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Film Review: Movie Magic Comes Alive in “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”

Written by: Hannah Tran | July 11th, 2023

Film poster: “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One”

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (Christopher McQuarrie, 2023) 3½ out of 4 stars.

There are not many movie stars who are willing to die onscreen for the movies. For better or worse, Tom Cruise is one of them. After last year’s ball-of-fire-success, Top Gun: Maverick, was literally attributed with “saving the movies,” Cruise is once again laden with the seemingly impossible mission of rising to his own level. And with the latest entry in his wildly popular spy franchise, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Cruise proves he is more than up to the challenge.

The first of this two-part film finds Ethan Hunt and the IMF team tasked with the mission to find both halves of, fittingly, a two-part key that is their only hope to destroy the rogue AI known as “The Entity,” which is capable of destroying humanity. While The Entity itself and the plot points surrounding the technological villain may be a little hokey, the focus on the effort of finding the key simplifies the objective and is easy to get on board with.

l-r: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

And this simplicity allows all the more room for the widely-anticipated high-octane action. From planes, trains, and automobiles, Dead Reckoning’s territory may be familiar, but the complexity of the choreography and perfection of its execution makes the movie more exciting than ever. There’s a bleakness to the violence in these scenes that makes the potential consequences for the characters palpable. Despite its length (163 minutes), its whirlwind pace is relentless. But it isn’t afraid to slow down when it needs to; a particular scene involving falling train cars seems to happen in never-ending slow motion, heightening the suspense with each passing minute.

There’s also a delightful amount of humor in these sequences, with a car chase that vies to be both the most suspenseful and the silliest set piece in cinematic history. It’s surprisingly slapstick in moments. In the aforementioned train scene, it’s a wonder there aren’t any banana peels lying around, although there is a falling piano. This lightheartedness is a refreshing spin on expectations that diversify the story and make each scene memorable. And although some moments may be a little far-fetched, they are always entertaining. Why else do we go to the movies?

l-r: Hayley Atwell and Esai Morales in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

There’s almost no need to mention that Tom Cruise shines at the helm of these scenes, but the film does an equally good job of highlighting the talents of his costars. Hayley Atwell (Christopher Robin) is given a strong introduction as a quickly endearing pickpocket who serves as the perfect complement to the experienced Hunt. At the same time, the genuine friendship between Ethan and his team is a sweet reprieve from the constant threats to their life. Rebecca Ferguson (Doctor Sleep), as the tough-but-tender Ilsa, gives an emotional heart to the story, and it’s the relationships shared between these characters that provide the basis for any of the stakes to actually matter.

Co-writer and director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) once again has a strong hand in guiding the franchise according to his specific vision. It’s almost difficult to compare the franchise’s various entries because of their similarity, but Dead Reckoning manages to further the story primarily through its characters. On the technical side, the quick editing often feels more stylish than in previous installments. And while Fraser Taggert’s cinematography may not be as consistently captivating as Rob Hardy’s work in Fallout, Taggert still captures several moments of beauty.

Rebecca Ferguson in MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – DEAD RECKONING PART ONE from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

But as a whole, Dead Reckoning has as much satisfaction to offer as ever. Despite only being part one of a two-part story, it manages to feel like a full journey by circling back to its powerful opening in its final moments. And although The Entity may know how Ethan Hunt’s story will end, I’m eagerly waiting to find out for myself.


Hannah Tran is a film critic and filmmaker from Las Vegas, Nevada. Hannah works as a film screener for the Las Vegas Film Festival and publishes an independent zine focused on highlighing Asian American filmmaking.

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