Mr. Phelps (Peter Graves) might be long since past his prime as the head of 1960s TV hit “Mission: Impossible” but the basic concept of a secret team surreptitiously funded by the government and tasked with the missions that no other agency could accomplish remains. Taking over as head of the Impossible Mission Force in 1996 has been Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), who returns as the heart of a seventh installment of the cinematic Mission: Impossible world that’s a rollicking and breathtaking good time.
Like all action films, the challenge of the writer is to come up with some sort of hook to tie all the action sequences together, and Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 does that better than most. The boogeyman in this installment is a sort of super-ChatGPT called “The Entity” which can slip through any computer security and take over any system, from the Federal Reserve to NASA, the Navy’s shipboard targeting computers to smart vehicles. It’s become self-aware so the mission this time is to gain access to the source code to enable us puny humans to wrest back control of our digital world. As Hitchcock would say, “It’s a MacGuffin!” but it’s still perfectly contemporary as a foundational story element nonetheless.
The film opens with a scene quite reminiscent of the superb thriller The Hunt for Red October, one that immediately conveys the extraordinary risk involved in having a super-smart AI system controlling everything, including both radar imaging displays and weapons systems. Those In Charge choosing the Impossible Mission Force to acquire the two parts of this key and save the world comes as no surprise, and Hunt (Cruise) is ready with his usual team of Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), along with CIA director Kitterdidge (Henry Czerny) and MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson).
Women aren’t second-class citizens or eye candy, as they have all too often been in male-dominated action films, and in addition to Ilsa, Dead Reckoning features newcomer Grace (Hayley Atwell) and the endlessly interesting White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). They are all strong and eminently capable characters that offer a very modern narrative aspect sure to appeal to a diverse audience.
But what makes Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 so thrilling are indeed the many amazing stunt and action sequences. The film has one of the best – and most amusing – car chase scenes in modern cinema (far better than in the Fast and Furious franchise, which has long since jumped the proverbial shark) and a train battle that acts as a sort of Murder on the Orient Express on ridiculously powerful steroids. Oh, and then there’s that stunt that is featured in all the trailers when Hunt drives a motorcycle off a cliff. It’s… quite something, particularly in IMAX.
This is really the Hollywood blockbuster machine at its very best, with a smart script, plenty of amusing snark and commentary, beautiful people, beautiful cars and locations, and a pounding soundtrack that ties it all tightly together. It’s one of the most exciting films I’ve seen in the last few years and while there are a few moments that could have been trimmed to tighten up the expansive 163 minute running time, I’m betting that you’ll see it and immediately want to watch it again to see those darn stunts again.
The Mission: Impossible film series started well, then parts 2 and 3 were mostly meh and tonally clumsy, but the franchise was reinvented with Ghost Protocol in 2011 and each film has gotten better than the previous since then. This is the seventh film and part 2, coming in 2024, will be the eighth, and if they keep getting better, it’ll soon be the case that all action movies will be measured by comparing them to Hunt and his IMF team.
I enjoyed the heck out of Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1, from the location shots to the banter, the stunts to the soundtrack, making it one of my favorite films of 2023 to date. It’s going to be the film of the summer and will undoubtedly dominate the box office for months to come. There are other great films on the way, including Gran Turismo, Oppenheimer, and Barbie, to name but three, but none are going to draw in the crowds like Dead Reckoning. Save yourself some disappointment; get your tickets and see it soonest. That way you’ll be the one seeing it “again” while everyone else is queued up for their first viewing. It’s that good.