de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

With now seven films in the franchise under his belt and reaching 61 years of age, cinema’s maverick, Tom Cruise, has continued to push the envelope in large-scale filmmaking at a time when very few are. Turning himself into his own brand in an IP-driven studio system, Cruise has turned the Mission: Impossible franchise, the most consistent modern action franchise with this many films, with the exception of John Woo’s MI:2 — sorry to its defenders, but it’s terrible, into a series of films heavily sold on the fact that we’re witnessing Cruise put his life on the line in terms of accomplishing death-defying stunts. The 27-year-old franchise returns to flex on CG-heavy tentpoles with a reminder of what classic blockbusters can still look like. The seventh entry in the Mission: Impossible franchise doesn’t reach the insurmountable heights of its previous installment, Fallout, it’s by far one of the only franchises to make a great seventh film and leave you jazzed for the eighth.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team, including Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames) and ally/former MI6 agent Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) accept a mission to uncover a key to a new experimental weapon known as ‘the Entity”, a rogue AI system that’s growing more and more sentient with plans for global domination. On their mission, they are intercepted by The Entity’s chosen messenger, Gabriel (a menacing Esai Morales), a terrorist with ties to Ethan’s past before his IMF days, and his henchwoman Paris (the badass Pom Klementieff).

The seventh installment and third Mission: Impossible film from director/logistics master Christopher McQuarrie continues the series’ trend of emphasizing practical filmmaking to more winning effect. McQuarrie’s grand and effortlessly stylish Dead Reckoning Part One shows the filmmakers confidence growing with each passing entry. The way he’ll allow scenes to play out in complete silence, using skilled visual language to tell the story is masterful. Despite running at a beefy 163 minutes, the film is swiftly paced with McQuarrie never losing his grasp over the film’s focus. He has an ability to relentlessly escalate tension to further and further heights with specific attention to detail. Whether it’s the genre-blending variety of set pieces, the assured shot compositions, emulating De Palma-like dutch angle and espionage-driven narrative, this is an all-encompassing piece of work from McQuarrie. The cut to the opening credits alone is enough to warrant applause. The terrific Lorne Balfe score plays perfectly in sync with McQuarrie’s direction and editor Eddie Hamilton’s rhythm.

Coming off last year’s mega-hit Top Gun: Maverick, Tom Cruise, yet again, proves why there is no one else like him. No other movie star has the ability or capability to do the things Cruise can do and seven films in, it never ceases to thrill witnessing Cruise put it all out on the line to deliver for the sake of entertainment. In a year that has already given us John Wick: Chapter 4 and even Extraction 2, the stunt choreography is downright remarkable. The highly-publicized stunt sequence involving Cruise driving a motorcycle off a cliff and parachuting mid-air is thrilling, but it’s the set piece after it that truly astonishes. Undoubtedly inspired by the Buster Keaton classic The General, McQuarrie crafts a stellar set piece involving a crashing train that seemingly milks every ounce of tension possible. A car chase in Rome is expertly staged with McQuarrie using the physical space of the city to exciting creative directions. Cruise’s Hunt and Hayley Atwell’s Grace are handcuffed, driving in a tiny yellow Fiat 500 in a car chase with over a dozen differing vehicles chasing them throughout the cramped streets of Rome. It’s the variety of action, and the level of creativity that goes into each scene that helps keep each sequence fresh.

It’s hard not to see the thematic parallels between the films characters having to resort back to going “analog” with the filmmakers making an argument for old-school practical filmmaking versus new-school, digital filmmaking. In a time where AI is at the forefront of the fears of the future, the villain of Dead Reckoning Part One hits harder than it otherwise would have. McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen (HBO’s Band of Brothers) give Ethan and the team a villainous pairing that truly induces fear. What helps ground the films emotional stakes is the reminder that Hunt and his team are merely human. While the stunts are gobsmacking and larger-than-life, your heart still flutters when Cruise rides off a cliff or dangles off the side of a train. While Alec Baldwin’s speech from Rogue Nation rightfully claims Hunt is the living manifestation of destiny, he is also flesh and blood.

The ensemble cast is as top-notch as we’ve come to expect, with the most delicate, humane moments coming from the exchanges between Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa and Ethan. The film explores a bit more of Ethan Hunt’s backstory, giving Cruise further space to carve out more layers into his iconic role. Hayley Atwell is a remarkable addition to the franchise as the pick-pocketing Grace. Atwell gets to embody a more dynamic character than the actor has recently seen, making an excellent screen partner opposite Cruise. Vanessa Kirby’s arms-dealing White Widow from Fallout is back with a meatier, more playful part this time around. The always-welcoming Henry Czerny returns as Ethan’s old rival Kittridge, now the director of the CIA. The reunion between the two old rivals is a great sight, especially for fans of De Palma’s original film. It’s also good fun seeing actors such as Cary Elwes, Rob Delaney, Charles Parnell and Indira Varma in bit roles. Shea Whigham gets the unfortunate task of playing a walking narrative device as a hard-edged agent pursuing Ethan and his team for going rogue — again.

Like this summer’s Across the Spider-Verse and Fast X, this is a part one that ends on a cliffhanger. However, this ending feels the most fulfilling of the bunch. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is another great addition to the already-great Mission: Impossible franchise. Tom Cruise continues to show why he’s one of our last remaining action stars and refuses to settle for less than stellar. While the set up for Part Two is tantalizing, Part One is a terrific action film on its own terms and a strong reminder of what american blockbusters should look like.