Consider, for a moment, the absurdity of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. The first instalment in what promises to be a genre-defining action spectacle pits Tom Cruise against a sentient AI that has gone rogue. With the power to erase people in real-time, this new threat seemingly knows your every move before you do, making it the most sophisticated killing machine ever assembled. If that sounds a little far-fetched, strap yourselves in because it only gets crazier from here.
Over two and a half hours, Cruise and his merry band of expendable operatives switch faces, commit treason and defuse bombs, all without breaking a sweat. It’s become part and parcel of the Mission: Impossible franchise, but this time, something feels different.
Cruise and longtime director Christopher McQuarrie have crafted an entirely compelling story that weaves new characters flawlessly into the fold without ever making you question why you hadn’t seen them before. The introduction of Esai Morales’ effortlessly debonair villain Gabriel is a testament to this.
From the moment the smooth-talking killer hits the screen, Gabriel is elevated to a pedestal of infamy previously untouched by the Mission: Impossible franchise. The ultimate agent of chaos, Gabriel is a remorseless harbinger of death that lives in the one place we are yet to fully explore – Ethan Hunt’s memory. In fact, at one point our hero even utters the phrase ‘He made me the man I am today’. It’s a bold statement to make, all things considered.
Much of Dead Reckoning’s charm hinges on the audience’s ability to ignore six films’ worth of reference material and accept an entirely new character as Ethan Hunt’s most unassailable adversary. But remarkably, whether it be through Cruise’s steely intensity or Morales’ scene-stealing performance, you absolutely do.
The cat-and-mouse game between Gabriel and Hunt is precisely the reason why Mission: Impossible has stood the test of time. Two unflappable entities going head to head for the fate of the world? What could be more compelling than that? According to Simon Pegg, who plays fan favourite Benji Dunn in the franchise, it’s all the result of a unique connection between Cruise and filmmaker Christopher McQuarrie.
“Tom and McQ (McQuarrie) have established this amazing creative partnership and they just keep pushing each other,” Pegg tells us. “Initially, it was a film series about different directors and an eclectic series of one-offs and now it’s this continuing story that just gets stronger and more accomplished with age.”
As Pegg explains, the new blockbuster is every bit a worthy continuation of the action franchise. This time around, the crudely-named Impossible Missions Force (IMF) is tasked with tackling a new breed of villain – one that can see without eyes, hear without ears and kill without contempt.
Together with returning favourites Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Benji and Hunt find themselves in a race against time to uncover two halves of a mysterious missing key, the lock that it calls home, housing the very destruction of the earth. But of course, that’s just the start.
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The IMF team are endlessly pursued by any number of threats, including franchise newcomer Pom Klementieff’s savage assassin Paris. Small by stature, the blonde brute explodes onto screen, quite literally, with a maniacal jeer that would send shudders through even the most hardened of bodies.
“What I’ve learned with McQ and Tom, it’s all about character, it’s all about what the audience is going to feel, and about the connection,” Klementieff tells us. “Sometimes, it’s not about the fight choreography and some cool movements, you know? Sometimes, what is important is when the actor is exhausted, and one is on the floor, one is walking dangerously towards the other. All these bits that touch you.”
As far as Mission: Impossible films go, Dead Reckoning feels to be the most ambitious. Battling a sentient AI threat with near-omnipotent powers makes for one hell of a ride, and there’s no better person to pilot that than Tom Cruise.
In Dead Reckoning, we see the 60-year-old perform some of the most death-defying stunts ever attempted on camera. From launching a motorcycle off a cliff and free-falling thousands of feet to a knife fight on top of a moving train, the action sequences deserve Academy Award recognition of their own.
“It’s a ride. You’re getting to work with probably the last great movie star of his kind,” Pegg says. “There is no one else like him. You just count yourself lucky that you’re there. You just strap in and climb on… not on him obviously, that would be weird.”
Pegg is the perfect man to make the call. Now in his fifth Mission: Impossible film, the Brit has become an irreplaceable facet of the IMF team.
“Every film is different, but this film was particularly different because we took on a whole new group of actors – a new bulletproof cast which were amazing to work with,” Pegg explains. “Also, we shot it at a very trying time. It was through 2020. So it felt different all the way. It took longer, it was more of a challenge, but I think we all rose to it and that’s reflected in the movie.”
The newest member of that family comes in the form of Hayley Atwell, who plays Grace, a petty thief who gets caught up in the underground world of covert espionage. However, as Atwell tells us, the role was a long time coming.
“It felt kind of fortuitous: McQ; Christopher McQuarrie, an incredible writer and director, came to see me in a play 10 years ago on-stage in London. He took me out for dinner afterwards and said, ‘I want to work with you. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m going to make it happen’,” she says. “You never know if these things will amount to anything because it’s a very precarious industry. What was different and unique about this franchise is that in the screen test, they said ‘there isn’t a character that we’re looking for someone to fit into. We will find the actor that we’re willing to work with and create the character together as we go along’.”
Grace’s fish-out-of-water situation makes for the perfect company, helping to lighten the load weighing heavy on Hunt’s shoulders. What’s more, it gives way to some of the most impressive stunt work in the series – the car chase through the streets of Rome is worth the price of admission alone.
“We watched lots of movies that had a certain cat-and-mouse feel to them and a kind of wholesome, endearing, exasperated relationship between the protagonists,” she says. “From out of that, the Fiat 500 kind of came in as a third character in their, sort of momentarily romantic comedy that happens in the middle of this car chase.”
Watching Dead Reckoning, you become acutely aware of the challenges that lie within helming a franchise like Mission: Impossible. Namely, Cruise and Co. have given themselves the unenviable task of perpetual evolution – the endless quest to better the last effort, and for that, the film industry should be thankful.
What started as a vehicle to transport Tom Cruise from dramatic leading man to action hero has evolved into arguably the most important franchise on the planet. And where others, like the Fast & Furious series, have descended into downright ludicrous territory, Cruise and his team have managed to keep things comparatively grounded.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One feels far from a dead horse beating. Nowhere in the exhilarating 156-minute runtime do you ever lose focus on what the team is collectively trying to achieve, both on-screen and from a studio perspective. Make no mistake, this movie is a f*cking masterpiece of action.
‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ stars Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Esai Morales, Pom Klementieff, and Cary Elwes. The blockbuster action flick hits Australian cinemas on 8 July 2023. You don’t want to miss this.