When the executives at Marvel were first kicking around ideas for actors to star as Iron Man, Tom Cruise was reportedly among the favourites.
In retrospect, the fact that this never became a reality is probably a blessing in disguise. Not only because it paved the way for Robert Downey Jr but because, in recent years, Cruise has practically preserved the tradition of the non-superhero summer blockbuster.
Hot off the heels of last year’s Top Gun: Maverick, the man of action proves himself yet again with Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. Certainly one of the strongest additions to the franchise so far, it’s a spectacle of action cinema.
The seventh instalment kicks off with Ethan Hunt (Cruise) learning of the newest world-threatening plot in the M:I universe: a rogue artificial intelligence known as ‘the Entity’.
Yet again hunted by their own government, Ethan and the rest of the ‘Impossible Mission Force’ must race against the clock to destroy it before it falls into nefarious hands.
The timeliness of some of its themes is certainly one of Dead Reckoning Part One’s strengths. With the possible threats of A.I currently at the forefront of public discourse, it feels like an action film for the contemporary age.
You can’t help but find the superintelligence a little cartoonish at times – in one scene, it quite literally organises a party. However, the filmmakers still do a decent job of tugging at some of our modern fears about things like surveillance and identity theft to raise the stakes of the plot.
Plus, as various nations and shady organisations scramble to gain control of this ‘godless, stateless, amoral’ threat, the audience is continually reminded that it’s our ego, hubris, and social division that pose the real danger to humankind – not simply technology run amok.
But don’t worry; this is still a Mission: Impossible film, so any kind of high-mindedness ends here. Dead Reckoning Part One – perhaps more than any of its predecessors – leans heavily into the tongue-in-cheek, bombastic elements of the franchise.
As you might expect, we’re treated to some goofy gadgetry and an overly-stylised opening credits sequence, which hearkens back to the original 1960s TV show. But the film also delivers a steady stream of gags – some of the best of which are self-aware jabs at the silly aspects of the series. There’s one particularly effective moment when Hunt is described (sincerely) as a master of deception and infiltration, only to appear a few scenes later in a comically feeble disguise.
However, never do you get the impression that the filmmakers have anything but love and respect for the world they’re dabbling in. These wink-wink-nudge-nudge moments are used thoughtfully and certainly tail off in the latter half of the flick – if only to make room for the extravaganza of the final act.
Featuring a surprisingly fresh take on the runaway train sequence (a trope we thought had been squeezed dry of any novelty) and Cruise’s much-publicised ‘biggest stunt in cinema history’, the last third of Dead Reckoning Part One is an exhibition of the possibilities of action cinema.
As for the cast, newcomer Hayley Atwell stands out as a thief accidentally caught up in Hunt’s world of high-octane espionage. Meanwhile, Vanessa Kirby brings an intriguing aspect of helplessness and vulnerability to her returning role as the White Widow – an arms dealer who was featured in the previous film. And Pom Klementieff evidently has a blast as a maniacal henchwoman.
But despite these performances, a large swathe of talent in the ensemble is disappointingly underutilised. I should also point out that there are more than a few moments where it feels like any other film in the franchise (they really do love a sandstorm, don’t they?). Additionally, the somewhat messy plot seems to exist solely to escort audiences from one action set piece to another like a slightly incoherent concierge.
But ingenious storytelling isn’t the reason why the M:I franchise has been going strong for over a quarter of a century. And if we’re paying to see a film with both a colon and a dash in the title, the odds are, we aren’t expecting an Oscar-worthy narrative.
Instead, what has drawn audiences to Mission: Impossible since 1996 is its spectacle and showmanship. Dead Reckoning Part One is a cinematic circus, led by a ringmaster who proves that, at 61, he’s still at the top of his game.
In cinemas Monday 10th July 2023