Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One review – Ethan Hunt versus the world

Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part I
Share this Article:

The new Mission: Impossible film, starring Tom Cruise, has a little of everything in it – here’s our spoiler-free review.


Try three issues of Film Stories magazine – for just £1: right here!

Flipping heck. Since 2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout, many of us have wondered how writer-director Christopher McQuarrie and one-man franchise engine Tom Cruise could ever top it. In Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, the answer is, perhaps inevitably, that you can only have a bloody good go at matching it.

Just as this seventh instalment’s production was prolonged and delayed umpteen times by the global pandemic, the start of Dead Reckoning Part One nods that Cruise’s Ethan Hunt has been away for a while. But when his food delivery starts talking in the voice of CIA Director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) and then self-destructs, he’s back in the game.

We’re deliberately keeping things very, very plot-lite here, but where the Mission movies often seem like they pit Ethan against the world, this mission actually puts him in the crosshairs for the entire global intelligence community almost from the get-go. Backed by loyal tech team Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and occasional ally Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), Ethan travels from Abu Dhabi to Rome to Venice on a crusade against an existentially terrifying adversary.

“Dead reckoning” is a navigational term that means plotting a course based only on your last known position, and incidentally, that’s how you should really go into watching this. Other reviews have featured more details about that aforementioned threat, we’re keeping shtum here for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, if you don’t know already, then it’s much more fun to find out from the cracking opening scene, which perfectly introduces the Big Bad we’ll be seeing in both Dead Reckoning instalments.

And second, the film itself is not subtle – deepening the themes of the recent instalments, it’s a story about Ethan’s hero complex in which one MacGuffin is literally a cross to bear. Added to the clean, clear, but sometimes overly direct style of expository dialogue in the script (co-written with Erik Jendreson), nobody needs it explaining any more than the characters cover again and again.

While the story covers both charted and uncharted territory, the ensemble is a mix of familiar faces (Luther and Benji have long since become part of the franchise furniture, although Rogue Nation breakout Ilsa is a little underserved this time) and new ones, and it’s those new characters who really set this one apart.

Indeed, with Hayley Atwell’s arrival, it’s the first time since Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Mission Impossible III that Cruise has looked in danger of being upstaged in one of these. Playing mysterious burglar Grace, she plays it impulsive enough to fit right in with the Impossible Mission Force team, but her character is basically an unskilled civilian, which makes her a very welcome wild-card in the ensemble.

And Atwell is the cherry on top of a stacked cast of franchise newcomers, including Esai Morales’ as zealous arch-henchman Gabriel, Pom Klementieff as savage assassin Paris, and the brilliant Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern double-act of Shea Wigham and Greg Tarzan Davis as the hapless American enforcers tasked with capturing Ethan and his team.

The action and stunts are first-rate too, but then they always are. On the press tour, McQuarrie has cheekily acknowledged that he and Cruise know the general audience mostly remember each Mission as “the one with (insert stunt here)”. And accordingly, they go about those action sequences with such gusto that they’re all in contention to be “the one with” here.

As big blockbuster entertainment, it’s just the ticket for those of us who’ve felt let down by many of this year’s summer offerings. Although the film’s multiple delays have landed further down the release calendar than Fast X and Indiana Jones And The Dial Of Destiny – both films with plot elements that can be compared to this – it confidently surpasses most other multiplex fare of the past few months. To be fair, the story weathers the difficulties of shooting and reshooting during the pandemic better than most films because McQuarrie made two of these by the seat of his pants before such restrictions came in, but the result is a little bumpier and trippier this time.

Then again, this isn’t immune to the prevailing nostalgia of other franchise blockbusters this summer either. It has more of Ghost Protocol’s sense of humour, but a lot of other bits hearken back to Brian De Palma’s stellar franchise-starter. The return of Kittridge is the biggest, least spoilery example, but McQuarrie throws in homages to De Palma’s canted camera angles, not to mention one or two of his action beats. It’s bold to invite comparison to the original, which has much more economical storytelling, but even at a whopping 169 minutes, Part One zips along on the momentum of its set-pieces rather than the chatty bits in between.

Looking further back, among the cited influences are the films of Buster Keaton, particularly 1926’s The General, but there also seems to be a lot of unsung inspiration from 1980s James Bond in here too. Major plot beats from For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy are echoed at the beginning and end, and Cruise, still tirelessly pressing every moment forward like cinema itself depends on him (and maybe it does!), has even developed something of a Roger Moore-style trademark eyebrow that’s started coming out more and more in the past few films. It makes a few well-chosen appearances here.

Still, if the franchise is going to be “the American James Bond”, the action set-pieces and stunt-work alone make it more than worthy of the mantle. For all that the plot sprawls and the exposition occasionally crosses itself in its method, you’re never far from an airport scramble, or a Fiat 500 chase, or an alleyway fight, or virtually anything in that jaw-dropping third act. More than anything else, it’s just a load of fun.

In a summer of movies ending on cliffhangers, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One never feels like “half a film”. If anything, this is more like a film-and-a-half, but that’s about the sheer volume of stuff in it rather than any complaints about the running time. Three films into the McQuarrie era of what was once a round-robin franchise for directors, Mission: Impossible may be more consistent, but it’s no less extravagant or ambitious.

Thank you for visiting! If you’d like to support our attempts to make a non-clickbaity movie website:

Follow Film Stories on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.

Buy our Film Stories and Film Stories Junior print magazines here.

Become a Patron here.

Share this Article:

More like this