Hello Interwebs! Another belated review for ya this week. Sorry, but life’s been busy. Today I cover a film which hasn’t received enough love at the box office: Mission Impossible 7.
Mission Impossible 7 is the latest opportunity for Tom Cruise (I mean Ethan Hunt) and crew to save the world! Their enemy: a spy-master AI, whose physical agents aim to ensure its domination over all technology. The world’s spy agencies are in disarray, and no longer able to trust their digital assets. Hunt and team must find and disable the AI before it unfurls the fabric of our modern world. This article will self-destruct in 5 seconds…
Dead Reckoning features an intriguing but confusing opening sequence, whereby the main MacGuffin is set up. I was quickly invested, and maintained said investment till the scene’s completion. Yet I had little idea what actually happened till it was over. Maybe I missed a line of dialogue, or zoned out during a context shot, but still…
You HAVE to pay attention during this film to fully enjoy its intricacies. Otherwise you’ll sit through this story frustrated and bored between its action sequences. Mission Impossible is known for its overly convoluted plots of mental chess, complex character dynamics, and puzzles to unlock. All that remains in droves here– for better and worse.
And, to be clear: I believe most of the plot holds together. I wasn’t always sure who was who or what their motivations were, but everything made sense whenever I paused to collect myself.
Mission Impossible 7 still falters with its execution of exposition. Act 1 especially contorted itself to offer us pertinent information for this plot (maybe more than we needed at that time). Though MOST films in the espionage genre have this fault too, come to think of it.
Now’s a good time to warn you: Mission Impossible 7 is not a film for franchise newbies. Your emotional investment relies heavily on knowing this cast of characters from at least Ghost Protocol onwards (and right from MI1 if you can help it). This thing hits the ground running and doesn’t pause to catch you up to speed. We’re just along for the ride. I personally loved that but, once again, a lot of people might be easily confused.
Dead Reckoning is also more tonally serious than past MI instalments, which I welcomed. It doesn’t skimp on jokes (multiple of which tried too hard and felt out of place, for the record) but was best when it treated its plot with gravitas. Some intense things happen in this one– and characters are pushed more than usual. The stakes are higher than ever, and characters have deep emotional ties to these events which occasionally impact their judgment.
Tom Cruise shines as Ethan Hunt, as he so often does. This role is basically just a fictionalized version of himself at this point– but I don’t care: Cruise is an incredible actor who excels with all material he’s gifted. And Dead Reckoning demands a decent amount of acting skill from him this time, as Hunt is put through the emotional ringer! Sure, Hunt is no stranger to heart-ache and anxiety, but I get the feeling that his experiences will more thoroughly stick with him this time.
He just gives the impression of a man who’s seen too much and grown sick of the action. Right from his introduction, he feels more worn down than usual. And more emphasis is placed on his tender, familial side than ever before. Hunt wears his heart on his sleeve and is all the more investing for it. One of the film’s best moments is when he stops to reflect on a picturesque sight with his teammate, and they hug in a random show of affection.
I also appreciate that Hunt is more fallible this time around. There’s multiple moments where he miscalculates, or gets outwitted, or makes poor choices. Yet these moments never make Hunt look stupid, ’cause the audience always understands WHY Hunt fails (when he does). It’s less boring than movies whose leads are unabashedly awesome at literally everything all the time… You know the type I mean. We see ’em ad nauseum lately.
Hayley Atwell is excellent as Grace, the thief– AKA the latest foil for Ethan Hunt. She’s charismatic, has great chemistry with Cruise, and easily proves her worth to the team. She’s nearly a Han Solo type of character (Circa A New Hope), who cares less for the greater good than the cash she might get for her services.
Though she also stands out for her relative vulnerability. She’s not the best fighter, or daredevil; she gets scared and ends up over her head; she’s not a mastermind or planner either. But she’s scrappy and resourceful and learns valuable lessons from her experiences. She’s probably got the most complete character arc in the film.
Mission Impossible 7 features three badguys of note. The first is henchwoman Paris (Pom Klementieff): she’s a silent, vicious, badass molded in the vein of classic eccentric henchmen (like in James Bond). Klementieff acts suitably psychotic enough to make me uneasy.
