Tom Cruise schools Hollywood for the second straight summer

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part 1
Wednesday 12
4 out of 5

We’ve reached a new era in Tom Cruise’s stardom: Elite Cruise. If in the recent past the actor agreed to be part of other people’s crummy efforts (The Mummy, Rock of Ages), these days Cruise is involved in every aspect of the moviemaking process from handpicking his collaborators to ensuring his films only premiere in cinemas. Very few filmmakers (Spielberg, Nolan, Tarantino) and no other actor can flex that muscle.

The results have been spectacular: Top Gun: Maverick single-handedly saved theatrical distribution from collapse (it may just be a stay of execution, but still) and now Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part 1 is poised to follow suit.

Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: the new M:I is exceptional. It’s far above the likes of Fast X, The Flash, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny and, yes, even John Wick 4. The comparisons to Fast X are particularly unflattering since they share the same location (Rome) down to the hallmarks (the Spanish Steps). Toretto and company’s CGI-palooza doesn’t hold a candle to a bad driver trying to outsmart henchmen and the police at the same time.

But I’m getting ahead. An AI bot (the Entity) has gone rogue and infiltrated every security apparatus in the planet. It has capacity to alter any bit of software and change any “truth” it chooses (it’s like Trump, but smart). The Impossible Mission Force is tasked with retrieving a key that may help anyone in its possession control the Entity and, likely, the entire world.

Here’s the catch. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) doesn’t think any government or organization in the world should have this power. He’s gone rogue in the past but now he’s hunted by every intelligence agency in the world. But the only rival that rattles Hunt is the Entity’s “human envoy”, Gabriel (Esai Morales, surprisingly effective), with whom Ethan goes way back.

There’s something of a political statement that makes the movie more poignant. Scientology notwithstanding, Cruise has avoided antagonizing political factions or countries (I mean, his Top Gun: Maverick villains were store-brand). But in this M:I he takes a stand. Nobody should rewrite the truth or have the capacity to do it, including the U.S. Ethan Hunt never questioned his employers’ motives but draws a line in the sand at enabling the emergence of an empire. He reaches a point in which his morals supersede his duties. That’s one hell of a conflict.

The glib argument that Cruise’s movies are only popular because of the actor does his own stunts is almost insulting to the audience. The highly promoted, death-defying motorcycle jump wouldn’t work as well as it does without context. Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie earn the moment by building to it. Stakes pay off.

There’s so much to like about this movie from the newcomers (Hayley Atwell is terrific as Hunt’s unreliable, unwilling partner) to the blasts-from-the-past (Henry Czerny comes back to the franchise after 27 years as CIA hardass Eugene Kittridge) that it’s hard to identify a weak link: no life-changing epiphanies, I guess? Actually that’s a breath of fresh air. Dead Reckoning even has moments of self-aware silliness, the kind Cruise himself would have opposed in the first few M:Is.

Unlike certain other summer blockbusters that end on surprise cliffhangers, Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part 1 has a satisfying conclusion (the final set piece is delightful) and enough of a tease to keep you interested until June next year for Part 2. I’m already there. ■