Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One review – Tom Cruise does it better

<span>Photograph: FlixPix/Alamy</span>
Photograph: FlixPix/Alamy

Already, the keynote stunt has become a legend: the one on the poster, the one he reportedly did – for real – six times in one day before he was satisfied. Tom Cruise’s compact body floats free of the motorbike as it drops to Earth from between his diamond-hard thighs, having launched him with a throaty roar off an unfeasibly high cliff-edge; he sails through the sky, pulls the ripcord on a nifty little parachute, and swoops down towards … the speeding Orient Express, fully intent on the traditional carriage-top punch-up. We gasped in the audience. Someone behind me went: “Oh shi-i-i …” Carly Simon should have come in with a new song: Fair Enough, Somebody Does It Better.

Related: Running, jumping, looking: is the new Mission Impossible the Tom Cruisiest film Tom Cruise has ever made?

This outrageously enjoyable spectacle has compelled my awestruck assent with its sheer stamina, scale and brio: the seventh in the Mission: Impossible action franchise with Cruise starring as Ethan Hunt, the mysterious, superfit leader of a top-secret intelligence/combat unit called the Impossible Mission Force, brought in by a shadowy US government agency when they want deniable stuff doing. Their initials of course are IMF, and in this film they finally get round to doing the gag about them not being the International Monetary Fund, the one we reviewers have been doing for years.

Seven films! Daniel Craig got sick of 007 after just five. But at 61, Cruise looks better than ever and pretty much wedded to the IMF. Other actors his age might be turning to offbeat character turns, but Tom was doing those for Paul Thomas Anderson and Michael Mann 20 years ago. The M:I series is his vocation, and Tom Cruise has single-handedly persuaded us that the action genre has a new respectability and purpose: the box-office saviour of the live cinema experience. But I can’t help wondering: does he have an exit strategy for this franchise? Like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this film is split into two parts, and Tom does a fair bit of talking here about his friends and what he might sacrifice for them. Should we be worried about the end of Part Two?

Related: The 25 best stunts in cinema – ranked!

In this film, as in so many in the past, evil forces are trying to get hold of a MacGuffiny object which will permit them to control/destroy the world, and Ethan and the gang are the only people to stop them. There is some tremendous stunt work, including a wacky Italian Job-style chase around Rome in a titchy little yellow Fiat, the biggest train scenes since Paddington 2 and some very impressive horsemanship from Tom in the Arabian desert – in his headdress he is the seventh pillar of hunkiness. A very tense opening sequence aboard a Russian sub called the Sebastopol – its associations with Crimea being perhaps a rebuke to Putinist chauvinism – introduces us to a certain bejewelled cruciform key, split into two; this is the oddly low-tech object whose owner, having reunited the halves, can master a new and terrifying form of AI, a self-replicating digital consciousness with the capacity to invade any operating system in the world. Already the genie is emerging from the bottle.

Tom Cruise and Vanessa Kirby.
Tom Cruise and Vanessa Kirby. Photograph: FlixPix/Alamy

Ethan assembles his crew: there is quirky Benji, played by Simon Pegg, whose purpose is often to direct the boss from afar as he races around various terrains, and Ving Rhames as Luther, his supposed best mate (although they never seem particularly close). Rebecca Ferguson returns as ex-MI6 operative Ilsa, and Vanessa Kirby is back as the arms dealer White Widow who had a moment with Ethan in the last film. Pom Klementieff is a badass martial-arts expert intent on bringing down Ethan at the behest of Hunt’s scary nemesis Gabriel (Esai Morales), while Hayley Atwell brings her English sang-froid to the role of Grace, a criminal who meets-cute with Ethan and becomes a gutsy part of the team.

Related: Why Dead Reckoning is the most uncannily topical Mission: Impossible film yet

Of course, we have the traditional analogue-era scenes of Cruise sprinting, as well as the rubber masks, with a new comedy emphasis on people suspiciously tugging at people’s faces to see if they are for real – although a slightly goofy plot quirk at one stage requires Benji’s plastic-mask-fabricating machine, a bit like a waffle maker, to go terribly wrong.

In the past I have been agnostic and a nay-sayer about M:I, but the pure fun involved in this film, its silly-serious alchemy, and the way the franchise seems to strain at something crazily bigger with every film, as opposed to just winding down, is something to wonder at.

• Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is released on 8 July in Australia, 12 July in the UK and the US.