Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (Paramount, PG-13)

Dead Reckoning Part One is one of the few Mission: Impossible films which doesn’t outshine its predecessor. That’s not to say it’s not an exciting, engaging action spectacle well worth the price of admission. It just doesn’t hit the heights of 2018’s Fallout consistently. Where that film was basically a masterclass in action pacing, this seventh installment in the nearly thirty-year-long franchise loses steam a few times before its stunning crescendo.

Director Christopher McQuarrie and star/producer Tom Cruise might be saving their absolute best for last (Part Two is reportedly the final Mission), but this film is still head and shoulders above most straightforward action films being made today. There’s a visceral, tactile quality to the amazing stunts, car chases, and hand-to-hand fights. Cruise’s passion for practical effects and his emphasis on doing his own stunts has clearly permeated the last several Mission: Impossible films. Here, this leads to the much-marketed motorcycle cliff jump and into a final action set piece that feels like what would happen if you gave Buster Keaton tens of millions of dollars.

This physicality surprisingly lends more laughs overall. That’s actually a very good thing in a film which uses a literal key as its MacGuffin and employs the Impossible Mission Force’s doppelgänger mask technology far more often than in other volumes. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his team must find two halves of a key which unlocks access to a world-changing algorithm referred to as “The Entity.” Ethan wisely doesn’t trust any person or government with this technology, and many people cross his path to complete the key and take it for themselves. Chief among these villains is Gabriel (Esai Morales), who emerges from Ethan’s past and is now essentially proselytizing for this key to fall into the wrong hands.

The film can only hide the goofiness at its core for so long, however. It definitely knows it’s silly at times — especially during its still-gripping action sequences — but when it slows down for more dialogue-heavy scenes, the core concept of the threat of the algorithm crumbles under the weight of its stoic presentation. The characters talk about the problem for so long and with so few ticking-clock elements that these sections of the movie can feel quite stale. We’re certainly along for the ride, but there’s a few too many stops en route to the final spectacle for it to feel perfectly smooth.

Regardless of these minor pacing issues, what I remember and love most is the exclamation point on the featured motorcycle stunt. The ending of that stunt is one of the funniest and most applause-worthy film moments of the year. I challenge anyone to come up with a better way to so flawlessly blend high-octane action with a much-needed and hilarious suspense breaker.

What happens after this moment is the cherry on top of it all. Over the past few Mission: Impossible films, McQuarrie and his teams have consistently found different ways to up the ante of stakes and danger within climactic action. This time, they weave humor in so brilliantly while never skimping on visceral investment. This balance in Dead Reckoning Part One often reminded me of Brad Bird’s groundbreaking Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the series. While neither film is as pitch-perfect as McQuarrie’s Fallout, they are unique in their sensibilities, and that’s a huge part of what makes this series so darn fun. These films are all similarly well-executed, but each is distinctive in its own way. It’s a shame we soon won’t have more to look forward to. | George Napper

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