Movie review: 'Mission: Impossible' delivers complex summer thrills

Tom Cruise running is always a highlight of "Mission: Impossible." Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
1 of 6 | Tom Cruise running is always a highlight of "Mission: Impossible." Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

LOS ANGELES, July 5 (UPI) -- Mission: Impossible-Dead Reckoning Part One, in theaters July 12, maintains the impossibly high standards set by the last three films in the exciting franchise. It takes bold new steps for the franchise, while still delivering the thrills.

CIA Agent Kittridge (Henry Czerny), last seen in the 1996 Mission: Impossible movie, tasks IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) to recover a key stolen from the wreckage of a submarine. The key accesses an artificial intelligence they call The Entity.


The Entity already is operating on its own and has the power to control any technological system, from banking to military. Countries, including the United States, are racing to control The Entity for their own purposes, but Ethan sees the danger and wants to destroy it.

Cruise's escalating stunts get the bulk of the publicity for the franchise, and Dead Reckoning is no exception. However, Dead Reckoning devotes equal attention to the espionage and heist aspects of Mission: Impossible.


A sequence at the Abu Dhabi airport ramps up the anxiety as no fewer than five elements converge. The objectives only grow more complex as the time ticks down.

Ethan is pursuing someone with one-half of the key and needs to find out where he's delivering it. He has to do this while dodging Special Forces agents (Shea Whigham and Greg Tarzan Davis), who are pursuing him to prevent him from interfering in the CIA's pursuit of the key.

Ethan is further thwarted when pickpocket Grace (Hayley Atwell) swipes the key before Ethan's mission is complete. While he tries to return the key before his mark notices it's gone, Ethan's teammates, Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames), intercept another threat in the airport.

Gabriel (Esai Morales) and his henchwoman, Paris (Pom Klementieff), also are after the key for their own purposes.

The Entity is an interesting antagonist for Ethan Hunt because it is finally a nemesis who supersedes his own gadgets. Ethan has faced opponents who have the same technology, including the 100% convincing masks of other people's faces.

But, as artificial intelligence, The Entity can undermine all of Ethan's toys. He always was the hero who could outthink his superiors and his enemies, but can he outthink an AI with infinite computational power?


The Entity also plays upon the fraught state of the truth in real life. Misinformation, fake news and bots already interfere with social events. To give that access to everything truly is an existential threat.

AI may not create robots that destroy or enslave us all, as many science-fiction films have warned. But, AI could weaponize the vulnerabilities that already exist.

Eventually, all the IMF nuance in the world won't evade the threat, and escaping requires feats of derring do. Dead Reckoning finds clever new ways to portray the trademark stunts.

Director Christopher McQuarrie plays with perspective, locking the camera on one character while major action occurs in the background. The camera conveys the disorientation of Ethan or Grace being jostled in speedy, bumpy scenarios.

Vehicular chases often maintain the perspective from inside the vehicle, though it is always clear who is pursuing whom. McQuarrie and cinematographer Fraser Taggart find inventive ways to photograph Ethan escaping from tight spaces.

The film's more vast action scenes still employ sweeping shots when there is space for them. The action also involves multiple converging parties, so it's never as simple as just one fight or one escape.


The finale begins to show the seams of visual effects when characters fight atop the train. One can't disparage all the real stunts performed in the film, but placing the actors in scenarios artificially becomes more like a Fast and the Furious sequence.

The Fast and the Furious is still great fun too, but it's a different aesthetic than Mission: Impossible. The finale improves when it returns to inside the train, where the action continues to escalate within physical sets.

Compelling dialogue connects the adrenaline-inducing sequences. When the team discusses its plans, that also serves the function of recapping the plot so far and reminding the audience what the objective is for the next mission.

The script turns some effective phrases describing Ethan and the Entity in metaphorical terms. In one entry, Alec Baldwin called Ethan "the living manifestation of destiny," so the Dead Reckoning script is even more colorful.

And yet, the most effective communication in the film is nonverbal. Ethan shares glances with his teammates and they formulate plans without even speaking.

At 2 hours, 43 minutes, Dead Reckoning Part One earns its extended length and its tease of an entire second part by packing it with such elaborate and complex material. For a franchise that never settled for repetition, this entry takes the series in effective new directions.


Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

Latest Headlines