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‘Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One’ is a franchise still kicking with some enjoyable tricks up its sleeve

With its seventh installment, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is back against a digital threat that mirrors the same one inside the real world.

Christian Black

It’s not that you shouldn’t believe that the Mission Impossible franchise could waver in quality with its latest installment. A series of action films generally have a tough time keeping the quality going with a trilogy – let alone seven films in an ongoing series. But Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One bucks the trend of dismissing returns and gives you something thrilling. Tom Cruise is just as dialed into the ethos of Ethan Hunt as ever – a man who has to balance the needs to carry out dangerous, death-defying missions and protect the people he loves the most. Yet while Dead Reckoning mostly follows the templates of the films before it, you hope every stunt goes smoothly and choose to accept the nearly unfathomable missions to see how this main character pulls it off.

Christian Black / Paramount Pictures

It’s a tremendous accomplishment, even if it seems that director Christopher McQuarrie’s choice of villain is on the ball for a digital threat the creative world is beginning to tackle. Dead Reckoning’s big bad is not a person, per se, but an artificial intelligence program called The Entity. While it has not fully realized its full potential, it’s certainly getting to that point – with the capability of infecting every country’s intelligence servers and perhaps predicting the future and distorting the essence of truth itself. If it sounds like a metaphor for AI’s role in storytelling, the role of the algorithm in entertainment, and the onslaught of disinformation – you would be correct.

Every world leader is after a specific key that holds a secret to possibly controlling The Entity, and all that’s standing in the way is Ethan Hunt himself. But he’s not doing it alone – his returning team of Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) come back into the fold to give him a helping hand. The theme of teamwork and Ethan’s inner tussle of being responsible for people comes more into focus once you consider The Entity’s human avatar Gabriel (Esai Morales). We are told a choice made by Gabriel was why Ethan’s paths with the IMF crossed so many years ago (A fact I imagine will be more fleshed out in the sequel). Morales’s stone glare and robotic dialogue provide a coldness to the character, which plays off the ever-escalating anger ruminating off Cruise.

We’ve seen Ethan and his team tackle many challenges, but nothing like a possible all-knowing AI program that seems to guess your moves before you do. For a group of people that predicate themselves on staying hidden from bad actors and their government working against them, this is a different type of opponent. As impressive as Cruise riding a motorcycle off a top of a mountain to parachute upon a runaway train is, it’s equally fun of the exchange involving two instances of Vanessa Kirby’s Alanna Mitsopolis character playing through a tense exchange involving the possession of the key.

McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen play to the strengths of racing against time and the addition of supporting characters like Hayley Atwell’s Grace, a thief for hire who somehow gets one step ahead of Hunt’s intuitive nature. Cruise and Atwell play well off of each other right from the start of their character's meeting – regarding an enjoyably tense scene in an airport. It’s not only that Hunt has to contend with this Siri-like all-knowing circle; it’s threats from his people. Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) adds to the degree of difficulty as only he can with a pair of special agents played by Shea Whigham and Greg Tarzan Davis – always nipping at the heels of Hunt that doesn’t feel overwrought and interspacing their sense of urgency.

Some moments lay on the melodramatic feelings a bit too thick – although they are balanced with some of the self-referential humor about the Mission Impossible series. You can’t help to wonder how this will end and if Hunt’s character will gain his ultimate prize – rest and peace of mind. Yes, a key that Ethan Hunt wants to ultimately destroy before it gets into the hands of everybody else is exactly like Cruise’s own battle for movie theaters against the film company’s ongoing push for simplification. Despite all these dreary winds of change, Dead Reckoning shows those looking for direction how you can succeed.

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning, Part One, is out in theaters now.