Looking at the blockbusters released so far in 2023, there is a clear difference in quality amongst them. They have ranged from the sublime (John Wick: Chapter 4), to the mediocre (Shazam! Fury of the Gods) and the downright disappointing (Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny).
With a film like John Wick: Chapter 4, there was a certain expectation that it would be a quality actioner, mostly based on what has come before. Still, this isn’t always a clear indicator, as if that was the case Indiana Jones last couple of adventures would have been sure fire successes.
Nevertheless, one sequel that I never really had any doubts on delivering the goods was Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One. One thing leading man Tom Cruise has proven time and time again is that he is always willing to go that extra mile in order to entertain his audience. His latest endeavor is no different, being filled with Cruise’s now trademark death defying stunts, all of which are worth the price of admission alone.
However, McQuarrie and Cruise haven’t just filled their film with stunts and forgotten about everything else that surrounds them. The cast of characters are as winning as ever, accompanied with a pleasingly convoluted plot as expected. Frankly the plot isn’t exactly taxing, but McQuarrie and fellow screenwriter Erik Jendresen have a way of making it seem more intelligent than it actually is.
This time round Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team are tasked with what could be their most dangerous mission yet. Hunt is initially hired to retrieve half of a cruciform key which is being held by fellow spy and sometime love interest Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
In quite a prescient turn considering current events, it turns out the key is for a rogue A.I. called the Entity. This A.I. was originally designed to sabotage other countries’ digital systems until it became self aware with it going on to infiltrate several defense and military systems and sending the world’s intelligence agencies into disarray.
Hunt and his team have no option but to once again go rogue in order to track down The Entity. Their mission is made more difficult by the appearance of Agent Briggs (Shea Whigham) who is assigned to stop Hunt. Further complications arrive in the form of Gabriel (Esai Morales), an old friend of Hunt’s who turned against him years before. Since then Gabriel has risen in power with him now looking to use the Entity to control the world.
Thrown into the mix is Grace (Hayley Atwell), a world class thief who has been hired to steal the key without realizing the true ramifications of her actions. Coerced into helping Hunt and the team, her true motivations remain ambiguous at best.
Remaining one step in front of their pursuers, the team once again must take on an impossible mission, racing against time to stop Gabriel and the Entity before they destroy the world as we know it.
McQuarrie and Cruise are fast becoming one of Hollywood’s finest pairings. People may talk about the likes of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese, but even such a successful team as that hasn’t made as much of a dent in the box office as these two. Together they have hardly set a foot wrong during their collaborations, resulting in some of the best action movies to come out of Hollywood in the past decade.
Even outside of directing McQuarrie has had a hand in some of Cruise’s better films such as Valkyrie (2008), Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Top Gun: Maverick (2022) all of which he had a hand in writing. I wouldn’t even hold The Mummy (2017) against him, as I personally never thought the film was that bad. Sure, it’s not exactly a classic but for a fast paced fantasy actioner it does the job.
Although Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018) is probably their finest collaboration, Dead Reckoning Part One is definitely close in terms of quality. This is epic filmmaking at its finest with McQuarrie upping the game with each jaw dropping set piece. It helps that McQuarrie obviously knows how to shoot action clearly rather than opting for shaky-cam and quick cuts. This has been the case going all the way back to his directorial debut Way of the Gun (2000), with that classic featuring one of the best shootouts to feature in a Hollywood movie at the time, homaging the best of Sam Peckinpah and John Woo.
McQuarrie kicks things off with a bang with a tense opening on board a Russian submarine that plays like a homage to John Mctiernan’s Hunt for Red October (1990), even down to the Russian dialogue slowly merging into English. From there we move onto a sand-strewn shootout in the Arabian Desert, where Ethan and Ilsa have to fend off a group of mercenaries whilst their visibility is extremely minimized.
The set pieces only get more exciting from there, with a lengthy chase scene through Rome being one of the serie’s best. Mixing in gunplay, humor and some of the best stunt driving in recent memory, it really is a crowd pleasing sequence that puts most other franchises to shame.
The likes of Fast X (2023) instantly came to mind when viewing, with it also featuring a Rome set car chase, a chase that ultimately pales in comparison to what’s on show in Dead Reckoning. What really sets it apart is that for the most part its real stunt driving on display, with Cruise and Atwell at the wheel rather than utilizing subpar CGI.
With the inclusion of some well choreographed fight scenes you’d already have an A+ action movie, but Cruise and McQuarrie save the best for last, with the majority of the third act taking place in and around the famed Orient Express as it races through the Austrian Alps. No doubt most people have already witnessed the heart in mouth moment where Cruise drives his motorbike off a cliff only to then parachute down to the speeding Orient Express.
