SK: Well, it’s been almost a week since Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One exploded onto the world’s cinemas. Directed by Christopher McQuarrie (who also directed MI: Rogue Nation and MI: Fallout), Dead Reckoning is the seventh instalment in the Mission: Impossible franchise, which is now almost 30 years old. A lot has changed since 1996. Cruise’s status as an action star, Scientologist, daredevil, and overall weird guy is entrenched. His films, too, have a characteristic metallic intensity. He promises the viewer a cinematic experience, with less CGI, more practical special effects, more set pieces. So John, does he end up delivering the goods in Dead Reckoning?


JM: If you mean, has he rescued Hollywood from the indolence and sloth of the Marvel or DC universes? Possibly … My mission, which I have chosen to accept, is to summarise the film’s premise. I won’t lie, I had a bit of trouble following this one, but essentially the film revolves around the battle between the great powers of the world to control some kind of emergent AI (“the Entity”) with the capacity to cripple the internet with fake news. Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is disavowed yet again by his government, and must go on the run from both the CIA and the Entity’s agents as he attempts to locate the key to the Entity’s source code (it’s quite literally a key) so he can destroy the Entity once and for all. Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson return as Hunt’s offsiders, and a new character, Grace, a professional thief played by Hayley Attwell, is introduced as a quasi-love interest for the perpetually bereaved Hunt.

SK: I think the plot to this film doesn’t make sense. It’s never clear whether the bad guy is the AI or the human antagonist (played drably by Esai Morales). The overall thrust of the story is that the “Entity” is everywhere and always two steps ahead (and yet implausibly, can’t seem to actually vanquish Ethan or his team). Ultimately, this allows the filmmakers to do whatever they want with the story with very little accountability. A series of very odd coincidences and characters being thrown together? The Entity did it. And look, maybe AI is a topical theme that filmmakers can deploy in 2023, but it makes the stakes incredibly impersonal – in a franchise that already puts plot low on its list of priorities. I’m also getting tired of these big blockbuster films with villains that are omniscient and invincible. The Dark Knight, Skyfall, the more recent Fast and the Furious films, have all featured bad guys who subject our heroes to incredibly sophisticated set pieces that would never work out in real life. I’m just not that impressed with it. But plot isn’t really what these films are about, is it John?

JM: Not really, no – although I will say that even though the previous movies did not have particularly meaningful plots or well-developed characters, they did succeed where it matters, namely by having some good villains played by great character actors like Sean Harris and Philip Seymour Hoffman. It felt like an odd decision to introduce an impersonal digital villain in Dead Reckoning. I love a good AI, but this one is more ChatGPT than Skynet. And yes, the recurrent Hollywood trope of the villain who is always three steps ahead but also has some inexplicable blind spots is becoming a bit tedious.

I will also say that the character of Grace is very poorly written and was clearly only introduced so that Cruise’s character will have somebody to get worked up about protecting.


But really, the film is all about the stunts. We were promised some truly incredible stuntwork in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, all executed as per usual by Cruise himself. Here, I was left a little bit cold, to be honest. There is a quite prolonged car chase in Rome that was pretty fun, and one big stunt with a motorcycle which is anticipated in the trailer – but, perhaps because of the problems with plot and pacing, it wasn’t as stirring as I might have expected. The shootouts and the fight scenes are all good, but something was missing. What did you think?

SK: Let’s talk about that motorbike stunt, because it left me a bit cold too. I think by the time it occurs, you aren’t sure who the villain is or why Ethan Hunt even needs to be on the speeding train in the first place. We know that Cruise did 13,000 motocross jumps and 500 skydives in preparation, but he should have spent a bit of that time with his writers on developing dramatic motivation for this scene. That’s a key element. When you think of great stunts in Hollywood cinema, they’re generally energised by narrative and suspense. I’m thinking of that awesome stunt in The Bourne Ultimatum where he jumps through two windows across an alleyway. That probably cost a fraction of the gratuitous bike jump in Dead Reckoning and was much more exciting.


But maybe it’s time to focus on the good parts. It is Mission: Impossible, which is cool. The original score by Lalo Schifrin has been suitably reworked for 2023 and has a certain thunderous appeal. I can’t help but get excited. People pull their faces off to reveal they were someone else all along. That’s cool. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames are as effective as usual – providing commentary on the films many implausabilities. And I particularly enjoyed Vanessa Kirby returning as the White Widow. She’s got real star power. Overall, this film is pretty entertaining, no?

JM: For sure – I realise I’ve probably given the impression that I didn’t enjoy the film, but I really did. My standards were perhaps just a bit high, given the quality of the previous entries in the series, and Dead Reckoning isn’t quite up to that level. That being said, the formula is so polished by this point that even with a few missteps here and there I still had a good time. I agree that the supporting cast are all very good, and Tom Cruise still looks great. I could watch him do that weird sprint for hours (you know, where he looks like he’s trying to stab holes in the air with his hands).


Overall, I would definitely recommend Dead Reckoning if you’re into the series. I’ll certainly be watching the sequel, which looks like it might take place partly underwater. Will Tom Cruise risk deep-sea asphyxiation for the sake of cinema? Almost certainly!

SK: I’m going to u-turn again on this one. I just don’t think it got the balance right. I’m giving it a 6/10.

JM: I’ve flip-flopped a bit on Dead Reckoning too, but I think I’ll land on a sturdy 7/10.


Because we don’t want either Cruise or The Entity to come after us, we’ll break the tie and go with

7 / 10