|Director: Christopher McQuarrie
|Screenplay: Christopher McQuarrie & Erik Jendresen (based on the television series created by Bruce Geller)
|Stars: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Hayley Atwell (Grace), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Vanessa Kirby (The White Widow), Esai Morales (Gabriel), Pom Klementieff (Paris), Henry Czerny (Kittridge), Shea Whigham (Briggs), Greg Tarzan Davis (Degas), Frederick Schmidt (Zola), Mariela Garriga (Marie)
|MPAA Rating: PG-13
|Year of Release: 2023
Seven films deep into a series that began when Bill Clinton was running for his second term, Mission: Impossible has defied the odds by not only not sinking into mediocrity, which is the usual pitfall of extended film series, but getting better and better. Despite its inauspicious beginning as one of the many based-on-an-old-television-series would-be blockbusters in the mid-1990s and having been helmed by five different directors over two and a half decades, the series has consistently evolved, innovated, and clung tight to what works. In other words, it does exactly what good genre films do: It gives you something new within the comfort of the familiar.
Of course, despite all the many personnel changes over the years, the one consistency in the Mission: Impossible series has been Tom Cruise, the producer-star for whom the series now seems all but tailor-made. It didn’t really seem that way back in 1996, when Cruise was coming off a two-year hiatus following his controversial lead role as the vampire Lestat in Interview With the Vampire (1994). He hadn’t done a straight action film since Days of Thunder (1990), and his willingness to anchor a movie version of a ’60s television series that was best remembered for its catchy theme music seemed a bit desperate at the time. It turned out, of course, to be one of the best career decisions he ever made.As the title indicates, Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One is the first part of the series’ two-part grand finale, and you can sense Cruise feeling the need to pull out all the stops. At 61, his believability as an action hero is reaching its logical end (one that Sylvester Stallone refuses to acknowledge), but you wouldn’t know it from Dead Reckoning Part One, which has him engaging in all manner of death-defying feats in the name of protecting the world from Entity, a run-amok artificial intelligence system.
Each entry in the series has offered at least one grandiose stunt sequence—Cruise rock climbing without a rope (Mission: Impossible II), clinging to the outside of the Burj Khalifa tower (Ghost Protocol), or performing a HALO skydive (Fallout)—that functions both inter- and extratextually. That is, these sequences work like gangbusters within the films themselves as moments of pure action exhilaration, but then they also work as a marketing tool in ensuring that the audience knows that Tom Cruise really did that. In an era of digital trickery in which computers can make it appear that anyone can do anything, there is something remarkably resilient and satisfying in knowing that Cruise really leapt from a plane 25,000 feet in the air, really climbed on the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, or, in the case this film, really rode a motorcycle off a cliff, paraglided, flew a helicopter, and dangled from a detached train car hanging on the edge of a gorge.
Of course, such sequences have meaning beyond themselves because they are embedded in an engaging narrative. Returning director Christopher McQuarrie, who co-wrote and directed the previous two films in the series, as well as the Cruise-starring Jack Reacher (2012), knows the importance of narrative and character, and he and co-screenwriter Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers) deliver plenty of both—so much so that the films runs 2 hours and 43 minutes, the longest in the series so far. Yet, it never feels long or drags, partially because McQuarrie and Jendresen keep the story constantly moving forward while alternating between big action set-pieces and more suspenseful character-driven standoffs, which gives it an invigorating rhythm that keeps you glued.
