Despite their generic titles, Rogue Nation and Fallout marked the Mission Impossible franchise in full bloom, finally getting every possible component part to click into place as a means for generating thrills. While always box office, only the first and third entries played quite as well, but 5 and 6 refined the MI formula to a highly impressive peak. Unlike Fast X, at least part 7 of the Tom Cruise-driven franchise admits from the get-go that it’s headed for a unsatisfying cliff-hanger ending, but the sense of franchise bloat finally catches up with Chris McQuarrie’s sequence of films in a greatest hits package that we’ve largely seen done before, specifically in this franchise.
This time, the big-bad villain is hard to pin down; it’s AI, in the form of ‘The Entity’, which is able to ghost all forms of technology and create fake news pretty much as it happens. Having ascended to power through manipulation of social media, the Entity is aiming for world domination, with a set of two interlocking keys as the McGuffin device through which The Entity will be defeated or succumbed to. Various parties are in pursuit the keys, namely Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF team; for once, dialogue clarifies that we’re not talking about the International Monetary Fund. With old pals Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) returning, Hunt teams up with Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) and Grace (Hayley Atwell) for espionage antics in Rome, Venice and on the Orient Express heading for Innsbruck, where various factions wrestle for control of the keys in a wild train-smashing showstopper for the ages…
Dead Reckoning has clearly being set up as a swan song for Hunt, and it feels like this would probably have been better positioned as one knockout movie; our sense of involvement isn’t deep enough to be interested in too many recurring characters and a plethora of interchangeable femme fatales. Cruise does his big movie star thing and its still works, but this isn’t the absolute entertainment machine that last year’s Top Gun: Maverick was. A huge deal is made of Hunt finding it hard to board the Orient Express while in motion; it feels like a big chunk of the film unspools while he’s trying to do this. But unless I’m missing something, we just saw an enemy agent easily board the same train via the roof while in transit, so what’s the problem? The story seems contrived to shoehorn in the stunts, so it feels extraneous for Hunt to have to motorcycle to the top of a mountain and jump off with a parachute bringing him into position to drop into the train; maybe the excess is the point. Hunt also looks un-characteristically aghast at the idea that performing this particular stunt would be so difficult, but even the most novice sack-of-potatoes static line jumper at 2000 ft usually conquers ground-rush and lands close to an X on their first jump.
Such minor carping betrays a lack of the anticipated involvement; we start to pick apart the plot holes when the central narrative is too familiar, with too much exposition and plotting, and a critical issue is that the fresh AI McGuffin doesn’t add any specific favour to the action. The goofy car chase down Rome’s Spanish Steps in a dinky Fiat isn’t particularly inspired, considering the high bar set by the franchise for action set-pieces. Even the lesser entries in the MI universe have been proper event cinema, and Dead Reckoning Part One is always lavish and grandiose to watch due to the trademark Cruise committment. But without JJ Abrams involved, the humour doesn’t seem as well positioned, and the glamour feels forced; maybe Part Two will redeem this entry, but while Dead Reckoning isn’t a huge departure from a successful formula, it’s also not the best example to date of what’s become a superior house style for Cruise and co. Still, franchise fans shouldn’t worry too much; even in the first part of the final installment, the Mission Impossible franchise still rocks well enough to justify a trip to the flicks for fans and casual viewers alike.
Mission Impossible- Dead Reckoning, Part One hits UK screens on July 12 2023. Thanks to Paramount for providing big screen access to this film.