It’s everything I want in a summer movie– Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One is a ridiculously exciting entertainment. The 7th and longest in the franchise to date (2 hours 43 minutes), is destined to be another blockbuster hit of the summer season starring the king of action thrillers. At 61 years old, Tom Cruise continues to do most of his own cliffhanging, car-chasing, wing-clinging stunts. His Ethan Hunt, who once again has chosen to accept his impossible mission, must save the world from a threat that’s got everyone rattled these days: a mysterious and amorphous all-seeing, all-knowing artificial intelligence with potentially limitless capacity to learn and reinvent itself. If “the Entity” falls into the wrong hands, well, you can see the problem.
The mysterious opening scene plunges us right into the physical action and also plays with our heads. We don’t know exactly where the threat is coming from, where it’s headed, and who’s doing what to whom. This is the puzzle that will play out on every level in the latest installment, and who better than Tom Terrific to stay one step ahead of what’s real and what isn’t?
The mystery of the real man aside, the actor/movie star Tom Cruise has fashioned a persona who we know does his own stunts. He’s still actually riding that motorcycle off that cliff for as many times as it takes to get the shot. It’s a large part of what gives his movies a visceral layer of truth. He’s the onscreen real deal, a flesh and blood superhero whom we trust to deliver genuine thrills. And he does it in a spirit that might be called traditionally “American”– he’s a rebel, but is also part of a team and demonstrates loyalty, courage, and character.
Now, he may again be called upon to put his mission above the lives of that team, and it remains to be seen if his warm-blooded heroics will be outdone by a soulless artificial intelligence with unprecedented digitally-generated capabilities potentially manipulated by sociopathic forces.
Early on, after a room full of Intelligence types (actors Henry Czerny and Cary Elwes a welcome sight among them) lay out the always-appreciated exposition (smartly allowing newbies access to the franchise) and the stakes are clear: truth, the future, and the fate of the world. Then the action recommences and the team re-enters: Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Rebecca Ferguson who have plenty to do as Ethan is propelled around the globe. First he’s caught in a wicked sandstorm and firefight in the desert where the worst shots on the planet have been assembled to take Ethan out. They miss.
Soon a sexy/smart pickpocket named Grace (a captivating Hayley Atwell) gets spun into the action. Grace and Ethan fit together like the two halves of the key to the puzzle they’re chasing, but not before dodging, weaving, and outwitting more bad guys (Esai Morales) and each other as the key slips and slides between various hands and pockets in a brilliantly-choreographed, multilevel three-card monte-esque chase sequence through the Dubai airport.
I thought I’d seen it all. I hadn’t. Just wait till this duo gets behind the wheel in Rome and turns the classic car chase on its head. I was on the edge of my seat stunned by the physical ingenuity and hilarity as they hurtled through the cobbled streets and Spanish Steps of that ancient city in the little car that could. After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I laughed myself silly at this lengthy, perfectly paced, preposterously entertaining sequence.
I was still unprepared for the old-fashioned, nail-biter of a train ride not yet under Cruise control. The surprise and suspense aboard this coal-fired locomotive had me thinking back to the early days of cinema and the impossible stunts slyly executed by a performer like Buster Keaton who conjured suspense and humor in tandem. Cruise’s frequent director Christopher McQuarrie (also the Oscar-winning writer of one of the most labyrinthine screenplays of all time The Usual Suspects) has reinvented the action sequence according to his extravagantly imaginative powers and may owe something to those early “modern times” when innocent thrills on the silver screen felt like a bulwark against the darker forces of the real world.
Finally, in an era when reality is more slippery than ever, Ethan Hunt has proven himself a master shapeshifter while keeping his own head on straight. Cruise and company continue to face down our current conundrums with wit, ingenuity, and a deeply human can-do resolve that lets us imagine anything is possible. I can hardly wait for Part Two. No need to wait for Part One– DON’T MISS IT now on the big screen: Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One .