Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands. (from IMDB.com)
It’s hard to imagine that, in the summer of 1996, when Brian De Palma’s big screen take on the popular spy television show, Mission: Impossible, hit theaters with Tom Cruise as the star, that we’d be here 27 years later receiving a seventh installment of the franchise — with a promised eighth on the way. But what’s strange, with this particular franchise, is that nearly each movie that releases is better than the next. The exception to that, however, is in 2000, with the first sequel, M:I 2, which had the series handed over to overtly-stylistic director John Woo for a completely different spin on the series than what De Palma had kickstarted with. Cruise, at one point, had been quoted as saying he wanted a different director and style for each Mission movie, with each one being a standalone story, and that couldn’t be more obvious in the switch from De Palma to Woo (who, at the time, was the Flavor of the Month). If one was to sit down and watch the Mission: Impossible movies as a collection, M:I 2 sticks out like a proverbial sore thumb. It has its moments, sure, and some of the action pieces are fun, but overall, it does not fit in the series. One could easily watch the first movie (which is being referenced more and more in recent sequels), skip Mission: Impossible II, and then watch Mission: Impossible III till the most recent entries and not being missing anything. Sequels Three through Six (and now Seven) actually have a pretty consistent thread throughout, with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt getting married to Jules (III), then separated from her to protect her (Ghost Protocol), meeting new IMF team members (III and Rogue Nation), getting closure to the wife subplot (Fallout), facing consequences of his actions, and more.
2018’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout was a surprise box office smash. It was the second time Cruise enlisted his friend Christopher McQuarrie’s directing talents, and its success earned not one, but TWO more Mission sequels with McQuarrie behind the camera. The then-untitled Mission: Impossible 7 was supposed to come out sooner than this year, but that whole pesky global pandemic and such caused delays, but here we are in the summer of 2023 with the anticipated follow-up to Fallout: Dead Reckoning Part One. One might wonder why they chose to split the story in two, but with little known about how the second half will play out, Part One is actually given a soft resolution. Think Empire Strikes Back or Fellowship of the Ring, in a way. Fallout was a surprisingly dark effort, and I wouldn’t say Dead Reckoning Part One is much brighter, but it definitely doesn’t feel quite as dark or gritty as the previous film. If anything, there’s a bit more humor thrown into Dead Reckoning Part One, for good measure. Things do get heavy at times, so the humor is certainly needed, but even composer Lorne Balfe, who returns from Fallout to Dead Reckoning Part One, eases up on the tense, brooding themes to inject some more adventure into the proceedings.
Dead Reckoning Part One sees our IMF heroes reuniting with one Eugene Kittridge – Henry Czerny’s IMF antagonist from the 1996 franchise kick-off who believed Hunt was the mole he was digging for. Now Kittridge is with the CIA, which might explain why we haven’t seen him in six sequels, but it’s great to have him back on the scene here. We’re also introduced to some new faces, like Captain America‘s Hayley Atwell as Grace, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Pom Klementieff as Paris, and The Princess Bride‘s Cary Elwes as another government necktie named Denlinger. Esai Morales also steps in as this two-parter’s main baddie, Gabriel, who Hunt has a surprising past connection to. The plot details in the trailer were pretty thin, so I’m afraid to delve into more details here, because I was pretty surprised by what the subject matter of the mission turned out to be. It’s freakishly relevant to our technological world today, too, in a way that, probably when the movie’s idea was conceived, the idea was more science fiction, but in 2023, it’s entirely imaginable. This also grounds the story and makes it even more intense given that the stakes are indeed quite high — as usual with these movies.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, Dead Reckoning Part One – like 2018’s Fallout – is an exciting reunion with characters we’ve grown along with. For example, Ving Rhames has appeared as Luther Stickell in every film so far, in some capacity. (He was sidelined in Ghost Protocol for some reason, but makes a cameo appearance at the end.) Simon Pegg first appeared as a computer whiz named Benjamin Dunn back at IMF for Ethan to call and get help from in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III, and after passing his field exam between III and Ghost Protocol has been alongside Ethan in the field ever since. Luther has quickly become the heart of the team, while Benji is often the comic relief with a dash of additional heart. Rebecca Ferguson has been a quasi-love interest for Ethan since the fifth film, Rogue Nation, but her involvement in British intelligence and frequent wrench in IMF’s plans has made her a unique addition to the team – in an unofficial capacity. Dead Reckoning Part One makes good use of all of these characters – well, some more than others – and if you have an attachment to any of them, you’ll definitely feel the tension the movie creates.
