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Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One ★★★

Availability: Showing widely in theaters; no date set for streaming; the best guess is in about 6 months (January 2024) on Paramount +; see JustWatch here for updated availability.


Mission Unlikely


After sitting through 5 hours and 17 minutes of “blockbuster” action—the film under review and the recently released “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”—we think we’re entitled to make a few comparisons, before getting to the meat of the current, 7th edition of “Mission Impossible.” “Mission 7” has better action scenes, especially the last, gravity-defying adventure on a train that’s in, let’s say, a precarious position. An absolutely riveting moment, even if to get to it one must endure still another episode of two guys-fighting-on-top-of-a train, this rendition marred by the knowledge that, constrained by the plot, neither one will be thrown off.


Above, Tom Cruise, as Ethan Hunt, poised to engage in some humor before

he plunges on his motorcycle down this cliff in the Alps (though shot in Norway).


Both films have standard vehicle chase scenes, though at least the stars of “Mission 7” don’t try to work out their relationship while going down Rome’s Spanish Steps (ala “no animals were harmed,” the credits note that the Spanish Steps—protected by the authorities to the point where it’s illegal to enjoy a gelato on them—were not used in the production). The films share the storied “quest”/Odyssey, and the objects sought are curiously similar, one an ancient gold time-travel contraption, fashioned by Archimedes; the other, ancient in appearance, a gold, bejeweled, computerized key.


Left, Cruise at 61 can still sprint at full speed, we're led to believe, though imagine Lionel Messi playing for the World Cup, or Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, at Cruise’s age.









At age 61, Tom Cruise (as Ethan Hunt) makes more sense as an action hero than Harrison Ford at 80 as Indiana Jones in “Dial.” Not all—indeed, not much—of what Cruise does on screen is credible, but apparently he can still sprint at full speed and drive a motorcycle. (Even so, imagine Lionel Messi playing for the World Cup, or Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, at Cruise’s age.) The boy-girl pairing in “Mission 7” (there are two women in that role) works better than that in “Dial” primarily because Grace (Hayley Atwell) comes to the part with a backstory and a skill set (including as a deft pickpocket), though it helps that Cruise isn’t an octogenarian. There are no apologies for, nor jokes about his age (unlike “Dial” and Cruise’s role last year in “Top Gun: Maverick”).


Right, Cruise and Hayley Atwell

as Grace, the multi-faceted pickpocket, trying to figure out how to operate

the tiny electric car in the next

phase of their car chase in Rome.




He actually is capable of saving the girl, whereas in “Dial,” Helena saves Jones. And even with two love interests (there’s an awkward handoff of the romantic female role from Mission 6’s Ilsa Faust [Rebecca Ferguson] to Grace), you’ll see precious little sex or any facsimile thereof. While Cruise is virile enough for one to imagine him having a relationship with a woman 20 years younger, he’s too much the cute guy with the wry smile, and too wooden as an actor, to produce romantic heat.

 

While Cruise is virile enough for one to imagine him having a relationship with a woman 20 years younger, he’s too much the cute guy with the wry smile, and too wooden as an actor, to produce romantic heat.

 

The ”enemy” in “Dial” is standard for the genre: the Nazis and more Nazis—better than the Soviets of the Bond films, but not much. “Mission 7’s” nemesis—the “Entity”—is more complex, and more relevant to current concerns. Of course we need to learn what the “Entity” is, and that lesson is delivered in one of several silly scenes in an otherwise decent script by seasoned writers Christopher McQuarrie, who also directs, and Erik Jendresen. In this case a high-level meeting of a half dozen in-the-know officials is the backdrop for explaining the Entity not only to the viewer, but also to the head of U.S. National Intelligence (you would think he already had some idea), doing so through a series of one-liners, until everyone has had a chance to inform the boss of the latest existential threat.

 

Prefiguring our current moral handwringing, the Entity is some form of AI, a cyber-brain capable of invading/hacking any and all national security systems and—of course—of dominating the world.

