The Movie Waffler New to VOD - MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE | The Movie Waffler


Ethan Hunt and the IMF face another impossible mission.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, Henry Czerny, Shea Whigham, Cary Elwes

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One poster

Tom Cruise risks life and limb once again to save cinemas in the first of a double-headed (probable) conclusion to the spy series that has become so intertwined with his own lore that it's practically impossible to now separate Tom Cruise from Ethan Hunt. Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One is a love letter to the Cruise mythos, and to the Mission: Impossible series, and to blockbuster cinema. It pushes all three to their limits and reminds us that their very survival may not be mutually exclusive. You can't imagine the MI series continuing without Cruise, and without the MI series, is there any point in Hollywood hanging on? Outside of this franchise, very little of note has come out the so-called dream factory in the past couple of decades, and most of the worthwhile blockbusters have starred Tom Cruise.

I adore this series (save for the awful second instalment) and I'm fresh from a rewatch but I couldn't tell you what any of their plots were about. There's always some sort of a macguffin that Hunt and his IMF buddies need to get their hands on before some villain does. In this case it's two parts of a key that when combined could spell the end of the world. The villain that must be thwarted here is a terrorist named Gabriel, who has a connection to Hunt's pre-IMF past. Played by Esai Morales, Gabriel is the very definition of sinister, creepy in a way that really gets under your skin. Not since Philip Seymour Hoffman's turn in the under-rated third instalment has a Mission: Impossible baddy been so convincingly menacing.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One review

From the off there's something a little different about this entry in the franchise. You get the sense that the stakes are higher, not for the planet, but for Hunt and his friends. You feel they may not get out of this one, and it's a mark of how we've gotten to know them so well over previous films that we actually care. This isn't a superhero movie where we know the heroes aren't in any real peril. Hunt is clearly shitting himself throughout here. The weight of the world's future is on his shoulders, just as cinema's future rests on Cruise's. Blow this and it could be the end of everything.

Unlike superhero movies which stack their casts with quality actors and proceed to bury them in spandex, this movie boasts some serious thespian talent and allows them to act. Hayley Atwell will have everyone asking why she isn't a movie star with her charismatic performance as cheeky professional thief Grace (Hitchcock fans will see what they did there). Some of the movie's most fun moments come courtesy of the interaction between Grace and Hunt, Cruise brilliantly conveying his irritation at constantly being outwitted by this formidable new foe. Vanessa Kirby returns as The White Widow, but it's when she's tasked with playing another actor playing Vanessa Kirby courtesy of the series' mask shtick that we see just what a great performer she is. Henry Czerny returns to the first movie's role of IMF director Kittridge, and director Christopher McQuarrie has fun nodding to DePalma's memorably off-kilter shooting off a tense conversation between Hunt and Kittridge. Pom Klementieff has a blast as the sort of she-devil the Bond franchise used to regularly serve up (the sheer joy she seems to take in being a villain is reminiscent of Barbara Carrera in Never Say Never Again). Shea Whigham gets to play his own version of The Fugitive's Deputy Gerrard as an agent tracking Hunt. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg bring a surprising amount of heart to the film, a reminder that this boils down a group of buddies looking out for one another.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One review

It's Rebecca Ferguson as the returning Ilsa Faust who provides the film with its soul. While they may be busy saving the world, Hunt and Faust get a couple of brief moments that demonstrate how much they mean to each other, and it's the most romantic thing I've seen in a Hollywood action blockbuster since The Empire Strikes Back (I could mention the influence of another spy movie but that would be a spoiler). The film might be packed with bombastic action but it never loses sight of its human relationships. Some of the most memorable moments are simple gestures, including a smile from Faust to Hunt that will melt your heart.

But of course it's the action that will (hopefully) draw in the crowds, and no adrenalin junkies will be going into cold turkey with this one. There's the well publicised motorbike jump off a cliff, a From Russia with Love style brawl in a cramped alleyway, and Hunt faces his most dangerous task yet - negotiating Italian traffic. The action is relentless, and while I don't think McQuarrie is the most talented director when it comes to assembling action, he does understand the importance of carrying character into action scenes. Not in the annoying Marvel way of having characters constantly making quips during action scenes but in how his characters react and interact physically.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One review

Like never before in the series, this chapter plays up Cruise's comic talents, with a lot of visual comedy derived from the toll all this is taking on his aging body. His hilarious frustration at being unable to drive a certain type of car is an astute metaphor for how once you hit a certain age, some things just aren't as easy as they once were. The action is massive, the very definition of spectacle, but it never loses sight of the people involved. Like the best Star Trek movie, Wrath of Khan, it balances the dilemma of saving the greater good while looking out for those you have a personal attachment to. The movie's villain employs Artificial Intelligence to take down the world, but its heroes are as human as they come.

Dead Reckoning Part One is a reminder of all the joy Hollywood has given us over the decades, riffing on everything from Buster Keaton to the previous instalment of its own series, via The Great Escape, Lawrence of Arabia and a good half-dozen classic Bond movies. It's a reminder of all we could lose too. Cruise won't be around forever. Will he? Cinema will survive in some form, but maybe not cinemas. Let's hope they can at least hang on long enough for Dead Reckoning Part Two. This is what they were built for.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One is on UK/ROI VOD now.

2023 movie reviews