Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Written by Taylor Baker


Few things have been as improbable as Christopher McQuarrie’s ascension from independent screenwriter to world-class action director. “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” earns every vowel, consonant, and syllable of its long title, with sleight of hand sequences that make “Now You See Me” and its sequels look paltry, bombastic action setpieces that enthrall and excite, and for the first time in at least a decade we see Tom Cruise have sexual chemistry with a romantic lead. McQuarrie’s globe-trotting “Part One” isn’t his or the series’ best, but it’s maximalist in both its sensibility and appeal, putting one of our last movie stars in even more obscene and outlandish situations than before, not unlike the “Fast and the Furious” franchise though these films do have just ever so slightly more believability.

Though the film is mired in exposition rooted in its Artificial Intelligence MacGuffin it manages to generally do most of its explaining while you’re able to think or focus on something else interesting, exciting, or enticing in the film, there is after all a lot going on. With Vanessa Kirby and Rebecca Ferguson reprising their roles of The White Widow and Ilsa from “Mission: Impossible Fallout,” the continuity between films in the series and the world our IMF agent and his closest associates populate seems to be nearly as established as its ever been. In a clumsy callback, they introduce/bring back a villain from De Palma’s inaugural film, “Mission: Impossible” to be the head stooge for Hunt (Tom Cruise) to contend with as he pursues a key that may save the world from annihilation, if only Hunt knew where the key was supposed to go and what it was supposed to do.

Joining our rogue team of IMF, underworld operatives, and counter-intelligence ops group is Hayley Atwells Grace, practically steaming with charisma and nonchalant aptitude for just about every sequence she’s in–climbing on a moving train near the end is the rare exception–Grace is a welcome addition to the formula McQuarrie has refined so aptly. He grounds the film by making it nearly as much about her as it is Hunt and his quest for redemption, with nifty asides employing the best qualities of Simon Pegg’s Benji and Ving Rhames’s Luther via high-stakes slapstick wholly contained within the larger operations they run during the mission. With a particularly charming and ludicrous bomb-disarming sequence performed by Simon Pegg.

The “Mission: Impossible” films under McQuarrie’s tutelage have primarily upped the ante on physical feats, with “Dead Reckoning Part One’s” motorcycle parachute onto a train sequence genuinely feeling like the true zenith of what our aged movie star can pull off now that he’s two decades past 40. McQuarrie’s screenplay and style for the film despite their setting and circumstance aren’t that far from the films of the silent era stars Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Keaton notably had shot what at one point was the most expensive stunt in cinema, when he crashed a train into a river in “The General,” something McQuarrie and co. similarly, explore in this entry. Cruise skating by the skin of his teeth, and narrowly escaping would-be captors and death dealers alike, feels more like a Chaplin boxing match than any boringly grounded contemporary superhero feat. 

There’s an effusive charm that underlies Cruise’s Hunt and the film itself, and it seems McQuarrie is the common thread in this development for the series. It’s interesting to contemplate “Dead Reckoning Part One” being just McQuarrie’s fifth outing as a director–his fourth since joining with Cruise on 2012’s ”Jack Reacher”– though his screenplay operates in a fairly straightforward fashion his sleight of hand and effervescence as a director is as apt as anyone in the industry. “Dead Reckoning Part One” isn’t the best magic trick you’ve ever seen, but damn if it isn’t one of the funnest.

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” Trailer

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on film on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

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