Sunday 16 July 2023

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

"Another visitor - stay a while - stay forever!" Oops! Wrong franchise. That's from Impossible Mission, a classic 8-bit video game originally released for the Commodore 64.

No, we're here for the latest instalment in the rebooted Mission: Impossible franchise starring Tom Cruise (Top Gun: Maverick).

Nick Smith, our US-based stellar scribe, leaves the hat and whip behind for an explosive mission with Marvel Studios' Agent Carter, I mean Grace (Hayley Atwell). This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds...

Guest post by Nick Smith

With Britain’s most conspicuous secret agent pushing up daisies and Mission: Impossible’s original hero Jim Phelps dead on the wrong side of the tracks, Ethan Hunt really is ‘the world’s greatest spy,’ as billed by Paramount. Ethan Hunt, as played by Tom Cruise, certainly has plenty of experience – it’s been a whopping 27 years since the first movie was released. We’ve seen Hunt get beaten, slashed, John Woo'ed, disavowed and dangled horizontally from a long rope on more than one occasion.

In the seventh M: I instalment, Hunt goes rogue (again) in search of a key to unlock… well, he doesn’t know, and if that isn’t the definition of impossible I don’t know what is. This plot device provides plenty of opportunities for fights, car chases, betrayals and lots of running. So much running.

We’ve seen it all before, of course, in the long-running TV show, the previous M: I films and countless other beat-‘em-up spy flicks. But director Christopher McQuarrie (M: I Rogue Nation and Fallout) makes the action seem fresh and entertaining while including some grown-up talky scenes, especially in the first half. There’s a good mix of modern-day themes and old-school tropes reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock classics like The 39 Steps and North by Northwest.

There are some sweet callbacks to the original film: Henry Czerny, who plays spy boss Kittridge, is back after a five-movie gap; Vanessa Kirby is the White Widow, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave’s character Max. Kittridge asks Hunt what side he’s on, echoing Jim Phelps’ shifting allegiance in the ’96 adventure.

Kirby fills Redgrave’s shoes eloquently, giving just enough nuance to stand out in a strong roster of actresses. As outlaw Ilsa Faust, Rebecca Ferguson (Dune) gets an epic fight scene on a Venetian bridge. Marvel maven Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) is Grace, the thief with a heart of stolen gold, who causes lots of problems (and drags out the narrative) with her sticky fingers. The film’s only flaw is Grace’s stubbornness, which leads to some roundabout scenes as Hunt tries to convince her to risk her life for the Impossible Mission Force (IMF). How can she possibly resist the Cruise charm offensive?

Supporting characters in spy movies tend to be dull these days. Thankfully, Ving Rhames (portraying Luther Stickell, Hunt’s teammate since M: I1) and Simon Pegg (as Benji Dunn, who first appeared in M: I3) are both present to add some humanity and humour to proceedings. Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride) is the waspish Denlinger, and it’s a joy to see Mark Gatiss (Sherlock’s Mycroft Holmes), as American as can be, in a bigwig NSA role. Esai Morales (an unmemorable Deathstroke in Titans) is the malicious Gabriel, an unwelcome blast from Hunt’s past. All the cast members give broad performances that help give Dead Reckoning an epic Hollywood feel.

There are just enough comedic moments to keep the adventure bubbling along, and McQuarrie’s not afraid to show his influences – Hitchcock, James Bond (especially with a Huntless opening sequence involving a submarine) and John Wick (there’s some European neon club combat, albeit with an unexpected twist).

We are doubtless in the hands of a master storyteller; McQuarrie wrote The Unusual Suspects, Edge of Tomorrow and Top Gun: Maverick, as well as revising Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Despite the high-stakes seriousness of the main plot and a tragedy or two, there’s the sense that the writer/director is having fun with this movie, especially during its far-fetched third act.

Cruise’s stunts keep us grounded; he’s really speeding on a bike, jumping off a cliff and flying through the air with wind pummelling his face. The characters face relatable moral dilemmas, and the IMF learns that reliance on technology can be very dangerous indeed.

The Mission: Impossible TV show was audaciously cinematic in its day, partly because its second unit camera team would go above and beyond filming inserts and extra bits to include in each tense episode.

With Dead Reckoning Part One, Cruise is playing the long game; he spent years planning a showpiece stunt and the film has been teased for several months. When Part Two is released in the UK and the US on June 28th, 2024, it will be hard-pressed to top the close calls and thrill rides of Part One but for once, time is on Ethan Hunt’s side.

Have you seen Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One? Let me know in the comments below.

Nick Smith's new audiobook, Undead on Arrival, is available from Amazon (affiliate link).

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