By Lynn Venhaus
One thing about Tom Cruise: Love him or hate him, he is a consummate entertainer. And let’s face it, we’re sucked into Cruise’s World nearly every time he headlines an adventure trying to save the world.
If there is peril, he shows up. He knows how to throw himself to a rip-roaring yarn, as he has proven time and again. In yet another bold, brash move as Ethan Hunt, he pushed himself with death-defying stunts that are among the most dazzling in movie history in this seventh one, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.”
His Impossible Missions Force team must track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands. With control of the future and the fate of the world at stake, and dark forces from Ethan’s past closing in, a deadly race around the globe begins.
Now 61, Cruise was 57 when filming initially started, so give him credit for stretching himself physically, a remarkable feat. For a glimpse of the risky business — Exhibit 1: Motorcycle stunt on the edge of a cliff. My jaw dropped and my stomach flip-flopped when he freefalls.
That might not top the helicopter chase in “Fallout” (MI:6), also filmed by now head cinematographer Fraser Taggart, but it’s a dandy and among several terrifying set pieces including an extensive pulse-pounding pursuit through the streets of Rome and fights on aboard and on top of a speeding train (and not just any train, but THE Orient Express).
While not as emotionally impactful as Cruise’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” last year’s sequel to a 1986 film that proved to be more successful than anyone thought – I mean, 36 years later? — “MI 7” played to his strengths.
Because he exceeded expectations for making the 2022 top-grossing film of the year ($718,732,821, to be exact), and was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture, there is a great deal of current goodwill. Some said he “saved Hollywood” by getting people into theaters post-pandemic. Let’s see if he repeats.
MI7 produces the thrills that define a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, but not the chills, and perhaps still will be a summer success after a few other tentpoles sputtered.
There is a sense of comfort in nostalgia. Like John Williams’ rousing Indiana Jones score, composer Lorne Balfe uses variations of Lalo Shifrin’s iconic TV series theme song to punctuate the action.
As with Harrison Ford returning as Indy, Cruise settles into another beloved familiar character, fearless American secret agent Ethan Hunt. Based on the Emmy-winning TV show (1966-1973) formula created by Bruce Geller, this covert Impossible Missions Force spans the globe fighting international terrorists in sophisticated ways.
After 27 years, we expect elaborate action and increasingly complicated high-tech plots. The first feature film directed by Brian De Palma was successful in 1996, its sequel stumbled in 2000 directed by John Woo, came back super-charged by director J.J. Abrams with Philip Seymour Hoffmann as a cunning villain in 2006, was even better in director Brad Bird’s “Ghost Protocol” in 2011, followed by what some say are the best ones in Christopher McQuarrie’s “Rogue Nation” in 2015 and “Fallout” in 2018. Now we have a long, dense follow-up in “Dead Reckoning,” a first part that is 2 hours and 43 minutes.
McQuarrie, who directed and co-wrote the script with Erik Jendresen, has been a consistent collaborator with Cruise during the 21st century. They first worked together on “Valkyrie” in 2008, followed by “Jack Reacher,” which he directed, and “Edge of Tomorrow.” That led to writing and directing the fifth and sixth ones, the first repeat director.
McQuarrie won the Oscar for his original screenplay “The Usual Suspects” in 1995 and was nominated last year for the adapted screenplay of “Top Gun: Maverick.”
The man who created Keyser Soze knows his way around criminal masterminds, but there’s a less than compelling one in sinister Gabriel, played by Esai Morales. He somehow is connected to the evil algorithm “The Entity,” which is so advanced it manipulates reality and the truth to cause endless chaos.
The menace is never-ending, although the enigmatic plot is dull. However, four interesting actresses shine in strong-willed roles: Hayley Atwell, Pom Klementieff and Vanessa Kirby, while Rebecca Ferguson returns for round three as MI6 operative Ilsa Faust.
Even with his energy and intensity, Cruise needs strong support, which he gets from the unsung heroes Simon Pegg as tech turned field agent Benji Dunn and Ving Rhames as wingman Luther Stickell.
Foe-turned-frenemy Atwell distinguishes herself as the slippery Grace. Since 2011, she has played beloved Peggy Carter, Captain America’s one true love, in all things Avenger-related in the Marvel universe (TV and film).
Oscar-nominated Kirby returns as the mysterious White Widow from “Fallout,” still sketchy, and a ferocious Klementieff, Mantis in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films, is cold-blooded assassin Paris.
It’s a stacked cast. Cary Elwes is CIA’s Denlinger and Henry Czerny, from the first movie, is back as Kittredge, while Shea Wigham and Greg Tarzan Davis are agents Briggs and Degas hot on the trail.
Czerny, with his ace delivery, has the best line: “Your days of fighting for the so-called greater good are over. This is our chance to control the truth. The concepts of right and wrong for everyone for centuries to come. You’re fighting to save an ideal that doesn’t exist. Never did. You need to pick a side.”
It’s a very different global playing field from when they first launched the feature film. They’ve all been high-octane state-of-the-art thrillers, but this one is hyper-speed. Stunts aside, their mission has always been against shadowy figures hell-bent on ruthless power. Noble, sure, but do we care?
My main beef is that it’s not so much a nail-biter as it is an exercise in endurance. The mumbo-jumbo about “The Entity” gets ridiculous.
Yet, the adrenaline rush takes over viewing. Think of it as a summer sojourn to Cruise World. We are all pulled into his orbit. We’ll see what he’s up to next June, as no. 8 is set for June 28, 2024.
“Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning Part I” is a 2023 action-adventure directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Esai Morales, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Cary Elwes, Henry Czerny. It is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some language and suggestive material .and runs 2 hours and 43 minutes. It opens in theaters on July 12. Lynn’s Grade: B-.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.