In Review – Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Review by Tim Robins


Mission: Impossible-Dead Reckoning Part One - Poster

Whoosh! Tom Cruise is back as Ethan Hunt of the Impossible Missions Force – and hits the ground running in the hurtling juggernaut that is Mission: Impossible-Dead Reckoning Part One. To answer your questions upfront: yes, the IMF go rogue and yes, we see Cruise running, this time across the roof of Abu Dhabi airport, up and down Venetian avenues and alleyways, through candle lit cloisters and across the top of a train that’s hurtling to destruction. The film’s budget of $290 million dollars is up there on screen, in a series of often breathtaking sequences although I’m not sure how much, if any, of this figure will be amortised across Part Two.

Mission: Impossible -Dead Reckoning Part One

But while M:I Seven is the must see film of this Summer, you’ll be forgiven if you come away with the feeling that you’ve seen it all before. In fact, you’ve seen it all a couple of weeks ago, in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. And the shadow of James Bond lies long over the action movie genre. There will be a backdrop of picturesque locations particularly the streets of Venice and Rome; there will be fights in and on top of a train, a desperate dash through an underground railway in the face of an on-coming train; and there will be a chase through antiquated city streets in all manner of vehicles, including cool looking BMWs and quite unsuitable ones such as tuk-tuks and, here, a bright yellow, electric, Fiat 500, in a scene that some have seen as reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki’s The Castle of Cagliostro.

Mission: Impossible -Dead Reckoning Part One

There are echoes of John Wick: Chapter 4, notably a scene of driving anti-clockwise around a roundabout and a tense confrontation in a private techno night club amidst byzantine and Italian gothic architecture. But Dead Reckoning wisely doesn’t try to replicate the night club fight in John Wick 4, and the setting is used instead to info dump the various character motivations. There are a number of expository scenes, too: this is a film that is keen for you to understand what’s going on. That said, the nightclub scene gave me cognitive overload. I’m still not sure why one of the henchmen exclaimed, “Innsbruck!” during the nightclub exchange, and I’m still not certain what happened to the fake half of an important key – which, much like the dial in the Dial of Destiny, is divided into halves that need to be reunited to gain unimaginable power. 

The plot, should you choose to read it, is this: Russia has lost control of a powerful AI that has decided under its own volition to gather all online information for unknown purposes. The AI’s core is to be found at the bottom of the ocean and can be accessed by a key. Whoever holds the key holds ultimate power over the world. The IMF’s task is to find both halves of the key and return it to IMF director Eugene Kittridge. Along the way we meet friends and enemies old and new all chasing the key, some on behalf of the AI itself. 

Mission: Impossible -Dead Reckoning Part One

M:I Seven reunites the IMF team of Luther Stickell and Benji Dunn. Simon Pegg is on form as the increasingly stressed out Dunn, desperately trying to keep the mission from spinning out of control. Sadly, Ving Rhames, who has played Stickell since the first movie, finds his character written out of the adventure in the second act so he can do things with a hard drive, or a database, or both.

The AI is an actual deus ex machina rolled out to explain character motivations and whenever the production needs a new set piece. I know AI is the fashionable techno-fear, but I don’t see much development from HAL 9000 (2001: A Space Odyssey released in 1968) or War Games (1983). One or more of the characters may actually be in the AI’s employ, including Gabriel (Esai Morales), a suave but somewhat bland killer from Hunt’s past, the ‘White Widow’ (Vanessa Kirby), an arms dealer (the daughter of Max, seen in the first Mission: Impossible movie, who was played by Vanessa Redgrave). Pom Klementieff channels Xenia Onatopp in her role as Gabriel’s assassin, Paris.  

Hayley Atwell plays Grace, an internationally renowned thief and all round wrong ‘un who is eventually won over to the side of good, shades of Helena Shaw in Dial of Destiny. Like Waller-Bridge in that movie, Atwell brings a cute, mischievous determination to her role and gives the film a welcome energy.

The film is beautifully shot. The scenes in Venice are melodramatic amd reminded me of The Godfather III. There is a fairy tale quality to the cinematography. Like the Bond films, the locations are also heroic; from the sweeping deserts to the Orient express, winding its way through the Alps. And all the while, the theme tune is woven into the fabric of the film itself, it is powerful, urgent and drives the events.

Mission: Impossible -Dead Reckoning Part One

Much of what’s going on doesn’t bear too much scrutiny. When the AI causes the IMF’s mask making suitcase to malfunction, not one of the team suggests using more analog approaches of disguise – you know, a wig, false nose or teeth, putting on a funny accent or any of the other tricks of the spy trade that worked well enough in 1960s’ cinema. There’s a scene where Benji must defuse a bomb by answering riddles that are actually a way of the AI building up a profile of his personality. But some of the riddles are answered by other characters, so wouldn’t that mean the profile is wrong?

The various femme fatales are not treated with much respect after their function of making threats and looking dangerously seductive is over. Kirby’s character ends up conveniently stunned, slumping around scenes and mumbling incoherently. Other women are just knifed. Many are just dumped, never to return. The suspense around who will get the key and how is better handled. Doctor Who fans of old may chuckle by comparing Hunt’s concerns about the power of the key, with the Doctor’s dilemma on completing his quest for The Key to Time, back in 1970’s Doctor Who.

Mission: Impossible -Dead Reckoning Part One

Although MI: Seven is only Part One, it doesn’t leave you totally suspended in the air. Instead, it satisfyingly concludes various character arcs. The much publicised scene of Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle off a mountain top scene is merely the start of a genuinely gripping series of events.

Dead Reckoning is exemplary and, as an example of the action genre; you will certainly feel you’ve seen much of this all before. But the film pulls off the impossible by making you want to see it all again, in my case the very next day.

Tim Robins

• Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One in cinemas across the UK now

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Categories: Features, Film, Other Worlds, Reviews

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2 replies

  1. The Vanessa Kirby character is the daughter of Max who was played by Vanessa Redgrave in the first film – not the same character.

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