Can we just admit something about the Mission: Impossible movies of late? Look, I absolutely love them and I love Tom Cruise for being a crazy man who drives motorcycles off of mountains, soaring into the air like a celebrity condor as his insurers poop their pants. But the women are by far the best part about these films now, am I right? It’s been that way for a while and it only became more obvious when Rebecca Ferguson arrived as the sleek, gorgeous Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation. What I especially like about what Cruise and his creative partner-in-crime Christopher McQuarrie have done is to lean into this fact. More awesome ladies equals a better movie, and Dead Reckoning Part 1 might be the best of them all.
The seventh (!!!) film in the franchise boasts so many killer ladies it’ll leave you breathless: Vanessa Kirby returns as arms dealer Alanna Mitsopolis, joined by Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Pom Klementieff as the deadly assassin Paris, and then there’s Hayley Atwell, Agent Carter herself, as an elite thief known as Grace. All of these women threaten to usurp the franchise right out from Cruise with each and every scene. And you know what? That’s perfectly okay. Just let it be.
Don’t get me wrong. Tom Cruise is still amazing as IMF agent Ethan Hunt. Still an ageless wonder, Cruise still carries himself with the swagger and edginess of his younger self. Only now he’s got a bit of steely experience that goes along with it. Hunt is still reckless but he’s reckless with a purpose. The IMF, which stands for Impossible Mission Force and not the International Monetary Fund so that old joke has FINALLY been discovered by the screenwriters, has been his life for so long he knows no other way. What does it do to a person to always be an easily deniable asset? To never actually exist or to matter to anyone who can acknowledge it? We’ve seen the weight of that building on Hunt for all of these years. It’s cost him everything.
In a way Dead Reckoning, the first of an epic two-part story, feels like the beginning of the end for Ethan. In a timely bit, the team, which includes Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell and Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn, are on the trail of a rogue AI known as “The Entity”. Sadly, no Barbara Hershey jokes. This Entity is so powerful that whoever owns it will control the world. Of course, the AI is fighting against being controlled in such a manner, which is why the literal keys to that control must be found. Helping the Entity do this is Gabriel (Esai Morales), a man from Ethan’s past and the one who basically made him the man he is today. Trailing comically far behind as all cops do in these movies are Jasper (Shea Whigham) and Degas (Tarzan Davis), who want to capture Ethan for their own reasons.
Perhaps because of the highly-technical nature of the plot, Dead Reckoning can get bogged down in exposition, especially early on. There’s a scene where the returning Kittredge (Henry Czerny) is explaining to a group of shadowy government types (including Cary Elwes, Rob Delaney, and the wildly under-utilized Indira Varma) about the Entity and the IMF in exacting detail. It’s an informative slog but a slog nonetheless.
However, once you get past all of that, damn does Dead Reckoning deliver on the action! I don’t know how these movies keep topping themselves but they do. And no, it’s not just the motorcycle cliff jump sequence that has been shared endlessly by this point. I actually think that was a misdirect, because it’s hardly the craziest stuff this movie has to offer. There’s a terrific chase through Venice with Ethan and Grace handcuffed together while speeding around in a car they can barely fit into. The combination of humor and deadly tension is one of the things Mission: Impossible has always done so well, and this scene encapsulates it. We forget how funny Cruise can be, and he finds an equal partner in Atwell who gives as good as she gets.
All of Cruise’s female co-stars bring something different and valuable to Mission: Impossible. It’s not just that they are sexy and capable, but in the case of Grace she has street smarts and resourcefulness; while Ilsa is confident and dangerous on par with Ethan in every way. Even Alanna and Paris, while ostensibly villains, have qualities that make us want to see them join the side of good.
The ultimate setpiece involves a fight aboard a speeding train. I know, it sounds commonplace, right? We just saw one in the latest Indiana Jones, right? Well…sure, they’re the same in the way that a burger from Mcdonald’s and a burger from Bobby Flay are the same. As Hunt and Gabriel battle, this high-powered locomotive sends them rocking and reeling, tumbling and tossing. It’s such a powerful force on its own, you worry less about the fight, which never stops even for a breath, and whether the train will kill them both. Even after it’s over it’s not over, with a death-defying escape shot by McQuarrie from so many crazy angles it’s like an extra scene from Inception. While there’s a bit more CGI there than this franchise usually has, it will nonetheless have you clutching the edge of your seat.
There are some big surprises, huge stakes, and lethal consequences. If you have a favorite member of the IMF, you’ll never feel more uneasy about their chances of survival. Mission: Impossible-Dead Reckoning is an incredible first chapter, as Cruise and McQuarrie continue to do the impossible by making each movie better than the last.
Mission: Impossible-Dead Reckoning Part 1 opens in theaters on July 12th.