Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023) poster

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)


USA. 2023.


Director – Christopher McQuarrie, Screenplay – Erik Jendresen & Christopher McQuarrie, Producers – Tom Cruise & Christopher McQuarrie, Photography – Fraser Taggart, Music – Lorne Balfe, Visual Effects Supervisor – Alex Wuttke, Visual Effects/Animation – Industrial Light and Magic (Supervisors – Simone Coco & Jeff Sutherland), Visual Effects – Alchemy 24 (Supervisor – Alain Lachance), Atomic Arts (Supervisor – Senior Supervisor – Justin Cornish, Supervisor – Reyffer Sousa), beloFX (Supervisor – Joel Green), Bluebolt (Supervisor – Senior Supervisor – Henry Badgett, Supervisor – Kyle Goodsell), Cheapshot (Supervisor – Benjamin Perrott), lola | FX (Supervisor – Jeremiah Sweeney), One of Us (Supervisor – Louis LaFlamme-Fillion), Rodeo FX (Supervisor – Arnaud Brisebois), Territory Studios & Untold Studios (Supervisor – Mike Bell), Special Effects Supervisor – Neil Corbould, Production Design – Gary Freeman. Production Company – Paramount/Skydance.


Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Hayley Atwell (Grace), Simon Pegg (Benji Dunn), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Rebecca Ferguson (Ilsa Faust), Vanessa Kirby (The White Widow/Alanna Mitsopolis), Esai Morales (Gabriel), Henry Czerny (Eugene Kittridge), Pom Klementieff (Paris), Shea Whigham (Jasper Briggs), Cary Elwes (Denlinger), Greg Tarzan Davis (Degas), Frederick Schmidt (Zola), Charles Parnell (NRO), Mark Gatiss (NSA), Indira Varma (DIA), Marcin Dorocinski (Sevastopol Captain), Gaetano Bruno (Magistrate)


Ethan Hunt is despatched to the Rub al-Khali to find Ilsa Faust who has gone into hiding in the desert with one half of a key. The key gives control of The Entity, an A.I. that has gained sentience and the capacity to infiltrate any computer network in the world, while faking data to users. Every intelligence agency in the world is seeking it but Ethan returns to tell IMF director Eugene Kittridge it is too powerful for one country to control and that he considers it his mission to destroy The Entity. Ethan and the IMF team head to Abu Dhabi to intercept the seller of the other half of the key, but plans are thrown awry when the thief Grace pickpockets the key. Ethan aborts the mission after discovering that his old nemesis Gabriel is involved. The team head to Venice to follow Grace as she completes the handover of the key to her backer Gabriel. Ethan realises that Gabriel is being guided by The Entity, which can predict every course of action and outcome in advance. With Gabriel and Alanna Mitsopolis, the arms dealer known as The White Widow, getting away with both halves of the key, Ethan’s last option is to board the Orient Express with Grace posing as The White Widow to prevent the sale.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One was the seventh of the Mission Impossible films. The series began with Mission: Impossible (1996), a big screen adaptation of the popular tv series Mission: Impossible (1966-73). The films quickly became starring vehicles for Tom Cruise. To follow would be Mission: Impossible II (2000), Mission: Impossible III (2006), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011). Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) and Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018).

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One marks the third consecutive film in the series where Cruise has put himself in the directorial hands of former screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie. The film was intended as a two-part production with the second part to be released in 2024. However, problems began when the Covid-19 pandemic hit in the midst of the international shoot. The entire production in Italy had to be shut down for a week after twelve people tested positive. Delays and the necessity to relocate because of Covid travel restrictions caused the film’s budget to balloon to a reported $291 million, making it one of the most expensive films ever made (although it is not clear if that is budget for the two films instead of one). Dead Reckoning opened to disappointing box-office – with a worldwide gross of $567 million, which is pretty good as any film goes, but makes it only the fourth highest grossing in the Mission: Impossible series. Part of this may well have been it opening only a week before the dual box-office sensation that was Barbie (2023) and Oppenheimer (2023).

Tom Cruise reached the age of 61 ten days before Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One went into general release and is looking in fairly good shape for someone only a few years short of mandatory retirement age in many countries. There is probably no dispute in saying that Cruise was one of the top, if not the, No 1star in the world throughout the 1980s and 90s. However, that star has started to fade somewhat by the 2010s. Many standalone and original Cruise films of this period have suffered from merely average box-office and/or poor critical reception – Valkyrie (2008), Knight & Day (2010), Oblivion (2013), American Made (2017) and The Mummy (2017), with the sole exceptions being Jack Reacher (2012) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). This may well be why Cruise has focused more on making familiar properties with known box-office factors during this time – having put out four of the Mission: Impossible films since 2010 and revisiting one of his best known roles with the runaway success that was Top Gun: Maverick (2022).

Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Into action in Venice – (l to r) Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson)

Cruise announced during publicity for the film that Dead Reckoning Part One and its sequel will be his last outings in the role (although later made contrary statements). This may well be a recognition that he is aging out of the part – ie. the press for the films has always made much of the fact that Cruise does his own stunts and it may simply be that he is finding he can no longer keep up with the physicality of the role. In almost any other series – you immediately think of the James Bond films – this would mean that the series be rebooted with a different actor. However, the Mission: Impossible have become so Cruise-centric it is hard to believe they could be carried by anyone of lesser stature. (Personally, one would be absolutely delighted if the series were to continue with Hayley Atwell’s Grace as the lead).