Even having seen the development of the scene from promotional videos, it still manages to be a real heart in mouth moment, all the more as you can clearly see that it is Cruise carrying out the stunt, with the camera following him all the way down. The ensuing action on board the Orient Express is equally exciting with only a minor use of CGI letting things down. This isn’t due to the quality of the CGI rather the film has for the most part foregone its use, or at least appearing to.
As expected, Cruise gives 110% to the role. Never once has Cruise phoned it in, with Ethan giving him equal opportunity to show off his acting skills as well as show that even at 61 he is still probably Hollywood’s finest action hero. Some may not be able to separate the man’s personal beliefs from his film work, but they’re the ones missing out as Cruise continues to be one of the most consistently entertaining Hollywood stars working today, putting actors half his age to shame.
Many of the series recurring characters return once again, with them all working well alongside Cruise. It’s easy to believe this team are close with the chemistry they share. Simon Pegg has turned what was initially the franchise’s comic relief into a truly well rounded character. Of course he still gets to inject his expected humor into proceedings, but he gets his own share of drama to deal with here, with one particularly tense sequence where he has to disarm a bomb in an airport being quite notable in showing how the character has evolved during the series.
The ever dependable Ving Rhames is always a welcome presence, and while he doesn’t get as much to do as Pegg he still gets his moments, with it being clear that he will play an even more pivotal part in the upcoming sequel.
Rebecca Ferguson’s fan favourite Ilsa Faust doesn’t have as much screen time as her previous appearances but still gets enough chances to kick ass when the time comes. Her character also injects some emotion into the plot, with her relationship to Ethan being one of the film’s driving forces, especially as the film progresses.
Hayley Atwell’s Grace is a fine addition to the team, with her character’s loyalties never being fully clear. The producers of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny should take note, this is how you create a morally ambiguous character but still make them likeable. Grace has many similarities to Phoebe Waller Bridge’s character in Indy, but unlike her manages to remain likeable, even if you don’t always agree with her actions.
On the villainous front we have Esai Morales’ Gabriel who proves to be more than a worthy adversary for our heroes, putting every one of them all through their paces. Similarly to Henry Cavill’s villain in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Gabriel also proves to be quite the physical opponent, being adept at hand to hand combat when required.
It’s great to see Morales in such a high profile role, with him making the most of it. The added history between his character and Hunt also adds to his character arc, with him seeming more important than past villains. Like Cruise, he also seems to be ageing backwards, with him looking to be in terrific shape whilst hitting his 60’s.
Accompanying Morales on his villainous quest is Pom Klementieff’s Paris. For the most part she is Gabriel’s main enforcer with her going to any length to get the job done. This is fully evident during the Rome set chase where she gleefully plow through multiple vehicles to get to Hunt and Grace. Klementieff has very little in the way of dialogue, which she makes up for with her sheer physicality. An alleyway based fight between her and Cruise is one of her action standouts, where she gets a full chance to show off her fighting skills.
Vanessa Kirby is another returnee from the previous film, with her White Widow once again making an impression, with Kirby able to make her arms dealer character likeable even when she is going against our heroes.
Then there’s the perpetually underrated Shea Whigham, who always brightens up a film for me. He’s a personal favorite of mine and always makes me happy when he appears on screen. His continually exasperated Agent Briggs adds some comic relief to the film, although Whigham makes sure to keep the character on the right side of serious, with his reasoning for capturing Hunt being alluded to but not cleared up. Clearly this is being left for the sequel.
Lastly there’s appearances from the likes of Cary Elwes and the returning Henry Czerny, whose Kittridge hasn’t been seen since the first entry in 1996, both of whom liven up the film with their duplicitous characters, with their true allegiances being murky at best.
Lorne Balfe is another returnee from Fallout, with him once again contributing a perfect action movie score that is a perfect accompaniment to Cruise’s death defying antics. Like his Fallout score, Balfe smartly incorporates Lalo Schifrin’s theme at the best possible moments which heightens the excitement even further.
Other than John Wick: Chapter 4, I don’t think you will find a better action movie this year. Sure, some may come close but they won’t match the sheer excitement on show here. Like John Wick: Chapter 4, don’t be put off by what seems like an excessive running time. Unlike The Flash or Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, there is no fat here, with you hardly being able to catch your breath as it jumps from one set piece to the next.
Plot: 4/5 Acting: 5/5 Action: 5/5 Overall: 4.6/5