First off, let’s tackle the obvious issue: this is the third ‘Part One’ of the Summer – but a) advance publicity made sure everyone knew that going in so you don’t get the groans that greeted the ‘to be continued’ captions at the end of Fast X or Across the Spider-Verse and b) this looks to the only really satisfying two-parter of recent years (Avengers Infinity War) by delivering a last act that feels like the end of a film and doesn’t send you out with everything up in the air. Arguably, it resolves more than many modern-era franchise films which do so much foreshadowing of sequels as yet ungreenlit that they sometimes forget to tell the story they’re supposed to be concentrating on properly. It pays off some things that have been in the mix since Brian DePalma’s Mission: Impossible (1996) – welcome back, Henry Czerny as Eugene Kittridge – and have been building over the series since Christopher McQuarrie took over three movies back – yes, Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust is still on/off the team – while also serving as a reasonably jumping on point for audiences who aren’t yet familiar with Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt’s habit of jumping off things.
Within the confines of this take on Bruce Geller’s TV series, Dead Reckoning Part One is a solid entry – it has a kerfuffle of set-up scenes (a Red October-type Russian sub in trouble, a conclave of US intel types played by the likes of Mark Gatiss and Indira Varma worrying about something called ‘the Entity’) before we get to Ethan (Cruise), who now has a whole new bunch of backstory stuff tipped in from various iterations of Wolverine … never-before-mentioned arch-nemesis Gabriel (Esai Morales) inspired once-dodgy Ethan to become an impossible mission man by murdering his girlfriend (Mariela Garriga’s big break – playing a dying woman) and indeed seems intent on doing away with his possible love interests to teach him a lesson or as a way of evil flirting (this might explain why Thandiwe Newton and Paula Patton have never returned to the series). Anyway, this impossible mission involves a rogue AI and a two-piece mcguffin (a trinket-like key) with awesome powers for evil – and thief Grace (Hayley Atwell) pickpockets it at an airport, getting mixed up with Ethan and his two tech guys (keeping Simon Pegg around seems a bit unfair to Ving Rhames, who had the gig nailed down, but there’s some bickering on the subject) as they are caught between several bad guy factions and the plodders of the CIA who are understandably fed up with the IMF going rogue yet again.
New to this instalment, and very welcome are Pom Klementieff as a maniacal Francophone hit person called Paris – a reboot of the character Leonard Nimoy played on the TV show? – and Shea Whigham as the fed-up by-the-book agent out to bring in Hunt & Co. Cary Elwes is the latest office-sitting superior, but this series has run through a bunch of those – Anthony Hopkins, Tom Wilkinson, Alec Baldwin, Angela Bassett – that it’s probably not a good idea to get too used to him. The script has a few themes – it’s the most science-fictional M:I to date – but they mostly feel like riffs on the Bourne or Bond (specifically Casino Royale) sagas. The point is the chase … and the film is kinetic in the extreme, constantly rushing around locations (Rome and Venice get a work-out) with non-stop fights, stunts and chases. The twists and turns of the impossible missions fall a bit by the wayside, though there are impersonations and legerdemain, but action rushes in to fill the spaces. This year, we’ve had a John Wick, a Fast/Furious and an Indiana Jones, so you’d think we’d had enough brutal fights in tourist locations (there’s a great one in a very narrow Italian alley), car chases around the same (we even see some of the same places trashed in Fast X get a pasting again) and hanging off the roof of speeding trains … but the quality here is exceptional.
The smartest decision the film makes – possibly on the model of Skyfall – is to devote what feels like an entire movie to a single-location climax, which gets all the characters together (on the Orient Express, of course) and delivers both who’s-got-the-key plottiness (Vanessa Kirby is back as the middle-woman) and Buster Keaton-level train stunts. Pretty much every permutation of fighting on or around a speeding runaway train – with a bridge due to blow up over a mountain pass – is delivered forcefully, with Cruise’s Hunt overcoming token qualms about the suicidal idiocy of his actions and Atwell’s Grace hanging off his arm (and a lot of bits of the luxury train).
Is the Orient Express still a coal-powered steam choo-choo? In this universe it is. Do the people who record those ‘should you choose to accept it’ messages have the same problem with his name BBC announcers have with Jeremy Hunt and have to do multiple takes? Not if Tom Cruise has anything to do with it.