Vague Visages’ Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One review contains minor spoilers. Christopher McQuarrie’s 2023 movie stars Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell and Esai Morales. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, a continuation of Tom Cruise’s collaborations with filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie, inches closer to the finish line. The last several installments have evoked the TV show heritage of the franchise with endings that fully resolve their plots while still leaving room to move forward — an adventure of the week vibe, if you will. Because the seventh film is the first of two parts, its conclusion is slightly more pronounced without a reset to reaffirm the status quo. Nonetheless, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is a fantastic showcase for Cruise’s dedication to death-defying stunts.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One has a darker start than its immediate predecessors, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018), and it’s also more intentionally funny. The connection between Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his teammates remains more sincerely sympathetic than the James Bond franchise, more thoroughly articulated than the John Wick series and more tensile than the Fast & Furious films. The age of Cruise’s franchise, however, shows in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, as the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) members will all look like a geriatric crew of The Expendables’ protagonists if producers don’t wrap up the series soon. Meanwhile, Ving Rhames’ Luther Stickell remains the tech genius and emotional core of the team.
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Rebecca Ferguson returns as the enigmatic ex-MI6 agent Ilsa Faust, starring in a sort of dramatically choreographed duel against the eye-catching Gabriel (Esai Morales). Despite drawing on a never-before-seen connection, this dynamic adds weight to the male antagonist’s fanatical-messianic presence and Hunt’s vendetta against him. Pom Klementieff adds more peril as Paris, a brutal and menacing co-henchman who, despite a lack of dialogue, conducts maniacal violence quite impressively; a different performance from her character Mantis in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017). Vanessa Kirby returns from Mission: Impossible – Fallout as The White Widow, a callous and sophisticated black market arms and information dealer (also the daughter of Max from 1996’s Mission: Impossible) who likes to play in grey areas between nation-states, continuing to highlight the murky moral waters and unsure alliances at play in diplomacy and espionage, thus strengthening the film’s tone.
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Hayley Atwell makes her franchise debut as Grace, an expert thief drawn into the story through the familiar plot device of a job looping a character into shenanigans outside her comfort zone. Grace’s arc echoes Ilsa’s as Ethan’s unconsummated love interest, though the romance is initially less clear, as she is simply caught in the middle of an IMF mission. Still, Ilsa and Grace are different enough that the latter character’s skillset and personality provide more of a fish-out-of-water and improvisational vibe, rather than slotting her in as a mere replacement.
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It’s interesting to compare the sexlessness of the contemporary Mission: Impossible romances with the franchise’s early films. This may be the one area where the Fast & Furious franchise edges Cruises’s series, though Hunt’s penchant for longing looks and deep hugs reinforces that this is a self-imposed discipline for the wellbeing of the character’s love interests — sexual austerity for the sake of the greater good.
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The singular hero concept in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is also thematically tied around the compromised choices people make to join the IMF. One end of this informs the exposition, while another is a recruitment conversation that feels nearly cult-like (one of the odder scenes in the film). It fits the framing, but in being part of a narrative about Hunt’s dedication, it is therefore focusing on Cruise — a longtime member of a secretive and controversial religious sect, and it’s simply written somewhat jarringly in its evangelism, if not entirely out-of-place. The only other real problem is that the last big set piece goes on long enough for the CGI to show. This may be forgivable, however, given the adhesive it adds to the various character relationships.
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Like several recent studio films, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One finishes without resolving everything, but it does so more spectacularly and satisfyingly than most. McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen had the decency to conclude a primary struggle while allowing further problems to hang provocatively. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is the best franchise film since the fourth installment and possibly the best yet, tying continuity from Mission: Impossible to Mission: Impossible – Fallout, and setting up an extraordinary follow-up film, irrespective of whether another franchise installment comes later.
Kevin Fox, Jr. (@KevinFoxJr) is a freelance writer, editor and film critic. His work has appeared in Paste Magazine and People’s World. Kevin has an MA in history, loves audiovisual entertainment and dreams of liberation. Check out his Substack at kfjwrites.substack.com.
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