At the airport, Ethan also crosses paths with a pickpocket named Grace (Hayley Atwell), who gets stuck in the middle of all of this world-changing insanity, along with a few agents trying to hunt down the rogue Ethan and are played by a wonderfully exasperated Shea Whigham and Greg Tarzan Davis. A silent assassin, memorably sketched by Pom Klementieff, is also essential to a few action scenes. And Vanessa Kirby returns as the arms dealer White Widow, and, well, if the ensemble has a weakness, it’s Kirby’s kind of lost performance. She has never quite been able to convey “power player” in these films as she should.
But that doesn’t matter because people aren’t here for the White Widow’s backstory. They want to see Tom Cruise run. The image most people associate with “Mission: Impossible” is probably Mr. Cruise stretching those legs and swinging those arms. He does that more than once here, but it seems like the momentum of that image was the artistic force behind this entire film. “Dead Reckoning Part One” prioritizes movement—trains, cars, Ethan’s legs. It’s an action film that’s about speed and urgency, something that has been so lost in the era of CGI’s diminished stakes. Runaway trains will always have more inherent visceral power than waves of animated bad guys, and McQuarrie knows how to use it sparingly to make an action film that both feels modern and old-fashioned at the same time. These films don’t over-rely on CGI, ensuring we know that it’s really Mr. Cruise jumping off that motorcycle. When punches connect, bodies fly, and cars crash into each other—we feel it instead of just passively observing it. The action here is so wonderfully choreographed that only “John Wick: Chapter 4” compares for the best in the genre this year.
There’s also something fascinating thematically here about a movie star battling A.I. and questioning the purpose of his job. Blockbusters have been cautionary tech tales for generations but think about the meta aspect of a spy movie in which the world could collapse if the espionage game is overtaken by a sentient computer that stars an actor who has been at the center of controversy regarding his own deepfakes. There’s also a definite edge to the plotting here that plays into the actor’s age in that Ethan is forced to answer questions about what matters to him regarding his very unusual work/life balance, a reflection of what a performer like Cruise must face as he reaches the end of an action movie rope that’s been much longer than anyone could have even optimistically expected. Cruise may or may not intend that reading—although I suspect he does—but it adds another layer to the action.
Of course, the most important thing is this: “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” is just incredibly fun. It feels half its length and contains enough memorable action sequences for some entire franchises. Will Cruise save the blockbuster experience again? Maybe. And he might do it again next summer too.
In theaters on July 12th.