Tom Cruise is a man on a mission.
It’s not the high stakes spy game mission depicted in his latest movie, but the equally daunting task of topping himself with each new installment of the highly successful Mission Impossible movie franchise.
In Hollywood, that mission is damn near impossible, with only a few notable exceptions. You could point to the trajectory of the James Bond series which has sputtered to an end with the writers and producers throwing in the towel and killing off their main character.
The John Wick franchise took the same path in a much shorter span of time. In the world of action thrillers, there is only so much you can do. The required, stock scenes eventually gravitate into a stale, repetitive formula that loses its mojo over time. It’s tough to keep the machinery running.
The Mission Impossible movie series has somehow managed to avoid the pitfalls of the other big budget franchises to a large degree and stay afloat.
The success is due to the efforts of the creative team that has managed to raise the bar on each of the installments in terms of the writing, special effects and death-defying stunts, often performed by the star of the series, Tom Cruise.
Cruise’s work ethic, enthusiasm and love of his craft are legendary. Love him or hate him, you can’t deny his total commitment to his work. Not many actors would agree to dangle from the world’s tallest building, be strapped to the side of a passenger jet or make a motorcycle jump over a steep mountain canyon as he does in Dead Reckoning Part One.
The behind-the-scenes coverage of the stunt pretty much guaranteed the success of the movie many months before its release. It was a genius marketing strategy.
There are many similarities between the Mission Impossible and James Bond series. They share an identical formula. At the center of both is an indestructible hero on a mission to save the world from domination and doom. It is a world of exotic locations, elegant style, brutal violence and hair-raising chases. The villains need to be world-class—the bigger, the badder, the better.
In Dead Reckoning, the villain isn’t so much a person as a thing. It is the evil offshoot of artificial intelligence that we’ve all been fearing since the appearance of HAL-9000 in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Here it is an entity known as The Entity. Essentially, it’s HAL-9000 on steroids—a self-created, self-aware monster capable of controlling our digital world, which is to say it is capable of controlling mankind.
It’s what the spies are after. Harnessing the all-encompassing power of The Entity means global domination, the goal of all great spy flicks. Accessing The Entity requires a physical key, one that exists in two halves that must be combined in order to be activated. It’s not unlike the two halves of the Dial of Destiny that we just witnessed in the latest Indiana Jones movie. The latest Transformers movie also borrows this story element. But who’s counting?
Finding the two halves of the key is the essential plotline in Dead Reckoning.
It’s an impossible mission, one requiring the services of the ultra-clandestine team headed by Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Once again, his partners Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are along for the thrill ride.
The movie version of Mission Impossible takes the theme of the original TV series to dizzying heights. The team is invincible, able to track people, open doors, or do virtually anything with a quick flurry of keyboard clicks on a laptop.
Of course, this becomes problematic when your adversary IS the world of cyberspace, capable of tracking your every move and blocking your every strategy.
Dead Reckoning scores points for raising the stakes when it comes to spy drama. It doesn’t get bigger than this.
Naturally, there are human beings involved in the story, none of which can be really trusted, even at the highest level. It’s a shadowy world for Ethan and his self-described team of rogue ghosts.
While Dead Reckoning has a solid premise, it is a victim of its own formula which requires fights, foot chases, car chases and high-tech gadgets. The famous rubber faces from the original TV series also play a part, though nicely parodied.
There are only so many ways to stage action sequences like these, though director Christopher McQuarrie manages to sprinkle in some fresh twists and gasps.
In general, the action sequences run long. The movie, overall, runs long (2 hours and 43 minutes) due to the extended action sequences and tendency to overexplain all the details about The Entity and the extent of its evil power.
There are references and homage paid to the original series throughout the movie, including the self-destructing tape recorder and a number of bombs with clearly-readable digital displays, one of the all-time biggest movie cliches.
Through it all, Tom Cruise delivers with another classic Ethan Hunt performance—a character who will endure anything for the sake of eradicating evil. And, he’ll do it without incurring serious injury or even a single scratch.
Cruise has been on a roll recently with the release of Top Gun: Maverick (2022) and Mission Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One. He has successfully resurrected two of his most beloved characters at a time when many other actors might be looking for less-challenging roles.
He just turned 61 on July 3rd.
Part two of this movie lies ahead. And while he says that he may be retiring the role, we’re reminded that Harrison Ford just reprised Indiana Jones at the ripe old age of 80.