Written by Victor DeBonis
Increasing the power of a blockbuster franchise is trickier than some may give credit for. While the love for the character or franchise may already have something to work from in terms of a sequel, any artist worth his salt understands the danger of simply repeating what worked before without adding anything different to elevate it in some way. One of the most astonishing and welcoming factors of the “Mission: Impossible” movies comes from its continuation in surprising audiences and critics with their quality. Here is a franchise that first began in 1996 and has gradually led into every film adding something greater to itself and, arguably, the action genre with their presence.
My thoughts regarding this franchise are quite positive with me having a good time with even the less-beloved entries. John Woo’s entry with the second movie, for instance, is strange in some places but is an overall delightfully bonkers and fun movie, relishing its graceful slow-motion chases and playfully over-the-top action (not to mention, its fierce 2000’s rock soundtrack). The third movie has some shakily shot races but works great at playing up the insanity of the stunts and plot while also giving the best (and most unsettling) villain in the series by way of a superb Phillip Seymour Hoffman performance (his enormous talent and presence is still sorely missed). Perhaps, the only entry I am less than thrilled with is, oddly enough, the first movie, which, despite being directed by an amazing filmmaker in the form of Brian De Palma, was a bit too complicated to follow.
All of the other movies in the franchise following the third are overall strong, and “Dead Reckoning Part One” only elevates what makes these movies such superb pieces of blockbuster entertainment. The acting is wonderful, containing work from each performer who clearly understands the intensity and presence needed for their role. Action scenes, along with the scale of the movie itself, are set up and valiantly executed with precision and serious style. All of these factors and others left me smiling at the screen with pride when I wasn’t gritting my teeth from the suspense and stakes on display.
As he always does, Tom Cruise pours his talent and bravery and then some into this film. Whether he dashes down a hall in pursuit of a target, matches fists with a foe, or, yes, leaps thousands of feet into the air along the side of a mountain, he fully commits to the danger and insanity of his mission. I can’t even begin to imagine how much planning and work goes into these stunts to insure a successful and entertaining feat on display. All of the talent involved with the students deserves the highest congrats.
Plus, when Cruise whispers about others mattering more to him than himself, he voices it in a quiet yet completely convincing manner. Nobody will likely label his character, Ethan Hunt, as the most complex character in cinema, but his devotion to those he greatly cares about and his willingness to risk his own life to truly startling foes and odds provides all the needed motivation. Much of this comes from Cruise’s committed performance and the seriousness with which he speaks and acts.
Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg work to excellent effect as Cruise’s team. Both of these actors have demonstrated their gift for providing life and humor simply by their honesty and wit in previous films, and they continue to deliver in this movie. They succeed in thinking, moving, and talking quickly without losing a beat in the essential momentum of their scenes or ever making their bond as an intense unit seem less than credible. During an early scene with this crew, the camera will pan at just the right times to show both of these characters trading advice and warnings on their plotting of their next objective, and it’s a short yet clever method of depicting the true-as-blue camaraderie amongst this group.
Hayley Atwell is a newcomer to this franchise, and she is superb to watch in her actions. Sometimes, she’s calm and collected, and, some times, she reveals more of her emotional truthfulness with either startled eyes or a ferocious fighting move. Atwell reminds me a bit of Karen Allen in the “Raiders” series: You never know what to expect from her because she is good at moving and contemplating quickly while also being incredibly human, and that’s a great part of what establishes her as such an intriguing part of the adventure.
Pom Klementieff holds her own with her aggressive devotion in her fighting scenes and her steely gaze. Additionally, while not necessarily the greatest villain in the franchise (That honor still goes to the chilling performance from the late-great Phillip Seymour Hoffman from the third film), Esai Morales is effectively malevolent. Morales voices his threats and plans with diabolical pride while looming over his territory with arrogance.
Fraser Taggart’s cinematography is magnificent. The immense image reveals exotic locations, chases, and fight scenes in crisp detail, and every character or background moves precisely within the frame of the camera. The world of the spy looks incredible to venture or fight through, and this entry continues this franchise’s talent for demonstrating an incredible-looking world to roam through.
Lorne Balfe’s musical score is amazing to listen to. Balfe is great at echoing the dread and looming presence of death with his music that lingers from deceivingly quiet to steadily loud. Yet, whenever there’s a slower scene of contemplation, the composer is equally talented at crafting a mood of subtle mystery or strong sadness through his melodies. In my eyes, a great action or adventure film often finds much of its soul not from the craftmanship from the fights and chases but from the music. While the action is undeniably important, the quieter moments of reflection from the action hero count every bit as much, and those scenes often maintain the right music in the background to voice that wistfulness or that heartfelt truth or feeling going through the hero’s mind. Balfe absolutely delivers in this regard and others, providing terrific music to match the mood of this movie’s gentler scenes and the moments of intensity in the film as needed.