Once again, Cruise’s determined IMF (Impossible Mission Force) agent Ethan Hunt is fighting against forces much greater than himself (including his own government) to keep the world from imploding. We get a mix of familiar characters—Ving Rhames’s computer hacker Luther Stickell, ever the voice of sturdy reason since the very first film (he is the only character besides Ethan to have appeared in every film in the series); Simon Pegg’s technician and communications expert Benji Dunn, who has long since outgrown his initial role as comic relief into a reliable dramatic mainstay; and Rebecca Ferguson’s supposed deceased spy/potential love interest Ilsa Faust. We also get the return of Vanessa Kirby’s nefarious arms dealer The White Widow and the introduction of a new villain, the brutal Gabriel (Esai Morales), who has a tragic link back to Ethan’s pre-IMF past. We also get a crucial new character in Grace (Hayley Atwell), a professional thief who is Ethan’s antagonist, then his partner, then his antagonist again. The back-and-forth between the two has the pulse of a screwball comedy, but with the world at stake. They spend a great portion of the film handcuffed together while trying to escape a relentless assassin while tearing through the streets of Rome in a tiny yellow Fiat 500.
As with the previous two films, Dead Reckoning Part One builds and builds and builds, and at various points you think that the film might very well just burst, but it never does. Instead, McQuarrie keeps piling on scenes and plot twists and character revelations; there are fights, chases (including the perennial Tom Cruise running scene, this one on top of a mostly glass airport), and tons of techno-speak, which here is amplified by the centrality of Entity, which is able to take over virtually any communication system and use it to its advantage, including impersonating others and erasing people from video surveillance in real time. This forces the IMF team to go old-school analogue, which has a particularly satisfying resonance in the penultimate film in a series that has long prided itself on maintaining as many vestiges of old-school action pleasure it can afford.
|Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One 4K UHD + Digital Code
|English: Dolby AtmosEnglish: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surroundFrench: Dolby AtmosFrench: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 surroundFrench (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1 surroundSpanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
| English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
|Audio Commentary by director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie HamiltonIsolated score track“Abu Dhabi” featurette“Rome” featurette“Venice” featurette“Freefall” featurette“Speed Flying” featurette“Train” featurette
|Paramount Home Entertainment
|October 31, 2023
|It should come as no surprise that Paramount has delivered Mission: Impossible—Dead Reckoning Part One to home video in a stunning 4K UHD presentation. The 2160p/Dolby Vision image looks every bit as amazing as you would hope, with crisp detail, vivid colors, and strong contrast. There is a wide range of visual palettes here, from a sand-storm-ravaged desert scene, to a tense meeting at a massive nocturnal techno party lit up with neon lights, all of which looks fantastic. The Dolby Atmos soundtrack is likewise top-notch—reference quality, I would say—in immersing you in the action. You can hear every sonic detail with remarkable clarity, and the channels are precisely balanced to give you a real sense of presence in the action. Those who enjoy the music can watch the film with a Dolby Digital 5.1-channel isolated score track.
There is a healthy, but not overwhelming, spread of supplements, starting with an audio commentary by co-writer/director Christopher McQuarrie and editor Eddie Hamilton, whose wide-ranging discussion of technology, production logistics, and storytelling provide good evidence of why the film works so well—a lot of thought went into virtually every aspect of it. Also on the disc are a half dozen behind-the-scenes featurettes, each of which focuses on a different part of the film: “Abu Dhabi” (4 min.) looks at the location shooting at the Abu Dhabi airport and the surrounding desert; “Rome” (4 min.) looks at the seemingly impossible feat of filming a massive car chase sequence through the city streets in the middle of the day; “Venice” (4 min.) looks at the production there, including the huge party sequence at The Doge’s Palace; “Freefall” (9 min.) shows us the very long process of designing, practicing, and then filming Cruise’s motorcycle jump off a cliff in Norway; “Speed Flying” (4 min.) lets us into all the different forms of flying that Cruise performed in the film, from paragliding to helicopters; and, finally, “Train” (6 min.) shows us all that went into that elaborate train crash sequence at the end (although they conveniently left out all the political and financial ruin that accompanied their original plan to destroy part of a historic train bridge in Poland). Interestingly, although you see everyone in the production wearing facemasks throughout, there is no mention in any of these featurettes that much of the film was shot in and around the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused no ends of logistical and scheduling problems.
Copyright © 2023 James Kendrick
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