The first feedback I heard about Dead Reckoning Part One is that it was extremely intense, and I have to agree that is indeed the case. Fallout, with all of its darker edge and ominous musical score, was extremely intense, too, but there’s something about this one that manages to ratchet up the intensity further. Where some movies forsake character and story for the sake of neverending mindless action sequences, Dead Reckoning Part One uses the action sequences to fuel the story and even build on some of the characters (the new ones, mostly). And while it checks all the boxes for moments you’ve come to expect from a Mission movie, like Cruise running at top speed or riding a motorcycle, there are some really great moments that make the action truly memorable. There’s a car chase in Rome that is an edge-of-your seat thrill that was easily one of my favorite moments of the movie. (I won’t give any details past that – but I’m tempted to say it’s one of my favorite car chases I’ve seen on screen yet.) The train sequence teased in the trailer is also quite fun and nail-biting, even if it does seem to go on just a smidge too long. A fight sequence in an extremely narrow alleyway is likely to give the viewer a little bit of claustrophobia, but it’s a great sequence as well. The much advertised cliff jump off a motorcycle that Cruise did for real is certainly a cool moment in the movie, but I feel like they cheapened it a bit by showing it so much before the movie’s release. It’s still a cool moment, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t nearly as thrilling as it could have been if it hadn’t been shown SO MUCH before actually getting to see the movie as a whole. I even could feel when it was coming long before it actually happened.
A pair of keys serve as the plot’s sought-after MacGuffin – and it almost gets tiresome – but McQuarrie and Cruise keep the chase fun and thrilling, so it’s tough to pick on that. In the spy genre, it’s not unusual to have an item being sought after and frequently changing hands, so it makes sense for a movie of this kind.
I’m kind of shocked at the content for this Mission – and not in the way you’d expect. While Dead Reckoning Part One is very, very intense and has plenty of action violence, there is barely any visible blood in the movie. Where the 1996 original was practically a blood bath, this entry barely shows blood at all — even when you might most expect it. The worst moment shows a character suddenly slicing a person’s throat off screen, and then we see the victim covering their wound with their hands and blood pooling beneath their head as they die (from an aerial view). That is really the extent of the bloodshed. There is, however, one other shocking moment where a man very suddenly stabs another man in the hand while their hand is laying on a desk. There is no blood, but we briefly see the hand with the blade buried in it as the victim screams. Language is also shockingly infrequent. Where Fallout pushed the envelope for the franchise, even introducing the series first use of the “F” word, Dead Reckoning Part One refrains from any outright uses of the word, and even from using the “S” word at all. Sadly, “g*dd*mn” gets the most uses (at 4), while there are occasional uses of “h*ll” and “d*mn” as well. It appears that one character might mouth the “F” word in frustration, while another character starts to say “What the f—” as he is hit in the face before he can finish the profanity. There isn’t any significant sexual content, but a club scene shows dancers that appear to possibly be nude due to the way they are backlit. At one point we can see that they are actually wearing skin-tight outfits (as they’re dancing sensually), however, and are in fact actually not nude. Another scene has Gabriel accusing a man of having an affair and stealing things for his mistress, and another scene shows a man frisking Grace and groping her slightly intentionally.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One continues the franchise’s strong run of exciting and entertaining spy movies. It’s unusual for a franchise to be this consistently good, but since its 2006 third movie, the series has been especially strong. If you’re a fan of these movies, do not miss Dead Reckoning Part One on the big screen. And if you’re new to them, and are interested in jumping in, your best bet is to watch the first one, then 3 through 6 to get caught up on the characters and nods to each other. Despite being one-half of a story, for the most part, Dead Reckoning Part One is actually a satisfying summer blockbuster that delivers on its promises, and gets you psyched for Part Two, which is set to release sometime next year. (As a side note, there are no end credits scenes or post credit scenes, so there’s no need to stick around through the credits.)
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 7/15/23)
4K UHD Special Features Review
The 4K UHD release of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One includes the feature film in 4K UHD and bonus features on disc, along with a digital copy that lets you only choose between Apple or VUDU. (There is no Blu-Ray disc packaged with the 4K disc.) Now, on to the Extras…
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One in 4K UHD – Like the previous film, Fallout, the movie looks excellent in 4K UHD, but I’d almost say this one looks a hair crisper than I remember Fallout being (I remember its IMAX-filmed scenes exhibited the most clarity). Some of the more dimly-lit scenes don’t display the most color or clarity, but many other sequences do look crisp and colorful. You probably would be just fine with the Blu-Ray transfer of this one, but I’d still recommend the 4K if you’re into them.
Deleted Shots Montage (8:59) – This is a different kind of bonus feature. Here, we’re given the option to watch deleted footage with optional commentary from director Christopher McQuarrie. There’s otherwise no dialog in the sequences (even when people are talking), with just footage from various scenes playing to more of Lorne Balfe’s wonderful score. Scenes include Ethan in the desert, Gabriel and Paris showing up in the desert (from an unused story idea), Benji in the airport, Ethan and Gabriel in the airport (as well as Paris and Grace), Kittridge descending a staircase with Cary Elwes’ character, more car chase footage, Ethan practicing his sleight of hand, more from the Venice street chase, and more train, motorcycle and parachute footage involving Ethan. If you love to hear a director talk about filmmaking from a technical and artistic viewpoint, I highly recommend listening to the insightful commentary.
Editorial Featurette: The Sevastopol with Optional Commentary with Director Christopher McQuarrie and Editor Eddie Hamilton (10:10) – McQuarrie and Hamilton compare different cuts of the opening sequence and how the scene changed during the production (apparently for the better). We even learn about them doing reshoots just to get better lighting, and different lengths being tried out for scenes.
