Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) Review

Seven movies in and the 27-year-old Mission: Impossible franchise still shows no signs of slowing down. Instead, they got better in every instalment, particularly from Brad Bird’s one-time Ghost Protocol to Christopher McQuarrie-directed saga since Rogue Nation onwards. Now, five years after Fallout excelled as one of the best Mission: Impossible movies ever made, franchise mainstay McQuarrie returns for a third round with Dead Reckoning Part One.

But before I get to the review, here’s what the seventh instalment is all about — The last time we saw Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team members in Fallout, they successfully saved the world from a nuclear blast and Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) was handed over to MI6 via arms dealer and broker, White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). Dead Reckoning Part One has Hunt assigned to a new mission with former IMF director from the first movie, Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) returning on active duty. The mission? Retrieve an all-important key that is connected to a powerful A.I. called the Entity.

Apparently, the artificial intelligence system has gone rogue and even become sentient. It knows everything and is always one step ahead even against Hunt and his team, Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg). Former MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who somehow has to do with the key, reunites with them again. The key itself is split into two with one of them being under Ilsa’s possession. Whoever possesses both halves of the key can control the A.I. and if falls into the wrong hands, it would be an end-of-the-world catastrophe.

Esai Morales and Pom Klementieff in "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" (2023)

Likewise, in a Mission: Impossible movie, things get complicated when a mysterious pickpocket named Grace (Hayley Atwell) wants the key as well. Then, there’s Gabriel (Esai Morales) from Hunt’s past a long time ago, an anarchist who served as the human avatar for the Entity. Just like everyone else, he determines to get his hands on the key.

Dead Reckoning Part One runs an epic length of 163 minutes, making it the longest Mission: Impossible movie ever made so far. In the past, length was barely an issue here, as evidently seen in the 147-minute-long Fallout. McQuarrie, who also wrote the script, had a knack for crafty and ingenious storytelling. And he didn’t get overwhelmed with expository-heavy moments either. But surprisingly, he looks as if he’s being controlled by the Entity this time around. The story, which he co-wrote alongside HBO’s Band of Brothers‘ Erik Jendresen, is shockingly rudimentary. Don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of a rogue A.I. posing as a major threat and how the basis of its plot mirrors today’s real-world issues related to artificial intelligence and algorithm.

And yet, McQuarrie and Jendresen’s otherwise potential screenplay is all surface-level storytelling. It doesn’t delve deep into the story with the Entity, supposedly the primary antagonist of the movie is disappointingly hollow. I get that this is the first of the two-parter Dead Reckoning and it seems the story wants to depict the Entity as enigmatic as possible. But then again, does it have to be this vague? If McQuarrie’s intention is to tease us with a formidable antagonist without laying out all the cards on the table, at least do so in a more engaging manner. The only positive thing I can say about the introduction of the Entity is its initial capability of manipulating a system during a thrilling submarine attack scene. That scene gives me the claustrophobic vibes of The Hunt for Red October and Crimson Tide-like moment.

The story also tries to get personal by incorporating Hunt’s dark past with Esai Morales’s Gabriel. His past is only hinted at through a brief flashback and whether we get to see more of it in Dead Reckoning Part Two remains to be seen. A protagonist that deals with the past can add dramatic and emotional tension to the plot. It works well for Skyfall but not quite for Dead Reckoning Part One. McQuarrie has his chance here and he botches it by making it rather perfunctory. Sort of an excuse for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt to go “this time it’s personal” vibe against Gabriel when he crosses paths with him. Gabriel himself isn’t particularly threatening as he comes across more like a generic villain, complete with obligatory bad-guy monologues that served as a heavy exposition.

The motorcycle cliff jump in "Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One" (2023)

Fortunately, Dead Reckoning Part One remains a rousing action spectacle. The movie gets off to a promising start with the extended pre-credits sequence from one gripping set piece after another. The exhilarating Rome-set car chase where Hunt and Grace are handcuffed together inside the yellow Fiat 500 is worth mentioning here, showcasing McQuarrie’s flair for combining the visceral thrills of the chase with the lighthearted comedy and banter between Cruise and Atwell. The climactic Orient Express train sequence sees McQuarrie pays homage to the ending of the first movie. Not to forget, the heavily-promoted motorcycle cliff jump that looks spectacular on IMAX.

Cruise’s commitment to practical stunts is impressive as usual. He looks effortless when comes to performing most of his own stunts (again, that motorcycle cliff jump is beyond words). His usual charisma is all intact while he shares terrific chemistry with Atwell, who clearly has a field day playing the slick pickpocket. No doubt Atwell’s Grace is a great addition to the franchise but at the expense of sidelining Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust in this movie. It looks as if McQuarrie doesn’t know what to do with her. Ferguson still has her moments but her character, who’s been prominent in Rogue Nation and Fallout has become more of a fan service. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg, in the meantime, did what they can in their otherwise limited screentime reprising their roles as Luther and Benji. Apart from Esai Morales and Hayley Atwell, another franchise newcomer Pom Klementieff delivers a decent supporting turn as the predominantly silent assassin, Paris.

Back to the technical aspect of the movie, there are a few glaring special effects that bother me, particularly during the train sequence. The sound design is top-notch while Lorne Balfe’s pulsating score enlivens the movie. The aforementioned 163-minute length may be long for a movie with such a plot. It could have benefited from a tighter pace, even though it doesn’t cause me to check the time on my phone.

Dead Reckoning Part One may fail to match, let alone upstages the superior Fallout. The story could have been executed better but overall, this latest Mission: Impossible movie provides enough solid entertainment value to keep you occupied until the next instalment. At the time of writing, Dead Reckoning Part Two is still set for June 2024.