 

Prefiguring our current moral handwringing, the Entity is some form of AI, a cyber-brain capable of invading/hacking any and all national security systems and—of course—of dominating the world. Transcending the nation state, terrorist organizations, any organization, and even bad guys, it’s a force (or fantasy) of control. One of its characteristics—descended from Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” Donald Trump’s serial lies, the social media’s disdain for facts, the rejection of government, and today’s Chatbots—is that the Entity has no regard for truth and can make people believe, or not believe, anything. “The world is changing. Truth is vanishing”; Ilsa articulates what we already know.


The Entity is a worthy enemy for our times. Better than the Nazis. The closest we get to its personification is Gabriel (Esai Morales), whose power stems from his knowledge of where the Entity formally “resides”—that is, where the key goes. Why he knows that remains a mystery, likely to be clarified in Part Two. One can hope for more sex.


Right (left to right), the IMF team

of Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames), Ethan (Cruise), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), in St. Mark's

Square in Venice. They're smart

but also bumbling and comic in contrast to the team in the

original TV show.


Any government would want to have access to the Entity’s talents, and the U.S. is no exception. Its position is articulated by CIA Director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny, a veteran of the series), the ultimate pragmatist who, like everyone else in the hunt for the “key” to the Entity, argues that the issue is not “truth” or the “common good,” but control. “You need to pick a side,” he tells Ethan, who, while clandestinely employed by the US government as part of the IMF (the Mission Impossible team) has, like the Entity, gone rogue. He’s taken a moral position. Rather than serve his country by finding the key, locating the Entity, and turning over whatever it is to the government, he plans to destroy it.

 

Several of the fight scenes are waged with knives and swords, as if the drama were set in the France of Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers."

 

The challenge to truth, the use of irony, the AI enemy, even the exploration of the ocean deep (echoes of the recent Titan submersible disaster, more to come in Part Two)—perhaps because all that seems too much for the ordinary filmgoer to digest, “Mission 7” has another, less serious, side. Several of the fight scenes are waged with knives and swords, as if the drama were set in the France of Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers,” or in the China of historic martial arts, as Ilsa with flowing robes replicates 2003’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in her blade fight with Gabriel on one of Venice’s ancient bridges. Then there’s the armored vehicle driven by bad-woman agent Paris (Pom Klementieff, whose maniacal character evokes the Joker), mowing down rows of Rome scooters as if they were dominoes (a fantasy shared by many of today's Romans).


While two other members of the IMF, reprised from earlier MIs, are smart and clever, one, Luther, is presented as an overbearing authority (Ving Rhames, channeling Morgan Freeman as the voice of God). The second, Benji (Simon Pegg), is an easily rattled techy who can’t concentrate, even while defusing an airport bomb—apparently linked to the Entity—a task which requires answers to a series of asinine riddles. Similarly, Ethan struggles to figure out how to start an electric car and emerges from a subway train collision with a steering wheel handcuffed to his wrist. Later, riding a motorcycle at high speed over rugged Alps terrain while guided by Benji using Google Maps on his laptop, a frustrated Ethan pauses to comically express his frustration with Benji before plunging his vehicle down a cliff.


Unlike the Mission Impossible team of the TV series, a meticulous bunch that carried out their tasks with calm and earnest precision, these IMFers (and Grace, too) are often unsure of how to get the job done, or even befuddled. While that’s closer to real life and to the current moral malaise that feeds off irony, that irony can too easily morph into parody. “Mission 7” is exciting and funny, but it risks making that transition, risks turning a narrative with a solid, contemporary foundation into something one can’t take seriously. In the action and in the script, one can feel the film pushing the envelope, stretching an aging genre (and its aging star) to make it relevant and entertaining for an audience conditioned to expect more.


 

Date: 2023

Stars: 3 (out of 4)

Director: Christopher McQuarrie

Starring: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Esai Morales, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Pom Klementieff, Henry Czerny

Runtime: 163 minutes

Country: United States

Languages: English, French, Italian, Russian (some, but not all, subtitled in English)

Other Awards: one nomination to date

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