After gunning down hired assassins in the blinding dust and windswept empty quarter of an Arabian desert, infiltrating the American defence department’s intelligence meeting, and fooling Abu Dhabi’s security systems while taking out a bomb threat, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) — handcuffed to the nifty thief Grace (Haley Atwell) — finds a getaway vehicle in Rome: a tiny, bright yellow Fiat 500 from the 1970s.

The sequence plays like comedy relief — Ethan’s hands are handcuffed to Grace’s as the little bug-like car tumbles over the Spanish Stairs straight into the Piazza di Spagna, slips into the city’s asphyxiating narrow passages and destroys property in a chase that also includes bikes, cars, a lot of foreign spies and bullet holes.

A similar sequence happened earlier this year with Fast X, though it wasn’t as fun; but then again, there is a difference between Mission: Impossible and the Fast movies. The lighter tone of the Rome chase in Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One (that’s a mouthful), becomes a brief reprieve in a film that takes world-ending catastrophes quite seriously.

On the surface, Dead Reckoning Part One brings nothing new to spy-movies — Ethan chases two parts of a key that can kill a rogue A.I. programme capable of destroying the world, while fending off an old enemy from his past — but what it does very effectively is give the gravitas legit emotion. More often than not, one feels the gravity of the dilemmas Ethan and his team go through; the value of that sensation alone is worth the price of admission.

Your fi nal mission, should you choose to accept it, is to catch likely the last of the great blockbuster

The score, cinematography, editing, production design, screenwriting, direction — credited to Lorne Balfe, Fraser Taggert, Eddie Hamilton, Gary Freeman, Erik Jendresen and Christopher McQuarrie respectively — have two agendas: make the routine feel genuine while delivering a summer blockbuster.

The exercise is a success, ladies and gentlemen, because Tom Cruise, and his strict policy of producing quality films, trumps dull, repetitive filmmaking.

McQuarrie, a regular of his team, is a dependable writer-director who thrives under Cruise’s support (he has written and directed Mission: Impossible: Fallout, MI: Rogue Nation and Jack Reacher, and has screenwriting credits on Top Gun: Maverick, The Mummy, Edge of Tomorrow and Valkyrie). In Dead Reckoning Part One, one can see McQuarrie indulge in, and perhaps also pay homage to, Brian Di Palma’s noir-ish style from the first Mission: Impossible.

The shift in mood, coupled with action sequences that take their time in panning out the spectacle, give Cruise and his regular co-stars Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson brief but valuable space as Cruise tumbles, rolls and skydives in daredevil sequences that seem more improbable than impossible.

For that reason — since most of it is painstaking and real, and not a titivated byproduct of fake computer imagery — the action captures your attention. The set-pieces, full of adrenaline yet not overwhelming, take a moment to breathe as the choreography and the edit do not whelm the senses with spruced, haywire cuts. One gets ample time to see and absorb the action, even when it’s a simple fisticuff in a constricted alleyway that barely allows one’s shoulder through without grazing.

Somewhere in Dead Reckoning Part One’s story is the topical message about the power and abuse of artificial intelligence (AI), and how the possibility of such an ‘Entity’ (the name the rogue programme gave itself) isn’t relegated to science fiction anymore. The Entity, with its swirling tendrils and a blackhole-like centre, is malevolent, all-seeing and everywhere, like the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. Ethan sees it on the huge screens at a posh disco, or runs under a projection of its image on a building during an intense high-point.

The billions of computations the AI makes outflanks Cruise’s team, and its machinations — and the necessity to kill it — leads smoothly into Dead Reckoning Part Two. Like Part One, it will likely be unmissable. Given the quality of theatrically released movies, this may likely be the last of the great blockbusters. Buy a ticket and cherish the memory.

Playing in cinemas now, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is rated U and is suitable for audiences of all ages

Published in Dawn, ICON, July 23th, 2023

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