MI7 is a movie with a really long title, which I refuse to say, and an even longer runtime. Both could use some trimming, but it doesn’t stop this inexplicable 7th entry from racing to action-movie greatness like a runaway train. The story, as much as it evens matters, sees Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) once again team with a rogue group of super-spies who have been tasked with obtaining a technologically advanced key. What we know about the key is that it’s made up of two halves, which are currently separated and need to be reunited in order for it to perform whatever its function is.
Many are already familiar with what this represents – the undefined MacGuffin. We don’t know what it does. It isn’t really important to the plot and is really just a jumping-off point for the movie’s events. A voice, early on, even tells the characters and the audience not to concern themselves with what it does. Except, Ethan Hunt has done this song & dance enough in his life; he actually WANTS to know what the key does, and his curiosity will either jeopardize the entire mission or it may just save the world.
If you’ve seen any of these movies before, you’re familiar with how manic they can be in regard to changing stakes and changing allegiances. The latest is no different, as Hunt takes on this mission, directed by his agency IMF, knowing full well that said agency has betrayed him in the past and that there’s always some extracurricular bullshit going on with their motives. The series also loves its femme fatales, pitting Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) and Grace (Hayley Atwell) as dual foils whose allegiance to Hunt belie their own individual interests.
Basically, everyone here vacillates between team player and selfish bounty hunter, all fighting for their autonomy in a system that uses them as pawns. This is Hunt’s primary motivation for wanting to find the purpose of The Key; to become an active controller of one’s own destiny rather than an instrument for someone else’s agenda. A clear nod to and subversion of other MacGuffins in the series, most notably the Rabbit’s Foot in Mission: Impossible III (2006). Opposing Hunt, this time, is a knife-wielding psychopath who shares a history with Ethan. We know he’s a psycho because the only reason to carry a knife around amid gun warfare is if you prefer to watch your enemies die slowly.
However, some of the battles are a bit too ‘stagey’, such as when Ilsa decides to fight the bad guy alone… just because it’s really not necessary or integral to anything going on. Perhaps this is a statement on Ilsa and her lack of fear, contrasted with Benji’s (Simon Pegg) earlier admission that he very much feared death. In addition, the film is so trope-heavy with its use of various misdirection tactics that it can be a little off-putting to those who’ve seen these tricks many times before. I still don’t know if it’s good that I’m actively aware that one of the characters is going to take off their mask and reveal their (*GASP*) shocking identity~! There’s a fine balance between playing the hits and relegating them to a re-run. However, the movie keeps things fresh by showcasing how much technology, algorithms, and AI can influence the methods of the spy game. We get a preview of this evolution early on, as a Russian submarine is the setting for an intriguing but brutal game of cat and mouse, showcasing that it’s never been more imperative to possess more brain than brawn.
It’s difficult to separate the hype of this movie, as well as the approval rating of Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie, from the rapturous success of Top Gun: Maverick. Cruise’s 1980s follow-up, which was co-written by McQuarrie, was one of the best films of the year, if not the very best, but part of its popularity is related to how unoffensive it is, allowing viewers to sink into archetypes rather than definitive statements. Dead Reckoning is similarly sanitized, matching the tone (and sometimes, the cinematography) of those procedural dramas your parents watch on CBS or Paramount+. That is until the movie propositions the characters, and thus the audience, to choose between the two female leads – then it gets a little gamey. A weird storytelling choice that’s exacerbated by a zig-zag character arc for Ilsa, where the film’s teases about the character’s fate don’t entirely land.
Dead Reckoning Part One won’t be remembered as the best Mission: Impossible. But for a series that prides itself on consistency and bringing you state-of-the-art effects mixed with traditional practical elements, Dead Reckoning is as thrilling and engaging as any of these entries. With each entry, Cruise sets out to wow the audience with high-wire stunts, and it’s up to McQuarrie to get these explosive setpieces to make sense within the story. Therefore, if Cruise wants to drive a motorcycle off a cliff with a parachute waiting to be dispatched, McQuarrie can get you there by making the insane action necessary in a race again, time to save lives. Similar execution is utilized for a harrowing train derailment sequence, and one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen – mixed with, of all things, a nod to Battleship Potemkin (1925). I don’t know if the next movie will be the last or how much this franchise has left to give. None of that matters in the present – in a Hollywood full of increasing uncertainty and greed, sometimes it’s OK to lose yourself in a reliable series that hits its objective (nearly) every time.