The second villain is Gabriel (Esai Morales): Dead Reckoning‘s main baddie, for all intents and purposes, but still only second in command to the main villain. Gabriel is the result of a long-running franchise trying to inject some life into stale character arcs. Case in point– he’s a major figure in Ethan Hunt’s past, whom Hunt has never mentioned before now (because Gabriel wasn’t invented before now).
And lastly we have The Entity: an AI counter-intelligence machine, whose machinations drive the plot forward. Interestingly– The Entity is barely featured in the film at all! Though its ominous presence is felt from scene 1. Its goals and aims kinda remind me of Rehoboam from Westworld S3. So it’s nothing I haven’t seen before, but it’s still effective in its essence.
The Entity is more of an existential threat to life on Earth– exerting its will such that our protagonists can no longer rely on their technology (and we Mission Impossible fans know how much the team loves its technology). The Entity’s tactics force our heroes to think smarter, and make them more fallible. Their every move is laid bare, which leaves them more exposed and vulnerable than they usually are. And these circumstances up the tension even more!
The reaction of intelligence communities to an all-knowing AI is one of Dead Reckoning‘s most intriguing subtleties. An already untrusting community becomes further divided, as every country’s agencies vie to control the power. Meanwhile, every group prepares for said power to be used against them– mostly by removing all their digital information and creating hard copies. Funny how the “old” ways are nearly more secure in today’s digitally dominated world.
Those two lawmen characters after Ethan Hunt leave me with mixed feelings. They’re… fine. I suppose they work as comic relief, and a healthy touch of meta commentary on the franchise (voicing thoughts the audience has had for years). But their inclusion mostly serves to pad an already long run-time, with insufficient payoff to warrant their inclusion.
How about the action though? This area is usually where Mission Impossible gets a slam dunk… and it still is! Sequences are tense, badass, and varied in execution. We’ve got car chases, fist fights, gun play, and top-tier stunt-work galore! But MI 7 wisely includes scenes which tone down action in lieu of pure tension (ala the more early franchise instalments). One of the film’s most investing sequences simply involves Ethan Hunt slipping government tails in an airport. There’s admittedly more to it than that, but Cruise didn’t needn’t even throw a punch to thrill me.
Dead Reckoning features stand-out film-making… in that you’ll definitely notice the shot compositions. Intense zooms, Dutch angles aplenty, and frames which place characters in unconventional positions create dynamic scenes which compliment an already frantic film. They keep the viewer off balance (because we unconsciously realize through years of exposure to film that these shots are weird), and allow us to feel jarred in only the best ways.
These stylistic choices aren’t over-used, to be clear. But they might take some getting used to once you notice them. I suspect the film-making will leave you engrossed and immersed, as it did me.
Yet MI 7 features less than stellar pacing. Most scenes are quick and to the point, but enough of them dragged for me to consciously feel MI 7’s lengthy run-time. The action scenes especially milk every stunt for more than what they’re worth. The crew wished to make ABSOLUTELY sure you didn’t miss the death-defying/ badass thing they pulled off. And I’m happy they had the guts to perform these feats for our entertainment! But it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
I must note, with some sadness, that Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning is a Part 1 of 2. I know they clearly labelled it in the title, and in the trailers, and on every poster, but I feel the need to mention this anyway. Why do we get so many two-part films now? It’s annoying… Dead Reckoning is, at least, less offensive than some of its recent counterparts (I’m looking at you, Spider-verse!) This film actually ends in a satisfying manner, with its primary plot threads tied– though leaves enough dangling to follow up in the next MI adventure.
One final note: Lorne Balfe wrote a stellar score for this film. It’s epic, serious, mysterious, and melancholy. The music is subtle when it needs to be, and soars at opportune moments.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1 is a thrilling adventure movie! Sure, sometimes its pacing dragged and its comedy wasn’t always laugh out loud, but everything else lands when it counts. This is top of the line action cinema– with solid character work to boot.
Dead Reckoning Part 1 may not be a series-best instalment, but it’s Pretty Darn Good.
FURTHER DISCUSSION OF THE ABOVE, AND MORE, ON THIS EPISODE OF CLOSE UP:
What’s the best stunt Tom Cruise ever performed? What did you think of Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know.
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Till next time,