Nobody has ever told me whether Tom Cruise is quicker than a speeding bullet, therefore I can’t say for sure. The man has both legs and intestinal fortitude. His record-setting runs into space have become his trademark and only source of fame. In the seventh installment of the 27-year-old series, “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part One,” he logs even more screen time, reiterating a cinematic truth. That is, very few things are as thrilling to see on TV as a person escaping peril and, ideally, death.
The series’ consistent level of fun and Cruise’s boundless energy are both back for more in this outing. He reprises his role as Ethan Hunt, head of the secretive American intelligence organisation Impossible Mission Force. He has consistently shocked audiences with jaw-dropping feats like leaping out of a window and scaling the side of the world’s highest skyscraper.
The Entity, a cutting-edge AI, plays the villainous role this time around. Who would you contact in the event of such a catastrophe? Who is it? Why, it’s Analogue Man, a.k.a. Mr. Hunt, who gets his mysterious orders as usual, except this time they’re on a cassette tape, a nice touch for a movie about the dangers posed to the physical world by a divinely omnipotent computer.
Even if the most memorable antagonist turns out to be Paris (Pom Klementieff), a Harley Quinn–esque agent of mayhem who chases Ethan in a Hummer and appears poised to break off into her own series, that’s all well and good. She attempts to run him over during a thrilling automobile pursuit through Rome, which has expert driving, thrills, laughter, clever geometry, and impeccable timing thanks to stunt coordinator and racecar driver Wade Eastwood. One scene has Ethan driving while shackled to his new girlfriend Grace (Hayley Atwell; another nice addition); they drift, flirt, and burn rubber; it’s basically the sex scene of an action film.
Despite the new characters, “Dead Reckoning Part One” fails to surprise in any significant way. It has the expected number of showstopping stunts, hits every narrative beat with conviction, and uses a clever amount of winking humour to avoid becoming too serious. Now that they’ve worked together on three films in the franchise, Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie have found a productive rhythm. McQuarrie, for his part, has put together a well-oiled blockbuster machine that swiftly reviews the series’ introductory material, incorporates the necessary twists, and, most crucially, puts the spotlight on its star. Cruise, on the other hand, has turned up the superspy intensity to 11.
McQuarrie has helped the celebrity relax over the years, and now he or she seems to be having a nice time. Still, being Tom Cruise, who famously does his own stunts, must be tiresome. A few lines have begun to appear around his grin, but that hasn’t stopped his unrelenting momentum. The most interesting scene is Ethan riding a motorcycle over a cliff and landing safely in a parachute. Isn’t that improbable? Impossible? Nah. Like the other large-scale, stunt-driven scenes, this spectacular jump both highlights Cruise’s abilities and serves as a reminder that this crazy trick was really performed by a real person in a real place on a real motorcycle.
Ethan, ever the traditionalist, also has a showdown with a villain (Esai Morales) on a moving train, which may be a nod to the tense train sequence from the original “Mission: Impossible” film (1996). Critic Stephen Holden of the New York Times said that with this picture, Cruise had “found the perfect superhero character.” It’s interesting to compare the top 10 domestic films from 1996, which were mostly high-concept thrillers and comedies, to the top 10 releases from 2022, when half were from Marvel or DC. Fans were particularly invested in Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick.”
Although “Maverick” had lots of digital whiz-bang, Cruise was the film’s biggest draw, just as he has been in all of the “Mission” films. Even while I don’t remember much about the original film beyond the fact that it was directed by Brian De Palma, I do remember seeing two quite different versions of Cruise-Ethan in that film. One shows him running away from a wall of water and smashed glass, while the other shows him suspended in midair, inches above a spotless white floor, his body stretched out in an almost perfect horizontal line. The directors and Cruise both left indelible impressions in my mind.
The early “Mission: Impossible” films’ extravagant narratives and Cruise’s similarly implausible actions made him look unreal to some viewers. By the second film, I was beginning to wonder whether he had vanished entirely, becoming nothing more than a special effect. The stunts and storylines since then have remained impossible, although sometimes entertaining, like in this case. But the show has, surprisingly, made Cruise more relatable and real than he has been in the past. The toothy brilliance of “Risky Business” and “Jerry Maguire” helped to move the focus of his star image from his grin to his industrious physique, and the “Mission” films played a key role in this transformation.
Cruise’s public character has been helped by the evident effort he puts into his “Mission” stunts and the physical hardship he undergoes to perform them, as shown by his grimaces and popping muscles. Very moving. There’s no need for Tom Cruise to wear a suit since he was made for speed. It’s imperative that he keeps running.