“Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One” Is Only Half Good

With a plot lifted directly from season three of “Westworld” and dialogue that sounds like Christopher Nolan fanfiction, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” (“MI7”) is even clunkier than its stupid name. Within its nearly three hours are 90 minutes of fantastic car chases, train crashes, and espionage-adjacent shenanigans. Those are paired with more than an hour of groan-inducing overexplaining, lazy and amateur mistreatment of all women, and a truly mind-boggling amount of slowly performed sleight of hand “tricks.”

“MI7” is like the “Oops Extra Raisins” version of trail mix, where (Ethan) hunting and pecking for the tastier morsels leaves you questioning its worth. Virtually no one is yet sick of Tom Cruise offering himself as a human sacrifice to the Lord of Stunts. But must we endure actors having to meticulously describe an evil sentient AI program as though no one in the audience has before heard of a computer? This was written before ChatGPT and is about a demonic ChatGPT but sure feels like it was written by ChatGPT, down to its own deification. The GPT doesn’t actually stand for God Performs Typing. If only there was a way to transition from dangerous-but-silly divine beings to Tom Cruise that wouldn’t prompt a Scientolo-lawsuit.

In the sure sign of a floundering script, “MI7” has like five prologue/intro sequences, many of which involve copious amounts of “telling” and not “showing” why a self-aware computer program is a bad thing. The guy who played “The Terminator” is 75 now, everyone gets it. Anyway, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) has to get a magic key that will somehow stop “The Entity,” which feels like the most workshopped name for a digital bad guy ever. To get said key, he works with old friends Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Luther (Ving Rhames). Being included first in that recap list is the nicest thing that happens to a woman involved with this movie.

On his way to acquire said key, Ethan encounters Grace (Hayley Atwell), a thief who subsequently is spoken to like she’s five for the rest of the movie. During the phenomenal and goofy car chase, she is repeatedly shown to be bad at and afraid of driving, like an 80s stand-up comedian joke come to life. Actually, pretty much every time she goes to do anything, Ethan steps in to do it for her. She is allowed to do close-up magic often. Stand aside “giant train wreck,” nothing gets audiences hotter than “the key was right behind your ear this whole time!”

Honestly, it is totally fine that the “plot” doesn’t get wrapped up because it is absolutely irrelevant. Although one of the weaker installments, at least “Mission: Impossible III” hilariously named its MacGuffin “the rabbit’s foot” and simply never said what it actually was. All that truly matters is establishing enough of a context for Tom Cruise to get fired out of an actual cannon into the mouth of a literal, lab-grown dinosaur or whatever. That shouldn’t take three hours.

What’s even more troubling is how every female character is handled. Atwell is infantilized, while Ferguson and Pom Klementieff are arguably treated even worse. To go further would be all kinds of spoilery, so you’ll have to somehow trust me that the big-budget action movie franchise starring an aging male hero didn’t do right by the women in it. The movie so oddly parallels the superior “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” that it’s hard not to think that this was poorly copied from it. But that’s not something artificial intelligence would do…

“MI7” insists upon itself, hoists itself by its own petard, and probably several other old-timey adages. If “Part Two” is an hour and a half of nothing but Cruise doing daredevil stupidities with that killer theme song, it will all be worth it. But as it stands, this is a half-step towards what happened with the “Fast and Furious” franchise, which bloated itself by focusing on all the wrong stuff. Vin Deisel should “Ghost of Christmas Future” Cruise if necessary.

Grade = C+

Other Critical Voices to Consider

Jeffrey Zhang at Strange Harbors says “It’s true that there is no green screen or VFX in the world that can ape Tom Cruise’s brazen stuntwork, but perhaps even more importantly, there is no deception capable of mimicking Cruise’s very real – and therefore very convincing – trepidation: the glint of fear in his eye, the gulp of courage down his throat.”

Gayle Sequeira at Film Companion says the film is “a looser, slower installment, which is a frankly insane thing to say about a film in which the countdown to disarm a bomb with a billion potential coded combinations is just a side quest.”

Lindsay Traves at Pajiba says “By being imperfect, this film might lag behind its franchise’s installments, but it’s nothing if not a wonderful, watchable, and exciting action thrill ride.”

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