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Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One: Cruise Control is off in Tom Cruise’s Action Epic

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One preview screening provided by Paramount Pictures

Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One goes big and delivers the goods”

Three things are certain in life: death, taxes and a new Mission Impossible film blowing the minds of audiences on the big-screen. The latest title in this now almost 30 year old franchise, Dead Reckoning Part One (2023), might not be as ‘out there’ (hold your pitchforks) from a technical standpoint as its 2018 predecessor Fallout —even though Tom Cruise literally launches himself off a giant cliff— but it represents a return to the more measured storytelling of the earlier entries.

Calling Dead Reckoning Part One anything other than ‘out there’ reads absurd even to me, especially with the aforementioned stunt being one of the most heart-in-throat moments ever shot for a film or anything for that matter. Yet it speaks to the standard that Cruise and co (those riding his daredevil train) have continued to set for the industry and for action films to the point where the only real point of comparison for an MI film is an MI film (or a Cruise project).

When one thinks back to Fallout and just how audacious that film was —with its HALO jump, Cruise flying a helicopter between the New Zealand mountains, Cruise dangling in mid-air on another helicopter etc.— it becomes apparent just what this latest instalment had to live up to.

But live up to it, Dead Reckoning Part One does. Christopher McQuarrie’s film sucks you in from the outset, laying the foundation for its two parts by focusing on a threat unlike any in the past films: Artificial Intelligence and the race to harness it. This comes in the form of what is known as ‘The Entity’, an advanced system that was lost somewhere beneath the ocean along with the sub that carried it, and who better to help find it than IMF royalty, Ethan Hunt (Cruise).

Hunt is once again thrust into a life or death situation by virtue of a “should you choose to accept” self destruct message. His mission? Find two parts of a key that would unlock the door (or something) to the lost AI. Along with his band of spy misfits including Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) and a host of new faces like Grace (Hayley Atwell) and Paris (Pom Klementieff), the amazing race is on.

The biggest enemy for Ethan has always been time, and McQuarrie and fellow screenwriter Erik Jendressen have explored that to an even greater extent internally with Ethan here. After all, racing against the clock is the plot propeller of these films and every spy film for that matter, but looking at how time has caught up with Ethan and how little of it he really has (both to save the day and in terms of his own physicality), really adds a sense of human limitation to a character who has always felt limitless.

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

This is especially true with the ambiguity of the AI program as it’s something that Ethan can’t physically fight, so on a macro level it becomes a battle of preserving humanity against the looming threat of digitisation. But by throwing in a fresh-faced antagonist in Gabriel (Esai Morales) and his role in shaping Ethan’s formative spy years, as well as adding a third wheel in master pick-pocketer Grace, this internal struggle becomes even more complicated.

This is what Ethan has always had to tussle with: his duty to protect the world and its people from themselves vs protecting those he cares most about and who deserve to see another day. And from a thematic standpoint, this has underpinned his every decision, with those he cares most about constantly put in the line of fire.

The need to invigorate and constantly push past the barriers of expectation on the big-screen has been Cruise’s biggest mission of them all. He’s not someone that settles for second best and it’s why he’s an outlier among an industry that has tended to play it safe and cut corners where possible — after all, why ‘go big or go home’ when you can go home, let post handle things, and not put yourself in harm’s way? Cruise says he feels responsible to the audience to create an experience that will both get you your money’s worth but that makes sense from a story perspective as well.

And who can blame him when the end result does just that? From the aforementioned cliff leap that has been plastered all over the film’s marketing, to the on-edge Orient Express train sequence where an actual train was deployed and destroyed — it’s once again a jam-packed ride with little to no respite.

That Fallout was a trailblazing exercise in what can be achieved at this level is undeniable, but to continue to find ways of inserting new ideas and directions to keep this franchise fresh and ticking on is truly something to laud. While this might be the beginning of the end for Ethan Hunt and his entourage, there can be no doubt that they’re turning the impossible into the possible.

Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is now in cinemas.


Arnel Duracak

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