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film review

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

  • Directed by Christopher McQuarrie
  • Written by Christopher McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen
  • Starring Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell and Simon Pegg
  • Classification PG; 163 minutes
  • Opens in theatres July 12

Critic’s Pick

If Tom Cruise dies off-screen, does he make a sound? When – or really, if – the time comes for the actor to exit this life, I can only imagine that he does so while captured by the lens of a camera, framed dead-centre.

It is only fair. Over the past several decades, Cruise has pushed the limits of mortality so far and with such tenacious, almost perverse inventiveness – all for the purposes of entertaining complete strangers – that his final breath deserves to be immortalized in IMAX. And for our sins, we should all be compelled to bear witness. Here lies Tom Cruise, our last action hero. Amen.

Fortunately – for us, and for Cruise – the actor comes out the other end of Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One, his latest and most fabulously titled gamble with the Grim Reaper. Although his on-set survival wasn’t for a lack of trying.

Open this photo in gallery:
Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt and Rebecca Ferguson is assassin-but-also-hacker Ilsa in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.Christian Black/Handout

This seventh spy spectacle features Cruise – not a stunt double or an AI-engineered deep-fake facsimile – double-daring himself to near-death. He runs atop a terminal at Abu Dhabi’s airport, races a Fiat 500 through the slippery streets of Rome, engages in a knife fight while standing on the top of a speeding train, and rides a motorbike off the edge of a cliff before ditching that bike to execute a high-risk BASE jump with only a six-second window before impact. (That last feat took a year of rehearsals, with 500 skydives and 13,000 motocross jumps.) There are no green screens, no shortcuts, no clones of Cruise waiting in the wings, Prestige-style. Only one man and his death wish. Which makes the iron will of Tom Cruise the most extraordinary stunt of the film – and of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking.

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At this point in the series, no one could legally complain – it’s true, I checked with the courts – if a Mission: Impossible sequel was just a hastily edited collection of scenes in which Cruise jumped from one danger to the next. No narrative, characters or dialogue needed. But at nearly every turn, Dead Reckoning aims for something more than the sum of its Evel Knievel parts. In an already strong year for breakneck, throat-kick, punch-out cinema, this adrenaline-pumped fever dream from Cruise and his regular enabler-slash-director Christopher McQuarrie represents a brutally thrilling action-film apotheosis. It won’t kill you, or Cruise, but it will make you, and Hollywood, stronger.

Open this photo in gallery:
Hayley Atwell and Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Cruise's Hunt is racing around the world tracking a master thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell) in order to recover two halves of a special key in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.Christian Black/Handout

While the first four M:I films each act as stand-alone adventures – new team members, new villains, new MacGuffins, new directors – the movies have been building narrative and emotional layers atop each other ever since McQuarrie joined the franchise with instalment No. 5 (2015′s Rogue Nation). Now, a secondary character from one movie can return and up the stakes of the next. And seemingly throwaway plot points can rear their heads to provide the spark of a third-act triple-twist.

Which explains why the first 20 minutes of Dead Reckoning involve unloading a heavy heap of expository dialogue. This includes one comically long scene in which various U.S. government officials, including spy chief Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), who hasn’t been seen since the very first M:I film back in 1996, explain to the new Director of National Intelligence (Cary Elwes) just what Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his M:I team are up to these days. And who they are up against.

All that you need to know, though, is that Hunt is racing around the world tracking a master thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell) in order to recover two halves of a special key. Enlisting the help of his Impossible Mission Force buddies – hacker Luther (Ving Rhames), other hacker Benji (Simon Pegg), assassin-but-also-hacker Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) – Ethan is intent on securing this key before it can unlock the greatest threat known to mankind: an malevolent AI bot referred to here simply as “The Entity.”

Yes, Cruise – who is so against streaming that he forced Paramount Pictures to hold onto Top Gun: Maverick for two years until theatres could widely reopen – hates technology so much that he has made an algorithm the big bad of the M:I-verse. And good on him, as Dead Reckoning’s faceless, unknowable, inherently despicable digital foe provides just the right amount of capital-E Evil to get audiences thirsting for bit-rate blood. Go kill that computer, Tom Cruise! We’ll just be here, watching you break your body in the process.

Open this photo in gallery:
Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Cruise, front and centre, ensures that his co-stars — including Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames and Ferguson — each get standout moments of their own in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.Christian Black/Handout

Ever the generous showman, though, Cruise ensures that his co-stars – especially those who have been ride-or-dying with him for several M:I sequels now – each get standout moments of their own. This includes Pegg, whose comic-relief sidekick gets a darker shade this time around, and one hell of a bust-out tribute to the onscreen powers of Ferguson. Her mysterious spy Ilsa gets to have almost all the fun here, whether it’s sharpshooting enemies during a desert sandstorm while rocking a cool-as-ice eye patch or engaging in a gothic Venice sword duel with The Entity’s flesh-and-blood henchman, Gabriel (played by Esai Morales as if high on snake venom). Meanwhile, fans of the tremendous veteran Canadian character actor Czerny will walk away with the slyest of smiles, so eager is Dead Reckoning to let the slippery Kittridge slither about.

Once the film’s first set-piece kicks in – an ambush scene that ends on a wonderful visual punchline that you’ll be kicking yourself for not having seen coming – McQuarrie keeps stacking one tremendously big stunt on top of the next. This is a movie built without breaks for breath, exhilarating but not exhausting. Key to the steady speed of it all is how McQuarrie stages every fight and chase and knuckle-bite “agh!” moment with a clarity of perspective and respect of pace. Unlike so much of what passes for action in contemporary blockbuster filmmaking, Dead Reckoning ensures that its audiences can actually see what is going on shot to shot – the choreography is clear, the editing is tight.

Open this photo in gallery:
Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Ferguson's mysterious spy Ilsa gets to have almost all the fun, whether sharpshooting enemies during a desert sandstorm while rocking a cool-as-ice eyepatch or engaging in a gothic Venice sword duel in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.Paramount Pictures

Because no mission goes off completely as planned, there are minor missteps – lines in the script that should have been redacted, and one wrinkle in the plot that gently but unnecessarily rewrites Ethan’s personal history. And for a film advertised as one half of a whole – Part Two arrives June 28, 2024 – this entry ends not on a wide-eyed cliffhanger but with a more casual eyebrow raise.

Still, the ultimate thrills of Dead Reckoning are pure. No movie is worth dying for. But if Tom Cruise wants to sacrifice himself for this greater good, who are we to stop him?

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