Christopher McQuarrie and his star do the impossible, delivering a seventh entry that reaffirms exactly what makes the franchise great
“Trust me,” says Ethan Hunt, repeatedly, over the course of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. If it's a typical request from the long-standing agent of the “Impossible Mission Force,” we can't also help but consider these to be words from Tom Cruise himself. By now, Hunt is nothing if not a cipher for the actor's personal mission of authenticity… a walking, talking promise to – as far as the cinema is concerned – never let you down.
In the almost 30-year-old Mission: Impossible film franchise, Cruise has pioneered a new type of cinema experience, in which audiences are invited to cheer along as one of the most famous people on the planet repeatedly performs death-defying stunts for the purposes of sheer entertainment. And as we settle into this improbably exhilarating seventh entry in a franchise that continues to thrive against the odds, Hunt's – nay, Cruise's – plea reaffirms that not only should we trust him, we should be outright thanking him.
The actor's latest ode to the power of tangible cinema, following the unprecedented success of Top Gun: Maverick, couldn't have come at a better time. With The Flash barely out of the starting gate, and Indy 5 left collecting box office dust, Cruise's one-man manifesto to preserve the theatrical experience rattles into view with the energy of a runaway locomotive – more on that later! – just as the blockbuster machine seems to be faltering. On the basis of its propulsive momentum, high-wire stunts and pure star power, Dead Reckoning: Part One deserves to be a colossal hit to match Maverick, the kind of old-fashioned Hollywood endeavour that offers up that increasingly rarest of things: a sense of your own money well and truly spent.
Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie, who has taken the franchise for his own since 2015's Rogue Nation and returns after the stunning spectacle of 2018's Fallout, crafts an exposition-heavy but never-dull-for-a-second installment that unfolds in direct conversation with Brian De Palma's 1996 original. This time round we get a welcomed injection of Cold War-esque double-crossing to match the physical daring-do: a cloak and dagger entry about warring intelligence factions that preserves and exemplifies Mission: Impossible's smart-stupid appeal (the rubber masks are still in large supply), while pushing the narrative into deeply relevant new terrain.
That's because McQuarrie's script astutely opts to make A.I., that faceless harbinger of future anxiety, into the film's invisible menace. It's a decision that's relevant in more ways than one. As far as Cruise and McQuarrie are concerned, computers have long posed a threat. Why do with CG what you can do for real? Hunt's fear of an all-knowing algorithm taking away his control, and his agency, is also what keeps Cruise up at night (and, we assume, makes him all the more driven when he wakes up in the morning). Here this inevitable evil is known as “The Entity,” a sentient program grappling for a new world order that may or may not double as a stand-in for Hollywood's increasingly frightening future.
So Hunt must gather his usual team (Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, who these days must arrive to set in shock that they're still playing these characters) in a bid to track down a golden key-cum-MacGuffin that will allow them to understand their enemy, dodging the Entity's lethal human puppet Gabriel (Esai Morales) in the process. Elsewhere, Cruise – whose steely gaze, now touched with minor signs of age, still convinces us of his unmatched ability to hold a brooding close-up – surrounds himself with a trio of cat-faced heroines, all with British accents: returning spy Rebecca Ferguson, black market dealer Vanessa Kirby, and newcomer Hayley Atwell, whose role as a cheeky, side-switching pickpocket suggests she could handle a blockbuster franchise all of her own.
Yet a movie that exists as the latest line in an ongoing argument against the armies of digital distortion means we're really here to feast on the elaborate stunts, all of which are bolstered by a refreshing lack of CGI murk. Snippets of Cruise's devoted – crazed? – practical antics have already been used to mount the marketing campaign. But having glimpsed bits and pieces thankfully does nothing to downgrade the nail-biting, white-knuckle thrills of seeing these incredible machinations play out in full, from a gleefully inventive, handcuffed double-car chase through the streets of Rome, to a bruising, close-quartered melee in a Venice alleyway. And, of course, there is Tom Cruise running – as much a series trademark as it is a visual manifestation of Cruise's seemingly endless supply of stamina and enthusiasm.
But Dead Reckoning's crowning moment undeniably arrives in the form of its incredible third act, as McQuarrie delivers what might just be the franchise's all-time greatest action sequence, set aboard an out of control Orient Express train. Here, Hunt and co. are left to defy the odds, both horizontally and vertically, in a set-piece that continually grows and bends and tops itself – Cruise motorbiking off the side of a mountain is only the start – until there is nothing left to do but catch yourself grinning from ear to ear. At the sight of the 61-year-old star clambering through exploding carriages, mouths are certain to hang agape. If they could speak, perhaps what we'd hear is: “More.” Cruise has anticipated as much: Dead Reckoning Part Two is but a year away. On this evidence, though, that's far too long to wait.
Dead Reckoning is released in UK cinemas on 10 July.Where to watch