Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ movie review: Tom Cruise in breathless spectacle

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Ethan Hunt leads his team of IMF agents and a new recruit against an mysterious AI menace and an old enemy in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, a breathless new action spectacle that opens in Prague cinemas and worldwide this week after some extensive preview screenings over the past weekend.

Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t quite match Mission: Impossible – Fallout as the franchise’s finest hour, but it comes so close that it doesn’t really matter. This is action movie filmmaking at its very finest, and after John Wick 4, Fast X, and Extraction 2, brands 2023 as a banner year for the genre.

What sets Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning apart from the crowd, however, is an especially compelling storyline from director Christopher McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers). The enemy here is not a human villain but an AI algorithm gone rogue; it’s capable of infiltrating any system on the grid, but so far, only seems to be interested in obtaining a key from a sunken Russian submarine.

While the US Director of National Intelligence (Cary Elwes) and IMF and CIA head Kittridge (Henry Czerny, making a more-than-welcome return to the franchise after the 1996 original) want to reign in the algorithm for their own benefit, rogue agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) sets his sights on destroying it for the benefit of the world, bringing together IMF team members Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) in the process.

Of course, some other nefarious agents are also in the mix, including an old enemy of Hunt from his pre-IMF days, played by a menacing Esai Morales. He’s seen killing an accomplice of Hunt in flashbacks that recall the murder of Kristin Scott Thomas’ character in the first movie, but are actually something entirely different. And then there’s potentially-benevolent pickpocket Grace (Hayley Atwell), who has been hired by The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) to swipe the key so she can sell it to the highest bidder.

While the story is engaging enough to keep our interest by itself, it’s really just a frame to hold up some expertly-crafted scenes of action. In that regard, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One certainly doesn’t disappoint, with a terrific suspense scene in Abu Dhabi’s airport, a chase through Rome that rivals Fast X with Hunt and Grace handcuffed together in a tiny Fiat, and an extended climax aboard the Orient Express train traveling through the Austrian Alps.

Given the series’ heavy promotion of the death-defying stunts performed by ageless star Cruise, it’s a little surprising that nothing in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One comes close to matching the halo jump in Fallout, the opening plane hang in Rogue Nation, or the Burj Khalifa climb in Ghost Protocol.

The one big stunt in Dead Reckoning Part One is a climactic motorcycle jump that has Cruise perform an Evel Knievel-like jump off the top of a mountain in the Austrian Alps, glide a safe distance away, and then open up a parachute before he lands on a runaway train. It’s a breathless stunt, but not quite on the level of the previous films, and it doesn’t exactly nail the landing.

But what this stunt does accomplish is perfectly setting up the grand finale: one of the finest action sequences in the whole Mission: Impossible franchise. It involves the Orient Express locomotive plummeting off a bridge a la Buster Keaton’s The General, and the IMF agents racing through a variety of train cars as they slowly follow suit, dangling off the side of a cliff and dodging gas fires and falling pianos.

We can safely assume that stars Cruise and Atwell are not actually racing through the train as it teeters over the edge of a cliff, and a bit of green screen work was involved as they look down to the valley hundreds of meters beneath them. But because we just saw Cruise perform a real-deal death-defying stunt to get onto the train, it sells the reality of this breathless action sequence and ends Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One on the highest possible note.

Like this year’s Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and Fast X, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is the only first half of an larger story, with the next entry due out next summer. Freed from the confines of having to tell a fully-resolved Hollywood story, each of these movies is a more compelling experience that they might have otherwise been. Let’s see if their second halves can live up to the promise of the first.

Mission Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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