When it comes to Hollywood action movies, the Mission: Impossible franchise is an integral part of the landscape. And it has its own trademarks. Everybody’s used to Tom Cruise doing his own dangerous stunts now, along with that famous theme music. The remarkable thing about the Mission: Impossible franchise is that they’ve improved over time and Dead Reckoning Part 1 maintains that quality.
The first Mission: Impossible film was released in 1996. Tom Cruise starred as Ethan Hunt, a top field agent in the IMF. That stands for Impossible Mission Force. They are the espionage agency that does the things others can’t. The film was an adaptation of a successful TV series from the 1960s and ’70s. The movie was a hit and now audiences are getting the seventh film in the franchise.
What Ethan Hunt has been through has been sometimes breathtaking, sometimes sad, but always exciting. Mission: Impossible– Dead Reckoning Part 1 devotes as much tension to the character developments as it does to the physical sequences and the result just might be the best action film of the year. Or at least the best one so far.
“Our lives are the sum of our choices.”
An incredibly tense scene opens this installment. A Russian sub is sunk by the top-secret AI computer on board, and the key needed to access that technology ends up out in the open. Ethan’s latest mission is to get that key. And of course, there are two parts to it, so he basically has to get two keys.
Helpfully, his old friend (and maybe romantic prospect?) Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has one-half of the key. Ethan finds her in the Arabian Desert, in the middle of a sandstorm reminiscent of the one he ran through in 2011’s Ghost Protocol. (That’s yet another Mission: Impossible trademark: Tom runs a lot.) The contrast between the icy water where the sub meets its end and the desert sand provides good visual interest.
And that’s just the beginning. When Ethan is tracking the other half of the key through an airport, an expert thief, Grace (Hayley Atwell, a welcome presence), pickpockets it. The laborious task of getting it from her requires traveling to Venice and getting into an outstanding car chase. Director Christopher McQuarrie finds delightful ways to make this sequence fresh and interesting. It’s not just another car chase.
“You’re fighting to save an ideal that doesn’t exist.”
The action doesn’t stop there, of course. Ethan realizes that the person doing the AI’s bidding is someone he knew long ago, Gabriel (Esai Morales). Their confrontations will involve close hand-to-hand fighting, against assassins in narrow old European city streets and, finally, on top of the speeding Orient Express. That train sequence is a stunning finale. It starts with that jaw-dropping motorbike jump-slash-parasailing stunt from the trailer. Then it ends with Ethan and Grace in a taut escape through multiple train cars as they fall off the edge of a bridge.
Ethan Hunt on a train…sounds like the end of the very first Mission: Impossible film. Adding to the throwback feel is the return of Kittridge (Henry Czerny), the IMF chief from the first film. He is now the director of the CIA and the interaction between him and Ethan still has the same edge. This was a brilliant choice and it really works for this story. Kittridge knows Ethan. He knows how relentless Ethan is, how he absolutely does not stop until he accomplishes his goal.
More of these characters and more of the spectacular action have me excited for the next entry into this franchise. Mission: Impossible– Dead Reckoning Part 1 functions well as the first half of a larger story. The filmmakers’ mission, should they choose to accept it, is to make Part 2 just as successful.
4 1/2 stars out of 5
Mission: Impossible– Dead Reckoning Part 1 is now in theaters.