It was way back in 1996 when Tom Cruise first introduced us to Ethan Hunt. Hunt was a highly effective field agent for the Impossible Mission Force and, though we didn’t know it then, he was also the character we would learn to identify most closely with the real-life persona of Cruise himself. Sure, he’s played Jerry Maguire, Maverick, Jack Reacher and others, but Ethan Hunt and Tom Cruise are the same person.
Any discussion of a “Mission Impossible” movie has to start with the stunts. If you haven’t seen the trailer for “Dead Reckoning Part One”, watch it immediately after reading this review. There is a motorcycle/base-jump trick that is simply breathtaking, more so because Cruise is doing it himself. Apparently, they shot that scene on day one, in case something went wrong, and Cruise couldn’t go on. He’s been doing his own stunts for years, and his willingness to put his own life on the line for his movies adds a blood-and-sweat authenticity that is hard to ignore. Like I said before, the line where Tom Cruise ends and Ethan Hunt begins is pretty faint and can probably be measured in insurance premiums.
As a story, “Dead Reckoning Part One” is kind of lame. Old enemies and new threats are converging to take over the world and make a hell of Ethan’s personal life in the process. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, even if the latest main villain is so awkwardly “of the moment” you might struggle to keep your eyes from rolling if they weren’t glued to the action. That’s because, thankfully, there’s incredible fight choreography, car chase work and set pieces to offset the unnecessarily expository dialogue and underdeveloped bad guys. Characters in “Dead Reckoning Part One” make a habit of saying all the obvious things out loud, but they get back to the business of being in an action movie quickly enough.
The cast includes regulars like Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson and they all play their parts with clear joy. It seems like it’s genuinely fun to do these projects with Tom Cruise and newcomers like Hayley Atwell and Pom Klementieff add a lot to the ensemble. The only real disappointment in the cast is Esai Morales. Not because of his performance, but because of how he was written. To call his character thin would be too generous. He’s a piece of paper, and his role in the evil proceedings is among the many things I hope will be given more depth in Part Two.
Speaking of Part Two, the fact that they stretched “Dead Reckoning” across a pair of films feels like a risk. The concept can work, as Harry Potter and the Avengers have shown, but I’m not sure there is enough here to warrant 5 hours. And I really hope Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie don’t attempt to compensate for their story by veering into the cartoonish territory of a “Fast and Furious” movie. “Mission Impossible” is a franchise built using much better materials than that and I’d hate to see the padding overshadow the plot when this adventure continues in 2024. Tom and Ethan are both too good at this to let that happen, right?
There’s a quick comment in “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” about technology replacing highly specialized people. Certainly no one involved could have predicted that the WGA and SAG-AFTRA would be arguing right now with the studios, at least in part, about that very possibility. I personally hope the writers and actors prevail in their negotiations with the executives, so Hollywood can get back to work in an environment of fairness and honest appreciation for creative work. Until then, thank you Tom Cruise, for giving us something so thrilling and fun to remind us why we go to movies in the first place.