Both "Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning" and Tom Cruise look and feel exhausted

Ethan Hunt chose to accept this mission, which is only the first of two parts. But you don't have to!

Published July 12, 2023 2:59PM (EDT)

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in "Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One" (Paramount Pictures / Skydance)
Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in "Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One" (Paramount Pictures / Skydance)

Perhaps the most unbelievable thing in "Mission Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" isn't the nifty gravity-defying stunts on a train, or the deceitful trickery that unfolds in low-key airport escapade, or the extended car chase through the streets of Italy, but that the opening sequence features a Russian submarine, Seebastopol, sinking in the Bering Sea. It is an unfortunately timed bit of cinema that almost casts a pall over this bloated film. 

Cruise just does not seem to be having fun here, and viewers may share his fatigue.

The Russian submarine is sunk during an underwater skirmish in what might be an imaginary game of "Battleship." Torpedoes are launched by both vessels, but suddenly things vanish when they are supposed to make impact. What emerges from this incident is the film's McGuffin, a special key that is comprised of two parts that need to be interlocked to access "The Entity" which has the capability to overtake the world intelligence networks and weaponize them. So, obviously, this key should not fall into the wrong person's hands.

Enter Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) of the IMF. (That's "Impossible Mission Force," not "International Monetary Fund," as one character wonders.) Ethan has chosen to accept his mission to recover the two keys. And so begins an overlong game of Three-card Monte, as the keys are snatched up and pocketed and stolen (step and repeat and repeat) by various players from familiar faces including Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), to series newcomers Gabriel (Esai Morales) and Grace (Hayley Atwell). Actually, Gabriel is not new to Ethan; they have a past that is shown briefly in flashbacks that provides a little context. 

Gabriel is actually the best thing in "Mission Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One." The suave Morales slinks through the film making his unflappable villain alluring. He can disappear as in the aforementioned airport episode, and he is also all-knowing, informing one character that they will betray him — and why — before it happens. Morales is such a smooth operator one might wish he played Ethan Hunt because Tom Cruise looks weary in the role.  

Cruise just does not seem to be having fun here, and viewers may share his fatigue. His initial meeting with Grace, a pickpocket he picks up because she may hold a key to the keys, is flat, rather than charming. Cruise's megawatt smile seems dimmed. A subsequent comic action sequence has the pair handcuffed together trying to drive a tiny yellow Fiat through the streets of Italy and encountering a series of obstacles, but it is neither amusing nor exciting. Moreover, there is no chemistry between these attractive leads. At least Hayley Atwell tries to imbue Grace with an air of mystery that prompts viewers to question if she is trustworthy, but that's pretty much all Atwell gets to do. She is a welcome addition but mostly wasted. 

The entire film feels jury-rigged as if every action sequence — and there are too few of them — is designed by an algorithm rather than a human.

Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part OneTom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames in "Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One" (Paramount Pictures / Skydance)

Director Christopher McQuarrie mostly puts his cast through the motions without creating any emotion. "Mission Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" is almost devoid of thrills. A criminally boring sequence involves Ethan's colleague Benji (Simon Pegg) having to defuse a bomb by answering a series of riddles. When "The Entity," hacks into Luther's (Ving Rhames) tech and gives Ethan wrong directions during a foot chase through Venice, making the hero too late, what transpires lacks the desired impact. McQuarrie overplays the scene here reaching operatic heights he should save for the daredevilling.

The entire film feels jury-rigged as if every action sequence — and there are too few of them — is designed by an algorithm rather than a human. Perhaps the nefarious Entity wrote the lame screenplay? The script, which feels wholly artificial, was actually penned by McQuarrie, Bruce Geller and Erik Jendresen. But it does seem odd that Denlinger (Cary Elwes), the Director of National Intelligence, asks to define the meaning of the word "sentient" when he is told The Entity has become sentient. "Are you telling me, it has a mind of its own?" he asks, incredulous. Yes, Delinger, that is what "sentient" means. And it is no clearer when The Entity is vaguely described as "a mind-reading, shapeshifting, incarnation of chaos."

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Even the familiar tricks of a character wearing face masks to disguise themselves as someone else feels old. An early sequence involving a strange man entering a meeting lacks surprise, and a bit where Grace poses as another character only ensures that ruse will be discovered at the wrong moment. The franchise may rely on its gimmicks, but it does not generate nostalgia; it just feels stale. 

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The stunts do provide some spectacle, with Cruise getting involved in some aerial action, but it is maybe an hour or so into this 163-minute movie before a car chase, and it is not necessarily that exhilarating. "Mission Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One" should be breathtakingly entertaining edge-of-your-seat wall-to-wall action, but even a bit involving the characters fighting on top of runaway train feels tired. Hasn't this all been done before and better? 

What is disheartening is that this is only "Part One." That the film does not end on a gripping cliffhanger is not encouraging. There should be anticipation for the next installment, but McQuarrie fails to generate even that. 

As the characters in the IMF are told they must choose their mission, viewers should make the choice to pass on this one.

"Mission Impossible – Dead Reckoning, Part One" is in theaters July 12.

By Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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