Although star power isn’t what it used to be, Tom Cruise is among the few names that can still generate interest. Even Cruise realizes that name recognition alone can’t sell a movie anymore. With Top Gun: Maverick and the Mission: Impossible films, Cruise keeps pushing himself to the limit. Where so many modern blockbusters rely on CGI to bring the spectacle, Cruise’s dedication to death-defying stunts captures the true essence of cinema. Cruise has said that he’ll play Ethan Hunt until his 80s. That sounds like a bold promise, but considering that Cruise pulled off arguably his riskiest stunt in his late 50s, he shows no signs of slowing down.
Cruise is again the main attraction in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. However, the film is also an ensemble piece with supporting characters we care just as much about. Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Ferguson have all been welcome additions to the team, reminding us that Mission: Impossible isn’t a one-man show. Dead Reckoning makes room for another scene-stealer in Hayley Atwell’s Grace, a thief caught in the middle of Ethan’s latest impossible mission. Being a thief first and a spy second, Grace shifts from cheeky confidence one second to being in over her head the next. She can get out of trouble with a smile. Behind that smile, though, Grace knows that she was this close to biting the bullet.
Ethan’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of a terrorist named Gabriel (Esai Morales), although he’s somewhat overshadowed by his fearsome henchwoman Paris (Pom Klementieff). Our hero must also face a futuristic threat in a self-aware A.I. known as the Entity. Actually, given the concerns currently revolving around A.I., the Entity may represent a clear and present danger rather than something out of sci-fi. Everyone wants to get their hands on a key to the Entity, although the A.I. may be beyond humanity’s control. For all the physical stakes that Dead Reckoning presents, it’s just as much a mind game with the Entity seemingly a step ahead.
This isn’t to say that the action is an afterthought. Following Rogue Nation and Fallout, director Christopher McQuarrie continues his hot streak with set pieces that feel practical while simultaneously defying logic. The action can also be quite humorous without going too over the top. We all know that Cruise is a physically gifted performer. Here, however, he demonstrates the timing of Buster Keaton in a handcuffed car chase through Rome. A climactic train sequence even calls The General to mind. Of course, even Keaton never had to ride a motorcycle off a mountain in Norway.
The Mission: Impossible franchise keeps upping the stakes with each climax, and Dead Reckoning is no exception. While Cruise’s latest legendary stunt is the centerpiece, there’s so much more going on during the rousing climax. A moment involving Vanessa Kirby possesses the nail-biting suspense of a poker game with a character doing their best not to show their hand. Moments like this remind us that before getting behind the camera, McQuarrie wrote thrillers like The Usual Suspects. As a whole, the sequence balances bombastic stunt work with quiet intensity, never tempting the audience to check their watches. The stakes feel real, and in Cruise’s case, they are! That said, let’s just hope Cruise survives Dead Reckoning Part Two.