Director: Christopher McQuarrie Screenwriter: Christopher McQuarrie, Erik Jendresen Cast: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Vanessa Kirby, Henry Czerny Distributor: Paramount Pictures Running Time: 163 min. MPAA: PG-13

Now in its seventh entry, Mission: Impossible remains one of the most exhilarating action-spy franchises. Though a long way from its simpler roots of the 1960s TV series and the dense structure of the 1990s Brian de Palama picture, the seventh film maintains the high coming off the impressive sixth entry. The stakes get higher, the stunts more elaborate, the plots more thick, and the twists more abundant. In other words, it’s everything you’ve come to expect and love from the MI movies.

This entry has a little more intrigue beyond the fact that it’s the first of a two-parter finale (the sequel de jour of 2023). Instead of trying to stop a terrorist organization from getting its hands on some nukes, this time, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) needs to combat artificial intelligence. Dubbed The Entity, this secretive and sentient program has become defensive and offensive to preserve its life. With all the world’s intelligence at risk, Ethan and company are called back into action, doing what the IMF does best.

It’s fitting that the series poses a villain all about predictability. The Entity, learning from data and the film franchise itself, tries to outsmart Ethan from finding the AI’s whereabouts. The AI also makes a great choice for finding a human puppet, relying on the vicious Gabriel (Esai Morales) to ensure Ethan’s demise. Given Gabriel’s history with Hunt and his penchant for emotionally breaking the agent, there’s more of that constant concern that Ethan won’t be able to save everyone and pushes them aside.

Of course, they can’t stay away, given that the IMF cohorts are like boomerangs. Rebecca Ferguson is back as the crack-shot Ilsa Faust, despite how much Hunt wants to keep her in the shadows and out of the dangerous hunt for the MacGuffins of this adventure. Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg bring their usual comradery amid tech as operatives Luther and Benji. Their concerns for safety and smarts with tracking technologies make them ideal companions for this picture, making the old cliche of riddle-wrapped nuke disarmament all the more intense for the two of them. Another old rival, Alanna Mitsopolis (Vanessa Kirby), further complicates the mission as she’s also after the keys to the future of AI.

Adding some extra character into the mix is the addition of Grace (Hayley Atwell), a thief who runs across Ethan amid an infiltration of a trade. They have some great back-and-forth amid a daring escape from dangerous men on both sides of the law. She also becomes a more interesting character for existing as an outsider, deeply questioning how safe she is going along on this mission. As past films have proven, rarely does a plan work out. Something breaks, someone doesn’t show up, some other factor gets in the way, and everybody has to improvise. It makes sense that when an uncertain Grace asks if the IMF’ll protect her for her involvement, Hunt remarks that he can’t. His track record has proven otherwise, especially with the events in this film.

Of course, the big draw is the stunts, which do not disappoint. The highlight is the climax in which Cruise makes a daring motorcycle jump off a towering cliff and descends to land on a train. The reality of this stunt is beautifully portrayed on the screen, and it’s just as dazzling as previous MI pictures. There’s also a fight atop the train, which, compared to the recent Indiana Jones film with a similar scene, really backs a wallop for the mounting danger and questioning alliances.

There’s also much more silliness in this entry. Consider how Ethan enters the train and dispatches the bad guys in a manner that feels less like a secret agent and more like Inspector Clouseau. There’s also a car chase sequence involving a yellow Fiat and handcuffs with so many mishaps in the bumbling of escape that it’s sure to draw comparisons to the absurd Lupin The Third. I suppose it’s fitting for a film like this, where the antagonist is an entity that tries to predict every move. When most of Ethan’s moves seem almost by accident, maybe dumb luck is just what he needs to save the day. It’s also just plain fun and exciting filmmaking.

Dead Reckoning Part One packs in everything that makes Mission: Impossible so impressive and rarely rests on its stunt-infused laurels to push this saga further. I doubt I’m saying much of anything new here. These films pretty much all have the same premise and promises that they’ve more or less lived up to since Ghost Protocol. At this point, it’s mostly impressive how much more can be thrown into the mix. With a longer running time and half a story, there’s rarely a dull moment as the picture builds up a beautiful bouquet of fight scenes, chases, globetrotting, double-crosses, triple-crosses, twists, and engrossing characters. The fact that there’s more on the way with Part Two only sweetens the explosive end.

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