Action in “Dead Reckoning: Part One” is fantastic as one would come to expect from this series. Yes, Cruise’s often-advertised stunt of riding a bike off the side of a mountain and leaping into the air is awesome. That, however, is only a tip scratching the surface of this movie’s activity. Pulse-pounding puzzles, aggressive fights, and cunning chases are set up with tight precision and direction, heightening each sequence with unexpected bits of cleverness or great twists to each scenario that further intensify the thrills. Even in the few moments when I could correctly sense an outcome from an action sequence, the timing and playful unpredictability caused me to lean towards the edge of my seat in uncertainty. And, all of it is done wonderfully, thanks to great direction (once again by Christopher McQuarrie), fight choreography, and stunt work.
What also makes this a great action film is the writing. Christopher McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen co-wrote a script that is witty and successfully manages its quick-moving suspense and humor with great skill. Interestingly enough, the main threat of the movie comes not mainly from the human villains but a dangerous form of A.I. known as the Entity. Devious aforementioned foes are fighting over trying to use the Entity for their own gain, and the methods through which the Entity utilizes its power genuinely unsettled me. Given how I’m a tough customer when it comes to finding intimidation from a technological foe in a movie or show, this is quite a compliment.
This villain couldn’t have come at a better time, too. We currently live in a time in which the usage of A.I. is a frequent source of debate. I certainly have my thoughts about artificial intelligence, and I stand firmly in my beliefs about where it should be used and where others are discussing its usage in certain areas that it absolutely shouldn’t be (A.I. should absolutely not be used to replace human creativity and talent in the artistic industries, for example). “Dead Reckoning Part One” is another great movie containing valid insight to the dangers of what occurs when one misuses artificial intelligence or uses it for devious needs and the consequences following such actions (Side note: “The Artifice Girl” is an additional great film to explore this topic in greater detail).
Going further beyond the threat and set-up of its thrills, the movie is surprisingly sincere when it comes to illustrating the importance of connections. Again, the characters in this movie aren’t necessarily the most complex people put on screen. However, just the right amount is revealed about specific characters’ backstories and the honesty about them caring for others beyond their individual selves. Consider Atwell who adds a new presence to this franchise with her character. She might not immediately be part of Cruise’s team at the beginning, but, without voicing any crucial details, I’ll simply say that enough is expressed within her backstory and her reactions within the movie to provide the presence of someone who happens to be a lost soul of sorts.
Without the complete unity of teams, such as these, it is hard to imagine how the world could truly be saved. Discussion of connections and relationships is something I voice often in my work, despite me being rather introverted and having always felt as a bit of an outsider in many aspects.
Bonds can, in some cases, lead to pain and hurt, but that’s why it’s all the more important to recognize the relationships that are meaningful and are genuine.
“Dead Reckoning Part One” understands that, too, in its own absurd ways through the connection of its team and its heroes’ devotion in selflessly putting their lives on the line for the world while still doing everything in their power to keep close to one another and help each other out. There may not be a numerous amount of conversations regarding this idea in the movie, but the sincere performances of the actors in the emotional scenes and specific moments, in addition to the carefully staged scenes involving their unity, highlight the significance of unity and trust in the face of an uncompromising and sometimes frightening world.
I care about what happens to John Wick because I love how much he cares about his wife and dog.
And, in the case of this action franchise and movie, I care about every second in which Cruise and his crew are pitted against life-threatening odds because they care about each other and others beyond themselves as shown in unexpected yet strangely moving ways.
“Dead Reckoning Part One” is everything a great action blockbuster should be. It’s clever and emotional, and it has more than its fair share of great action set-pieces and writing to elevate the experience. The cinematography is wonderful. The music soars and still has me listening to it days after I heard it in the theater. Through it all, it also works great in showing why we should care about these characters who put everything on the line not for the thrill of it but simply because they care that much about their connection and others beyond themselves. At this time, it’s uncertain whether this tops “Fallout” but it is definitely among the best of the franchise.
Watching this reminded me of when I watched “The Mask of Zorro” at the age of 8 and was just amazed by how it gave me everything I wanted from a blockbuster.
In interviews and other footage, it seems that Cruise and McQuarrie have similar goals of doing everything in their power to bring people to the cinemas again. I naturally respect their cause.
This movie is a fantastic representation of such passion and efforts, and it is definitely a great reason to go to the theater.
I will be seeing this in the theater again, soon, and I encourage others to do the same.