playing a role, the joy and enthusiasm he has carrying out the action scenes is palpable. The hardest working man in show business is working overtime to entertain us, and he succeeds. Cruise is fully credible in this mode, as he has been for decades. Thrills are non-stop, making the 163-minute running time fly right by.

AI is a slightly goofy villain, and since this is the first half of a two-parter, you don’t get any story resolution. Not that you will remotely care. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One overflows with fun. We’re seven pictures into the franchise. This entry ranks near the top.

out of four

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some language, and suggestive material. The running time is 2 hours and 43 minutes.