That said, Cruise and director/co-writer Christopher McQuarrie put their everything into Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. I had previously regarded Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol as being the high point of the series. However, Dead Reckoning raises the bar of the series to a new level. First and most notable is the fact that it has been made in two parts, which spreads the story over two films. Even then, Dead Reckoning comes in at 164 minutes (2¾ hours) whereas all the other films just only topped the 2½ hour mark with Ghost Protocol being the longest at 133 minutes.

This longer length gives the film much more ease with things like storytelling. There is no longer the need to have to wrap everything up within the given timeframe and the film can take its time building out the story. That has some notable effects in compounding the various set-pieces – the sequence at the Abu Dhabi airport not only has Cruise trying to track the seller but deal with Hayley Atwell’s thief and Shea Whigham’s team hunting him, while at the same time Simon Pegg’s Benji has to defuse a bomb down in baggage – however, this is not a mere bomb but a nuclear warhead and one where the A.I. recognises him and requires he answer a series of riddles before the countdown goes off. Or the climactic sequence where Hayley Atwell is required to masquerade as Vanessa Kirby aboard a train that has been set on a runaway course, while at the same time Tom Cruise is on a motorcycle having to take a leap off a mountainside and parachute down onto the train as Simon Pegg tries to navigate him from a driverless car.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Grace (Hayley Atwell) handcuffed together in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Grace (Hayley Atwell) handcuffed together

There is a fantastic opening which starts with an advanced radar invisible Russian submarine – where the film seems to be channelling something of The Hunt for Red October (1990) – going down, Tom Cruise being despatched to the desert amid a shootout in a sandstorm, before a US intelligence agency briefing. It is here that the film spells out the scariness of the threat being faced with great effect – an A.I. that is capable of faking data and making people doubt anything their information systems tell them and of the race for every agency in the world to take ownership of it. The kicker of the scene comes when the man who has entered the room hands Henry Czerny’s director a gas mask and then detonates two gas bombs, knocking everybody else out and pulling off the mask to reveal it is Cruise beneath.

One criticism might be that there is so many competing parties attempting to get the key – Gabriel, Shea Whigham and his team, Hayley Atwell, Vanessa Kirby and Pom Klementieff, as well as various US agency heads (Cary Elwes, Henry Czerny) – that it is often hard trying to work out which side who is on (not to mention that most of them end up swapping allegiance or are shown to be operating for a different side throughout).

The action scenes are expectedly gripping. There is a foot-to-the-pedal chase sequence through the streets of Venice with Cruise and Hayley Atwell pursued by Pom Klementieff in an APC where she just barrels over the top of all other vehicles in the way. The big climactic set-piece is the one set around the train where Tom Cruise is required to conduct a parachute jump off a mountainside on a motorcycle to land on the train in the valley far below, assorted fights aboard the train and then a gripping sequence with Cruise and Esai Morales fighting on the roof and continuing to do so while the train passes through tunnels that are whizzing by inches above their heads. Although the seat-edge scene for me was the one where the train goes over the edge of the bridge and the carriages successively topple over and are ripped off from their connectors as Cruise and Hayley Atwell race back up to safety, sometimes having to vertically to scale their way through as the contents of each carriage, including at one point a grand piano, come falling down at them. It sets a new series high point.

Racing a collapsing train in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)
Racing a collapsing train at the climax

The other Mission: Impossible films have often used Techno-Thriller McGuffin – Chimera in Mission: Impossible II, The Rabbit’s Foot in Mission: Impossible III, the plutonium cores in Fallout. As with most such McGuffins, the threat is only ever seen in terms of its potential ie. the films would turn into viral pandemic or nuclear apocalypse works if they were not. The Entity is one such a McGuffin where we do actually see the threat unleashed with scary potential. The idea of the standard super-villain of the show replaced by an A.I. that not only knows every piece of information about you but can predict every outcome of an action has something extraordinary to it – it is maybe one of the most unique and original nemeses invented for any spy film. Ving Rhames gets a fantastic scene where he outlines to Cruise just the way that the A.I. can think of all strategic possibilities of any move and what this must mean. Not to mention there is something uncannily predictive to it – not just in tapping the sinister potential that social media and internet magnates hold and the threat of misinformation, which almost certainly what the writers were thinking about when they penned the script, but in predicting the explosion in generative A.I. such as ChatGPT that hit the world in 2023 subsequent to the film’s shooting.

Tom Cruise is on good form. This is one of the Mission: Impossible films where he shares screen time with his co-stars more than any of the other films. He looks dapper in cut suit and performing conjuring tricks with a cocky twinkle. It is also an opportunity where he is far more self-effacing in the role than he has been previously. He is frequently more nonplussed and out of familiar grounds – the scenes trying to work how to start a Fiat 500 and then drive in a high-speed chase while handcuffed to Hayley Atwell are played just as much for comedy as they are dramatic tension.

Everyone else is on good form, even if series regulars Ving Rhames and in particular Simon Pegg are starting to show their age. It is also great that someone has finally given Hayley Atwell, someone I have been maintaining for some time should have the major profile of other British actresses like Rebecca Hall or at least Gemma Arterton, the opportunity for a lead starring role outside of ongoing MCU guest appearances.

(Winner in this site’s Top 10 Films of 2023 list. Nominee for Best Director (Christopher McQuarrie) at this site’s Best of 2023 Awards).

Trailer here

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