Behind the Scenes (31:09) – The surprisingly short Behind the Scenes featurette gives us a half-hour making-of segment, which is broken down into significant moments and locations, and can be watched all at once with a Play All option.
- Abu Dhabi (3:56) talks about how, while filming there, the crew was given full access to their airport, which basically just became this huge “set.” And having Ethan run across the wave-shaped roof was kind of like having him run across “steel sand dunes.” For the desert action sequence, they built the small “town” in the desert in 5 weeks. However, during production, the COVID lockdown happened, but that allowed the harsh desert climates to age the set and give it a more authentic look.
- Rome (4:13) is about the crazy car chase sequence and how the slippery cobblestone streets made it very dangerous. They also talk about the challenges posed by having a car chase with Tom only being able to drive one-handed
- Venice (4:13) – Here, they talk about filming inside The Doges Palace in Venice, and projecting light on the outside walls to give it even more character. They also talk about the fight sequences and the foot chases.
- Freefall (9:06) is all about filming the dangerous motorcycle stunt Cruise does in Norway. They show lots of behind-the-scenes footage from the sequence and talk about the great deal of training Cruise endured in preparation… and then the process of doing the actual jump.
- Speed Flying (4:17) – Honestly, Cruise’s “Speed Flying” was kind of wasted on me in the movie. After the motorcycle jump and the crazy action with the train, his Speed Flying hand glider seemed so tame. Supposedly, the fact you fly so low to the ground and are going so fast makes the sport so very dangerous.
- Train (5:33) reveals that the action inside and on top of the train was filmed in Norway. The crew actually built their own train in order to film it and then destory it. To film the engine car’s demise, they filmed it in Dalton Quarry in the UK.
Photo Galleries – I, personally, seldom find the photo galleries in these featurettes very interesting, but this one is kind of neat if you just want a quick peek at some still images from the production. There are 74 total images broken down into four separate galleries: Tom Cruise (20), director Christopher McQuarrie (9), Collaboration (15) – which is both Tom and Christopher, and Supporting Cast (30).
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 11/6/23)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Gabriel confronts a man about stealing things for his wife and his mistress; We see a club party with men and women dancing around seductively. Some appear to possibly be nude but are show backlit so explicit nudity isn’t visible. A couple dancers appear to actually be wearing bodysuits, however; A man frisks Grace and smiles when he puts his hands just beneath her clothed chest.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 mouthed “F” word, 1 incomplete “What the f—?”; 4 “g*dd*mn,” 3 “h*ll,” 3 “d*mn,” 3 “Oh my G-d”
Alcohol/Drugs: There is some drinking in a club.
Blood/Gore: Gabriel stabs a man in the hand, we briefly see it sticking out of the top of the man’s hand; A person who’s been shot has some blood on their hand; A man is sliced in the throat just off screen. We see them hit the floor with their hand over their throat. Blood pools underneath their head; A man holds a knife to another man’s throat, trying to decide whether to kill them or not. When they decide not to, we see the knife pulled back with a little bit of blood on it and a little on the victim’s neck.
Violence: A torpedo hits a sub and it explodes. We then see a lot of dead bodies floating to the surface, some with their eyes open. (We later see a clip of this again); A smoke bomb goes off in a room, knocking out almost everyone in the room; A man is shot with a tranquilizer dart and falls over; The opening credits shows some of the action scenes that will follow; Some agents attack random people in an airport while trying to locate Ethan who is trying to evade them; A man tries to defuse a bomb that is counting down, in a very intense sequence; A scene in a desert shows a man being chased on horseback and shot at, while a sniper picks off the pursuers one by one; A person lying on the ground appears to be dead; A fight breaks out in a club, with Ethan elbowing a man repeatedly in the face just off camera, and other characters being punched and hit; Two characters fight on a bridge, with one being knocked out; A person fights a couple people in a tiny alley with one of them wielding a metal pipe; Two characters fight with blades on a bridge and one is stabbed and killed; A prolonged car chase takes place in Rome with quite a bit of destruction as cars collide and flip and run into things; A man stabs a man in the hand with a knife as it lays on a desk. We briefly see the blade as it’s dug into the hand (there’s no visible blood); A gun fight with multiple characters from a couple different groups breaks out on a bridge; A train conductor is kicked off a moving train while another is strangled and then hung by the whistle cord; A man is sliced in the throat just off screen. We see them hit the floor with their hand over their throat. Blood pools underneath their head; A person is shown with a knife sticking out of their chest; A person is stabbed in the neck with a sedative and we see them flop onto a couch. Later we see them trying to wake up but they just fall over; A fight breaks out on top of a train between a couple men. They fight as they also try to dodge a tunnel and other obstacles; A bridge explodes and a piece of a train flies off into the water below; A train slowly rolls off an edge, with each car slowly falling and people inside struggling to get to the next car safely; In a flashback, we see a couple people fighting hand to hand over a gun; In another flashback, we see a woman getting shot and dying; and other action violence.