MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE DEAD RECKONING PART ONE is the action film other action films want to be when they grow up. It brings us glamorous destinations and stunts that are better choreographed and more audacious than a James Bond, Bourne or Fast film. But most of all, it brings us a depth of relationship dynamic that we just don't get with other films. The characters care about each other, they riff off of each other, and they have a profound moral sense. This means that amidst the action scenes we get moments of real pathos. We actually care that the characters survive. We actually believe in their mission.
The big bad in this film couldn't be more timely: a sentient AI that has gained access to every major nation's defense and intelligence systems. Governments are vying to control it and so become the world's next superpower. By contrast, our hero Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his friends and colleagues in the Impossible Mission Force want to stop it. And to do so they need to unite two half of a cruciform key AND figure out what that key unlocks. This mission will lead them from an attempted theft in Abu Dhabi airport, to a car chase in Rome, a brokered deal in Venice, and an interception aboard the Orient Express.
The stunts are just incredible. The car chase in Rome neatly references THE ITALIAN JOB and gives us the physical comedy of Cruise driving a tiny Fiat. But the money shot is the one that was featured in the extended trailer, showing Cruise motorcycling off a mountain then free gliding onto the Orient Express. And yes, in a world of CGI, the fact that we see and know that it is Cruise makes all the difference.
But as I said before, what makes this film fantastic are the layered relationships and call-backs. I love Vanessa Kirby channelling Vanessa Redgrave from MI1, as Max's daughter and Alanna. I love having Harry Czerny back as Kitteridge, and how Macquarrie shoots him in a askew angles, just like Brian de Palma in the first film. As for the much ridiculed MI2 I would argue that Hayley Atwell's Grace is basically Nia Nordorff-Hall redrawn with more spunk. From MIs 1 to 3 on we get both Simon Pegg's Benji and Ving Rhames's Luther as the IMF's IT experts, with some great banter as to who is the best coder. (Clearly, Luther!) And from MI5 and 6 we get Rebecca Ferguson's literally kickass former MI6 agent Ilsa Faust. In other words, the gang's back together and we really feel their love for each other: indeed that bond is an integral part of the plot.
It's worth taking a moment to note that the core group of players is one of the most diverse in contemporary action film. Few films are making their crack coders older black men. Even better, that we rarely see a MI woman in a bikini (unless she's training to hold her breath underwater). These are all professional competent women. They aren't (with the exception of Nia) damsels in distress. And while Grace is a shit action driver, well, wouldn't we all be? But we have no doubt that she would be a skilled member of IMF in due course. And let's just highlight the careful writing of the character Paris, played superbly by Pom Klementieff. In a Bond film, she'd be just another crazed evil henchman. But in this film she's given growth, nuance and dignity.
It's also worth remembering that what Tom Cruise and Christopher Macquarie have achieved is rare: they have pushed forward the action genre while also creating a mournful meditation on the toll secret work takes on personal relationships and the refuge that is found family. And, if that sounds po-faced, they do this while also making meta-jokes about latex masks and how everyone thinks the IMF is the International Monetary Fund.
I cannot speak highly enough for the way in which this franchise has developed. MI3 had been my favourite instalment up until now but this just blew me away. See it now, on the biggest screen with the big sound system you can find.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - DEAD RECKONING PART ONE has a running time of 163 minutes and is rated 12A in the UK and PG-13 in the USA. It is on global release.