‘Mission: Impossible–Dead Reckoning Part One’ has some eye-popping action sequences and a ridiculously terrible plot involving AI
Yet another impossible mission hits the big screen in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, a film just as unwieldly and overextended as its title but still a solid delivery system for eye-popping action scenes in exotic locales. Impossibly youthful international spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) once again finds the entire world chasing after him, and once again he runs—in extended, lovingly lensed marathon moments—through the candlelit corridors of Venice, over the rooftops of the Abu Dhabi airport, on top of the Orient Express, and anywhere else he can’t find a supercharged ride on two or four wheels.
MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE–DEAD RECKONING PART ONE ★★★(3/5 stars)
Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie, Erik Jendresen
Starring: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Czerny
Running time: 163 mins
“Dead reckoning,” by the way, is the act of predicting your location based on a steady speed and a straight line; the phrase essentially describes “cruise control,” an apt title that probably would have been too on the nose for the Scientologist actor and his reliably predictable, rock-steady star vehicle.
All this banal mayhem is just the first half of a two-part story, as well as the seventh installment in the James Bond cosplay franchise that Cruise props up with death-wish-level feats of derring-do he insists on performing himself. This time around, he rides a motorcycle off a cliff in the Austrian Alps, basically the same shtick that Pierce Brosnan’s stunt double performed in the cold open of Goldeneye back in the mid-’90s.
Granted, Brosnan didn’t commit to the bit the same way Cruise does. But, honestly, who cares? Dead Reckoning Part One has a half-dozen far more kinetic sequences that are twice as memorable and way more baroque which, to be fair, probably involved different levels of digital trickery. But Cruise’s insistence on risking his life feels almost anticlimactic in comparison to the film’s other histrionics—it wouldn’t be noticed in comparison were it not for Paramount making such a stink about it in their marketing material, and honestly seems like borderline pathological behavior for the 61-year-old movie icon. Sometimes it’s okay to use green screens as a crutch, Tom. We won’t mind.
The one thing special effects can’t obscure is a whiplash story structure that vacillates between high-octane thrill-ride sequences and low-wattage dialogue moments with people barking whole paragraphs of exposition to explain the latest double-cross. In this case, the big bad boogie man is sentient A.I., Hollywood’s flavor-of-the-month paranoiac freak-out. “A mind-reading, shape-shifting incarnation of chaos,” explains one character. So basically Facebook, but with the nuclear codes?
“It knows who I am!” shrieks IMF cyberhacker extraordinaire Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg). The “It” in this case is the Entity, which lurks behind every keyboard and every screen in the world, having left digital fingerprints on anything using ones and zeros. Control the Entity, control the world. And the key to controlling it is a literal key—one-half of it, anyway, aptly enough for this diptych epic. A nifty 3D key with little light-up bulbs called the Cruciform grants access to the A.I.’s source code, and actually disassembles into two pieces. Various nefarious forces have one piece; Ethan Hunt has the other.
The gang’s all here for this latest M:I movie, including Pegg’s Benji as well as basso profundo tech partner Ving Rhames as Luther, whose main job seems to be wearing pork pie hats and urgently intoning “Ethan” again and again like an incantation over his earpiece. Also assembled around Hunt are a bevy of British-accented beauties, namely kind-of-maybe amorous interests like disavowed MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby). New to the bunch is Grace (Hayley Atwell), an ace thief and neophyte secret agent, who seems incredibly capable unless she’s spouting lines like “What is happening? Where am I going?”
The Entity is everywhere, and personified by an evil terrorist named Gabriel (Esai Morales), who is working overtime to protect his bot overlord—which, when it’s not dropping cookies on everyone’s web browser, is otherwise spending time DJ’ing Italian raves and creating dope video-screen eyeballs like some sort of 21st century Sauron. “You’re playing four-dimensional chess with an algorithm!” screams Luther in yet another moment of A.I. apoplexy.
While people yell plot points over all the bombast, the audience gets to turn their brains off and savor all the staggering set pieces, like an extended, breathless, and surprisingly funny car chase through the streets of Rome and even down the city’s Spanish Steps. In moments like this, Dead Reckoning becomes a joyful case study in sound design: the music drops out and the revved engines, shattered glass, trigger-happy gunfire, crunched metal, and screeching tires create a symphony of destruction.
Even better is the cleverly inventive peril at the film’s climax, as a luxury train nearing the edge of an exploded bridge slowly threatens to fall completely off the trails unless Ethan can separate each of the dangling cars one by one into the valley below. He and Grace end up leapfrogging from one to the next, in a nail-biting succession of increasing peril. It’s ingenious fun—absurd, hair-raising, and the perfect encapsulation of everything ridiculous and sublime about this bloated, bloviating beast of a movie.