Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One review – As muscular, extravagant and old school as its star

Top Gun: Top Gun: Maverick and the new Mission: Impossible share the same message: that Tom Cruise, and Tom Cruise alone, is the last line of defence against the AI invasion. At a time like this, when a sudden panic over the profitability of digitised entertainment has seen streaming services slash and burn their own content while Hollywood’s writers remain on strike, Cruise has cunningly positioned himself as the idealistic (and no doubt patriotic) alternative. He is all that is human in the face of a cold and robotic future. Pure muscle and sweat.

In Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is the only man on Earth capable of defeating a seemingly sentient, AI-powered virus that possesses the ability to infiltrate any top-secret infrastructure it sets its sights on, like, say, the CIA or the World Bank. Finally, the super spy’s greatest asset – the limitless pool of technology that has, over the course of six earlier films, allowed him to wear other people’s faces as masks and scale the Burj Khalifa – has turned against him. Dead Reckoning can, admittedly, feel a little too immaculate and calculated when held up against the more lofty, idea-driven blockbusters of our age (say, a Dune or an Across the Spider-Verse). But any simplicity here is outweighed by the sheer force of Cruise’s brand.

The film is a mirror image of its star – a muscular, extravagant, thoroughly old-school work of ingenuity and craft. In it, Hunt chases two halves of a key with a mysterious connection to the AI across several fabulous international locations: Abu Dhabi, Rome, Venice and the UK (standing in for the Alps). His loyal techies, Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg), are always stationed nearby.

On the way, he crosses paths with various beautiful European women and surly American agency workers. Rebecca Ferguson’s magnetic Ilsa Faust returns, as does Vanessa Kirby’s aristocratic arms dealer, White Widow. Hayley Atwell appears as a master thief who’s also, somehow, the closest the franchise has ever been to a bumbling Hugh Grant-type. Although still notably underused, Pom Klementieff’s largely silent henchwoman is the film’s non-Cruise-related standout. Maniacally bloodthirsty and exquisitely well-dressed, she is a slick combination of classic Bond villain and DC’s Harley Quinn. Shea Whigham and Greg Tarzan Davis play two intelligence officers who have no clue how to apprehend Hunt and his team, but still give it the old college try.

We’re supposedly at the beginning of the end here, with next year’s Dead Reckoning Part Two set to be Cruise’s final outing in the role (or so he claims). Yet, Part One shares very little in common with today’s brand of indulgent, self-reflective, legacy-obsessed sequels. There are one or two connections to the past; the film’s human antagonist, Gabriel (Esai Morales), arrives together with a glimpse of Hunt’s pre-spy existence. But Hunt, really, is too busy saving the world to have any kind of existential crisis, stuck in a life that’s now become as mundane to him as any office job.

Mission: Impossible is exactly the sort of franchise in which people simply roll their eyes when the bomb they’re trying to detonate turns out (of course!) to be a nuclear one. That lack of ponderousness is embedded bone-deep into Dead Reckoning, and how returning director Christopher McQuarrie chooses to operate. The action sequences are consistently dynamic, and always adapted to their environment: a shoot-out in a sandstorm focuses on stealth and precision, while a Vespa chase down Rome’s many staircases is all cartoon chaos. It all culminates in an absolutely insane stunt in which Cruise drives a motorcycle off a cliff and then parachutes down onto a moving train. You will leave Dead Reckoning the same way you always do: wondering how Cruise could possibly outdo himself in the next one – until, inevitably, he does.

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie. Starring: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Czerny. 12A, 163 minutes.

‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ is in cinemas from 10 July