Monday, July 10, 2023

Tom Cruise on another action-packed mission


 Let me get this off my chest about Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One. Any movie that's two hours and 43 minutes long and calls itself "Part One" wrinkles my brow. If two hours and 43 minutes isn't enough to tell a Mission: Impossible story, how did Citizen Kane manage to be so scintillating, colorful, and richly alive in a mere one hour and 59 minutes?
 OK, now back to reality.
 Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part I boasts some of the best action footage you'll see this year. Moreover, a strong cast adds enough nuance to keep the story from seeming like an excuse to vault from one dizzying set piece to the next.
 This edition takes a topical turn with writers Erik Jendresen and Christopher McQuarrie, who also directs, injecting artificial intelligence into the plot. 
 A brief explanation: An artificial intelligence called The Entity has the potential to control everything. Because AI knows no allegiances, many people want to control The Entity, either living in its good graces or harnessing it for evil.
  Not Ethan Hunt, the character played by Tom Cruise. Hunt, the IM agent who has been defying death since Cruise brought him to life in 1996 aims to kill The Entity. He has no interest in using it, which means he's the defender of humanity's right to be ... well ... human, a value that fits nicely with the series’ preference for stunts over CGI- created effects.
   Cruise, who just turned 61, looks a bit longer in the tooth than he did when Hunt undertook his first mission. Still, longer in the tooth for Cruise, who does his own stunts, isn't quite the same as longer in the tooth for anyone else and he deepens Hunt by adding layers of doubt and regret.
    Two major additions add spark. Hayley Atwell signs on as Grace, a pickpocket who'll end up working with Ethan. Esai Morales portrays Gabriel, a villain who makes no bones about his evil designs on The Entity and who is connected to Hunt's past in ways that presumably will be explored in the next movie.
    A variety of actors make return visits, notably Rebecca Ferguson as Isla Faust, a sometime antagonist and sometime ally of Hunt whose smile suggests that she's crushing on him. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg reprise their roles as part of the IM crew, and Henry Czerny shows up as a former IM boss who still keeps a hand in intelligence.
   Enough about the cast, which is large and which, over time, has developed characters that rival the Marvel Universe for interconnection and overlap. 
   In these moves, action goes a long way toward defining character, so it's worth mentioning of a few highlights. 
   Dead Reckoning opens with a tense prologue on a Russian submarine and then serves up a battle in the Arabian Desert, a suspenseful scene in Abu Dhabi International Airport, a clever Roman car chase in which Cruise and Atwell are handcuffed to each other in a Fiat, and  a white-knuckled motorcycle ride that finds Hunt driving over a cliff.
   A  literal cliffhanger of a finale puts us aboard a speeding train headed for a demolished bridge while leaning into vertiginous thrills.
   Much of what happens in the movie is motivated by the need to find two halves of a key that can unlock mysteries that the movie pretty much keeps to itself. Using a key as a MacGuffin seems less imaginative than we expect from Mission: Impossible movies, almost Indiana Jones-ish. 
   But everyone wants the key and we'll have to wait until next year to learn what it will reveal about The Entity.
   Now, it's time to offer an addendum to my opening paragraph.
   Look, I prefer forms of storytelling that are more economical and richer; I wouldn't want to call this IM screenplay a model of efficiency. 
  At the same time, I wasn't bored. Going in, I knew the movie was two hours and 43 minutes long, so I occasionally checked my watch to see how McQuarrie was handling all the globe-hopping as he barreled toward an ending.
   Reservations about length aside, I'll look forward to Part Two. My anticipation has less to do with learning the secrets of The Entity than with knowing that Cruise and his team can be relied on to deliver the action-packed goods -- with enough style and sophistication to keep the series humming at high levels.


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