Review: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One


Much has been said about Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One in the four or so years since it was first announced. Actor Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie have been sharing tidbits about stunts and spectacles they wanted to create all while putting out behind-the-scenes videos of how they achieved such ridiculous feats. The entire marketing campaign has been based on how all of these stunts were performed practically. There was even a plan to film this and its sequel back-to-back because the story was just so big!

So how does it all end up? There’s a lot to like here, especially with regard to those awe-inspiring set pieces. Ethan, as a character, gets some more development, the spectacle is consistently and appropriately amped up over the course of the film, and the central plot is incredibly topical to today’s world. But the real question: does the Mission: Impossible franchise keep its miraculous streak of having each new installment be better than the last?

Why don’t we dive into the review and find out?

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One | Final Trailer (2023 Movie) - Tom Cruise

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Release Date: July 12, 2023
Rating: PG-13

In a surprising move for the series, the opening 50 minutes or so of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (hereto referred to as simply Dead Reckoning) is much more focused on story and character development than the previous films. After a cold open aboard a Russian submarine where it appears as if the vessel’s onboard computer has gone rogue, we cut to Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) training a new recruit to the IMF in some undisclosed location. The recruit delivers a message to Ethan that contains one of the series’ trademark self-destructing messages. In a video, it is explained that rogue agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has stolen half of a crucifix key and IMF director Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) wants Hunt to intercept Faust and get it back.

It’s kind of a lot to keep track of right out of the gate, but a quick action moment that echoes the sandstorm battle from Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol sets us up for more exposition. With Hunt having retrieved the key, he devises a clever way to sneak into IMF so he can get face-to-face with Kittridge about the situation. It turns out, this key is linked to a rogue AI dubbed “The Entity” that managed to hijack the previously mentioned Russian sub and have it destroy itself. Now, all of the world’s leaders are on the hunt for this crucifix key because they aren’t quite sure what it does. It could be the key to ending the world as we know it.

Ethan, being the defacto good guy for this entire series, immediately decides he wants to destroy The Entity. He doesn’t trust any person alive to have that kind of power and sets off on a mission to retrieve the other half of this key to end this madness. Kittridge informs him of a handoff happening at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, and our mission proper begins.

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One

© Paramount Pictures

So right off the bat, it’s not hard to see what the metaphor is in Dead Reckoning. Essentially, Ethan Hunt is a stand-in for Tom Cruise and The Entity is all of our current fears about AI technology. With AI getting pushed by major tech companies as the next greatest innovation in human history and a writer’s strike going on all because of how AI might replace humans in films, Dead Reckoning is Cruise and McQuarrie making a stand. They want to save movies as we know it and continue the grand tradition of practical spectacle.

Mission: Impossible has never been a deep series, so I’m not surprised that you can sum up this particular movie in a single paragraph. That doesn’t mean the writing or acting is lackluster; far from it. Dead Reckoning has another collection of absolutely ludicrous stunts that pit Tom Cruise against the Grim Reaper in glorious fashion. The trailers have not shied away from the stomach-dropping motorcycle stunt where Cruise plummets some 4,000 feet before parachuting away, but that’s not even the half of it.

As I brought up above, though, Dead Reckoning doesn’t really kick into high gear until roughly 50 minutes in. While I suppose there is something of a high-intensity chase scene in the Abu Dhabi airport that could be considered an action sequence, this nearly three-hour-long film takes its time setting the stage before letting all of its players start. We get introduced to newcomer Grace (Hayley Atwell), a rather gifted thief that manages to catch Ethan’s attention after she pickpockets him. There’s also Denlinger (Cary Elwes), the director of National Intelligence that doesn’t quite understand what he’s getting into.

© Paramount Pictures

Overall, the plot can feel perfunctory at times as there isn’t that much of a personal investment for Ethan. We get glimpses of a flashback to Ethan’s pre-IMF days and there is a link to this current mission, but it appears as if McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendersen are saving the big revelations for Part Two. By that same measure, I was also surprised at how little Ilsa plays in this particular movie. Characters kind of come and go as the script fits, so there is a rather funny moment where Grace says, “Am I supposed to know who you are?”

What Dead Reckoning does nail is some extra development for Ethan. Following on from the heavily character-focused Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Ethan is put into a dilemma in this film that tests his resolve unlike before. With this rogue AI knowing everything about Ethan and what he’ll likely do, it also knows exactly how to hurt him. In the most devastating moment of the film, Ethan finally loses something and it gives the final act a tremendous amount of tension.

That said, none of it would land if Cruise and the cast weren’t selling this material, but Dead Reckoning is accomplished on that front. I would hesitate to say these are career-best performances, but Cruise has basically become Ethan by now. Ving Rhames is always a joy as Luther, Simon Pegg feels indispensable as Benji, and the subtle romantic chemistry between Ethan and Ilsa is acted out wonderfully by Ferguson. If there was ever a doubt that her character was more than just “Lady Ethan,” Dead Reckoning will get that point across.

© Paramount Pictures

Truly, the only reason I’m not quite as big on Dead Reckoning as I have been with past Mission: Impossible movies is that the pacing is somewhat off. With this mission being split into two parts, there was always going to be a somewhat unsatisfactory conclusion to the proceedings. At least this movie ends (unlike a particular wall crawler’s latest outing), but the build-up to that ending feels like it could have been trimmed significantly. There are just so many characters that even the main villain, Gabriel (Esai Morales), gets lost in the shuffle.

I imagine that this will all pay off for Part Two, but that leaves me in a strange position right now. It’s not like anything is wrong with Dead Reckoning. It’s probably the best action film I’ve seen this year, especially with how dedicated Cruise is to killing himself. I just also would have liked the plot to be more focused or the action to encompass a larger portion of the runtime. With no understanding of what the final movie will actually contain, I can only say at this moment that I don’t believe this story needed to be split in two.

Even so, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is another quality installment in this franchise that proves nobody does this better. Tom Cruise’s complete dedication to the craft as well as to entertaining audiences is something that I wish more blockbusters would copy. In a sea of CGI fests with barely different plots or completely throwaway characters, Mission: Impossible feels like a rare delicacy. Then again, if everyone was this good, maybe Cruise’s efforts wouldn’t stand out.




Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One ups the ante again, but it can't quite overcome some pacing issues with its story.

Peter Glagowski
Peter is an aspiring writer with a passion for gaming and fitness. If you can't find him in front of a game, you'll most likely find him pumping iron.