‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ Review: Breathtaking Stunts Highlight a Top-Shelf Tom Cruise Sequel

With jaw-dropping set pieces and a pulsating sound design, director Christopher McQuarrie delivers one of this summer’s best theatrical events

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

Is Tom Cruise our last bonafide movie star? Or at least one of the few remnants of an elite group of big-screen heartthrobs who leave us saying, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to?” We’ve heard several versions of this question asked again and again over the years, especially on the heels of 2022’s astonishing and disarmingly nostalgic “Top Gun: Maverick,” a heart-swelling legacy-quel that deservedly re-established and reinforced Cruise’s status as a dying breed of larger-than-life screen hero.

While it might be futile to ponder the same query once more (come on, the answer is a resounding “yes”), that doesn’t mean Cruise is done reminding us why there won’t be another one after him to burn just as brightly. And that’s not only because of our era of scattered eyeballs and shortened attention spans that sadly deems the all-encompassing brand of “movie star” nearly obsolete. The short of it is, there is no length Cruise isn’t willing to go to wow and entertain audiences as a terrifically versatile actor, risk-taking producer and multi-hyphenate Hollywood mainstay, while preserving his unique cinematic legacy.

Just direct your attention to his latest “Mission: Impossible” entry, “Dead Reckoning Part One,” the pulsating near-finale of the finest ongoing contemporary action franchise. In this chapter, fluidly directed by Christopher McQuarrie (of also M:I 5, 6 and 2024’s “Dead Reckoning Part Two”), Cruise runs like the wind in his signature style and brings home the emotional core of Bravo-Echo-One-One IMF agent Ethan Hunt.

He effortlessly sells cheesy yet delicious zingers like he still dwells in Hollywood circa-‘80s/90s, steers several mind-blowing, high-wire stunts and set-pieces (one while driving a canary-yellow Fiat Cinquecento in Rome) and actually jumps off a cliff on a motorcycle, the most dangerous number of his acting career. All this is elevated by James Mather’s frequently seat-shaking sound design, with “seat-shaking” in no way being used a metaphor. This is the movie Nicole Kidman must have meant in that AMC ad when she said, “Sound that I can feel.” Talk about the vitality of theatrical moviegoing.

In that regard, the team behind this new “Mission: Impossible”—like the makers of all the installments that came before it—seem to know on a deep level why viewers flock to this group of action movies: the indispensable big-screen proficiency and collective soul of the series first and the plot of individual chapters, second.

Truth be told, “Dead Reckoning Part One”—written by McQuarrie and Erik Jendresen—leaves something to be desired in that latter department, making its blessedly anti-Artificial Intelligence story a little too convoluted for its own good. Judging simply by how many times a character here and there launches into a summary statement like, “So let me get this straight…” for the audience’s benefit, it feels like the writing duo has been aware of the labored complexity of their narrative during scripting and actively looked for opportunities to over-explain what crazy thing just happened.

Then again, it’s partly thanks to these occasional (and often purposely funny) recaps that you piece together the plot that involves a “truth-eating parasite” called The Entity, a four-dimensional chess game with a vanishing algorithm (as someone puts), and a McGuffin of a two-part key that unlocks something that the fate of the entire world depends on, naturally. After all, this vaporous and indecipherable being retains all the knowledge in the world, with the ability to infiltrate each and every governmental, military and financial system. If this doesn’t require the services of the IMF, then what is their purpose?

Other than Hunt himself, trying to secure the key to The Entity are a number of returning figures: Simon Pegg’s affably frantic Benji, Ving Rhames’ cool Luther and Rebecca Ferguson’s classically enigmatic Ilsa Faust, perhaps the best thing that happened to the franchise since Cruise. Trying to capture and sell The Entity are Vanessa Kirby’s shadowy White Widow and Hayley Atwell’s solitary and agile pickpocket, Grace.

There are also various tough baddies in the mix, chief amongst them is the Biblically named Gabriel (a memorably sinister Esai Morales), someone enmeshed with The Entity itself. There is also Pom Klementieff’s Paris, a relentless fighter and a pair of governmental operatives pursuing Hunt: Greg Tarzan Davis’ Degas and Shea Whigham’s Briggs. And don’t forget the notable return of Kittridge (Henry Czerny), Hunt’s famous IMF frenemy.

Globe-trotting over the mountains and in the depths of the ocean with a magnificent opening sequence set in a submarine, “Dead Reckoning Part One” subscribes to a simple philosophy around AI, one that today’s decision makers need to hear loud and clear: Control (if not destroy) it, before it becomes too monstrous to develop a mind of its own—a fear at the heart of many vintage sci-fi dystopias and the latest WGA strike alike. Except, the film is set in a world where this fear has already become a reality. In that, our human-generated opponent has become so “artificially” smart it has learned how to disguise itself and surpass its own inventor.

The idea, while not exactly fresh, is a frightening one. But McQuarrie and miracle worker DP Fraser Taggart manage to have a lot of visual fun with the aforesaid concept of invisibility, while not succumbing to the doom-and-gloom of the real world, unlike other action franchises like “Batman” or “James Bond” that gradually darkened their respective worlds. McQuarrie’s style remains light on its feet and constantly remembers that these movies are supposed to be crowd-pleasing, exciting events that take themselves just seriously enough. In that, McQuarrie pulls off an intricate cat-and-mouse chase in Venice, as well as a heart-stopping airport-set action sequence with crystal-clear editing and choreography, which by itself is enough to make “Dead Reckoning Part One” a top-shelf “Mission: Impossible” entry.

And the team above and below the line don’t stop there, ending with an Alpine train sequence amid the Belle Epoque designs of the glorious Orient Express, crashing it wagon after wagon in a breathtakingly elaborate set-piece that could best be described as “Titanic on land.” Rest assured, the seat-shaking sound design will persist and escalate.

Still, it is Cruise himself that unlocks this extraordinary and, in the end, surprisingly poignant franchise start to finish, the key to it all even when he’s not dangling from a Dubai skyscraper or attaching himself to an in-flight Airbus. Lest we forget, he is one hell of a dramatic actor with the sharpest of blue-eyed stares, carrying the weight of a rootless character through several savagely emotional moments, one of them, genuinely heartbreaking. What better mission could there be this summer other than witnessing our perpetual cinematic maverick deliver yet another full-scale cinematic experience? Should you choose to accept it, of course.

“Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” opens exclusively in theaters July 12.