top of page
  • Writer's pictureJames McCleary

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning: Part 1 // Film Review

"Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny."

It can be tricky to put a pin on the relationship between Tom Cruise and his audience. He is unquestionably a movie star, having anchored countless blockbusters over an impressive career of thirty-plus years, but in that time his reputation has also taken several hits over details of his not-so-virtuous personal life. For one, Cruise is a Scientologist. For another, nobody is keen to forget his exuberant joy at marrying Katie Holmes, and their subsequent 'deny everything' split. However, between his intense lifestyle, fearless stunt-work and his annual cake list, there is undoubtedly a morbid curiosity appeal to Cruise. Whatever he does, people will be watching.

With that in mind, it is no mystery as to how Mission Impossible became the jewel in Cruise’s crown. The franchise’s signature blend of 80s-tinted nostalgic spycraft and daring feats of practical action, along with the more recent meta-narrative of Cruise’s quest to “save cinema”, have made for what might be the most thrilling vanity project ever put to camera.

Take this latest instalment - Dead Reckoning: Part 1 - in which Cruise’s super agent Ethan Hunt goes up against his greatest opponent yet; a sentient AI with the power and omnipotence of a god. 2022’s Top Gun: Maverick saw Cruise training a team of upcoming talents (including breakout star Glenn Powell) to prove that no drone-operated plane can ever match the skill of a great pilot. In Dead Reckoning, the metaphor is even blunter; every power on Earth, including Hunt’s former employers, want to harness the AI for their own greedy ends.

Only Hunt and his hand-picked team of superstars stand between the AI and total world annihilation. As Cruise infamously shouted at two negligent crew members at the height of COVID, the Mission team are the front-line of the war between creative and corporate Hollywood, which means they need to put on a damn good show.

To the surprise of few, Dead Reckoning: Part 1 is a rousing success in this regard, offering spectacle and charm aplenty, maximising the entertainment value from every frame of screen-time and cutting the instant anything appears to be winding down. In plot and ambition, the film is no different to any Mission film, but what sets Dead Reckoning apart all the further is its decision to scale back Cruise’s role ever-so-slightly to allow his new protege Grace (Hayley Atwell) to shine.

Atwell brings to the role all the things which Cruise cannot; humility, scepticism and a sense of palpable fear which brings new life to stunts which Cruise can now perform with ease. Cruise is a fascinating figure, and through Atwell’s eyes we get to admire him anew with the added context of just how frightening his feats might seem to the common person.

Of course, while the film’s objective is a battle against AI, the real threat to this latest entry were the pandemic conditions which persisted through production. With the added restrictions and reduced cast/crew availability, there was the question of whether Cruise and his director/producing partner Christopher McQuarrie would be able to maintain the same level of technical quality, and the answer is a resounding, ingeniously devised yes.

Rather than endeavouring to match or top the visceral action of previous entry Fallout, Dead Reckoning: Part 1 harkens back to Brian DePalma’s original Mission Impossible, leaning heavier on the spycraft elements of the series. There are more masks, cameras, and sleight of hand tricks here than ever before, with an outstanding airport set-piece early in the film serving as one of the franchise’s most nail-biting to date without a single gun ever being drawn, never mind fired. If anything, the film’s ability to find the cinematic thrill in scenes stripped of more typical action fare is more a testament to what high-end budget filmmaking can achieve than any number of crashing trains.

That said, we do of course get our fair share of vehicular carnage, with Cruise’s widely-promoted bike stunt coming as a real showstopper at the film’s eleventh hour, but the most remarkable thing about Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning: Part 1 is just how consistently strong this franchise has become. As much as it likely does a number on his ego, it is undeniable now that there isn’t a crisis on Earth, from COVID-19 to ChatGPT, through which Cruise cannot persevere. Despite his manic, often unsettling persona, he has earned the trust of his audience like no other star today, and just as I have no doubt in my mind that he’ll be rocketing off to space by the decade’s end, I am sure I won’t be alone in watching.


bottom of page