MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE Is the Franchise’s Latest Action Movie Masterpiece

The Mission: Impossible franchise is a Hollywood miracle. There was no reason to think the series was capable of true greatness after it followed its tight, engaging first thriller with an embarrassing sequel and a boring third movie. Those two installments made it seem doubtful the series was capable of ever being merely okay again. That’s why what happened since then still seems, well, impossible. Mission: Impossible turned into a powerhouse thanks to three of the best, most ambitious, most visually stunning, most entertaining action movies ever made. But success comes with its own challenges. Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout set a bar no viewer should expect every new entry to live up to. And yet, somehow, that’s exactly what Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have done once again with Dead Reckoning Part One. It’s as incredible as anything the franchise has pulled off.

Nothing will make you realize runtimes are meaningless in a great movie quite like Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. You’ll never experience a faster two hours and 43 minutes in your life. The film manages to maintain a kinetic energy from start to finish without ever feeling rushed. It’s loaded (LOADED) with action and set pieces from all around the globe, but knows exactly when to stop and breathe so viewers can contemplate the impact of what’s happening. Those scenes give its story emotional heft and do so without ever dragging. They contribute to the tension that underlies everything going on with the characters.

This is the most important and timely mission that Ethan Hunt has ever accepted. The governments of the world are racing to gain control of a rogue AI program known as the Entity. It’s an unseen, almost unknowable foe that is everywhere. It can control and destroy every military installation, bank, and computer program at any given time.

A woman and a man stand in front of a bar in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One
Paramount Pictures

How timely is this script? You know all those absurd fear-mongering AI stories from the last year? They honestly feel like a covert Dead Reckoning viral marketing campaign. And with this franchise I won’t rule out that possibility.

But the Entity is not totally invulnerable and it knows it. Somewhere a special key (split into two parts everyone wants to reunite) can shut it down. Only Ethan and his team want to do that rather than let any government or group control it. Especially the U.S. government. So while the Entity is Ethan’s greatest enemy, Ethan is also the Entity’s. That dynamic elevates the complicated plot whose specifics don’t need to be fully understood (and likely can’t be in a single viewing) to enjoy the movie.

The AI has its own allies, too. Chief among them is Esai Morales’ stylish and terrifying Gabriel. He’s a dangerous figure from Ethan’s past who views death itself as a gift. Gabriel is working for the Entity to ensure its victory over mankind. His role in Ethan’s life makes him an especially useful tool of manipulation for the Entity to exploit. It’s another brilliant wrinkle in an excellent script.

Gabriel’s number one soldier is Pom Klementieff’s Paris, a sadistic assassin who relishes her job. She’s also guaranteed to be a fan favorite. Paris is the best part of every scene she’s in, and that’s quite a compliment in a film where everyone is great. That includes fellow newcomer Hayley Atwell, a gifted thief who gets caught up in an international game of world domination. Atwell and Cruise make for a fascinating “team” that feature in some of the movie’s most exciting action sequences.

A woman with white makeup holds a katana sword on her hip in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One
Paramount Pictures

Ethan also must deal with old boss, Henry Czerny’s Eugene Kittridge. Czerny is back for the first time since the original film and he’s better than ever. He’s so good it made me wish he’d been in way more of these movies. Eugene and Ethan have an interaction that is an instant classic, one of the franchise’s most enjoyable scenes ever.

As for the many action sequences, they are, yet again for this series, stunning in both scope and execution. From epic fistfights and long car chases, to desert storm shootouts and Tom Cruise doing outlandish Tom Cruise stunts, to classic Mission: Impossible switcheroos and escapes, Dead Reckoning Part One delivers everything you want/expect and then some.

The only downside isn’t even a downside. Some sequences are reminiscent of those in other recent movies. The film has similar scenes and locales to ones in Fast X, John Wick: Chapter 4, and even Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. But since they were all developed and filmed simultaneously they don’t feel like knockoffs. Instead they feel like the more expensive deluxe version of something you can’t get enough of anyway.

At the center of it all is another fantastic Cruise performance. This Ethan Hunt is an older, more exhausted, more scared (and scarred) version of the character than we’ve seen before. He’s desperate to keep all of his friends safe and knows the only way he can do that is to not involve them at all. He knows better than anyone what Gabriel is capable of. Unfortunately Ethan can’t save the world without his loved ones. That tension gives the movie real stakes in what is arguably the darkest and most emotional installment yet.

It might also be its funniest. Of the three McQuarrie-led entries, this one makes the most concerted effort to be intentionally hilarious. The script’s comic relief was also absolutely necessary to make sure the movie remained entertaining and not too dark.

Tom Cruise hangs over a cliff in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One
Paramount Pictures

Don’t worry about the whole “Part One” element, either. This is a complete movie unto itself with an actual ending to its own plot even though the bigger story of Dead Reckoning isn’t over. It’s really satisfying and a reminder to other franchises that splitting one movie up into two halves does not two movies make.

All of which is a long way of saying the one thing I thought throughout the film and since I left the theater: Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One rules. It just rules, same as its three predecessors. It’s everything you’d want from a night out at the movies, a big budget blockbuster at its best.

Hayley Atwell and Tome Cruise's faces close together in a car in Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One
Paramount Pictures

I keep thinking eventually these movies won’t rule this hard. How could they? It’s difficult for even the best franchises, filmmakers, and stars to make something this good even once. So after doing it four times I have to wonder if Mission: Impossible no longer qualifies as a Hollywood miracle.

Miracle implies the impossible happened, but clearly movies this good are anything but, even if I still can’t believe they are.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at   @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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