Major spoilers ahead for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One. You’ve been warned.
The Mission: Impossible movies are truly unique in that they’ve only gotten better over time. Directors J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird both made solid entries (Ghost Protocol is still my personal favorite). But once writer/director Christopher McQuarrie took the helm, he took the franchise to a new level that’s seen incredible success, not only financially but also in quality, which is something that almost never happens.
This is not to downplay the heart-and-soul contributions of Tom Cruise. I mean, come on. There is almost nothing this guy won’t do to entertain you. He puts his very life at risk just to make you gasp and laugh and cry. As far as movie stars go, he’s the pinnacle. In a class all by himself. And what’s most amazing is that he’s showing no signs of slowing down. At least, not until Mission: Impossible has finally wrapped. Then I guess he might actually sit down for a minute. Maybe even take a nap.
Anyway, so Dead Reckoning Part One begins on board a Russian submarine, the Sevastopol. They’re carrying precious cargo, a new computer that’s accessed by a special cruciform key that splits in half. The captain wears one and his XO the other. The crew detects an enemy sub nearby that sees them and launches torpedoes, so the Russian crew launches their own torpedoes. But only then do they discover that the enemy sub and its torpedoes have disappeared off their screens. And then their own torpedoes circle back and hit them, sinking the sub and killing everyone on board.
Then we cut to a food delivery guy dropping off a package for our hero, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Turns out the delivery guy is a new IMF agent, and Ethan welcomes him to their crazy family. Ethan listens to the message, from none other than Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), whom you might remember from the very first M:I flick. Ethan’s mission, should he choose to accept it, is to find the cruciform key. One half of it has somehow fallen into the hands of his ally and sort-of girlfriend, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who now has a $50 million bounty on her head. Oh, and one more point – Ethan will be going up against someone from his murky past, who’s also out for the key.
Ethan travels to Namibia and finds Ilsa holed up in some ruined building. But there are also mercenaries out there with him looking for her. There’s a great action piece as a sandstorm rips through and Ethan has to get to Ilsa before they do. Ilsa does some impressive sharpshooting (sporting a badass eyepatch) to take some of them out, but by the time Ethan gets to her, she’s been shot.
Cut to Kittridge meeting with a bunch of colleagues, led by a guy named Denlinger (Cary Elwes). They’re all there to discuss the computer device, which they’re calling “The Entity.” It’s basically A.I. gone rogue, kinda Skynet-like. Since it can be pretty much everywhere at all times, there’s really no way to destroy it. So all they can hope to do is control it, which means getting that key.
Then suddenly, everyone gets knocked out by these nifty exploding gas bombs. Turns out Ethan was there the whole time, wearing one of IMF’s famous masks. He spared Kittridge, though, and tells him that he knows he was the one who put the bounty out on Ilsa. And Ilsa, not surprisingly, didn’t actually die out there in the desert. She gave her half of the key to Ethan and took off.
Kittridge warns Ethan that he’s heading out on a mission the likes of which he’s never dealt with before. Ethan’s like, yeah, okay, whatever, and then shoots him with a tranquilizer dart before putting on another mask – of Kittridge, so he can get out of the building safely.
Ethan then gathers his partners in crime, Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg). They find out there’s a buyer for the other half of the key, who’s going to be at the airport in Abu Dhabi. As they head there, Kittridge sends his own heavies after Ethan, Briggs (Shea Whigham) and Degas (Greg Tarzan Davis).
While Benji and Luther do their techie genius thing to distract Briggs and Degas, Ethan goes after the key. But a thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell) appears and steals the half-key. Ethan catches up to her and they both discover that the buyer’s been killed.
As all this is going on, Benji and Luther discover a guy who has a bomb in his carry-on. They try to handle that at the same time as they’re handling Ethan. Benji finds the bag in the massive luggage handling area, and the device has this weird puzzle lock. It requires truthful answers to its questions, and is somehow able to use that information to figure out who’s trying to access it. So yeah, it’s the Entity messing with them, as Benji discovers there’s no bomb.
Meanwhile, Ethan’s surprised and disoriented when he sees someone there from his past, just as Kittridge warned. The guy’s name is Gabriel (Esai Morales), and he disappears just as quickly as he showed up. Ethan loses track of Grace and has to outrun Briggs and Degas.
The guys find Grace in Rome, where she’s been caught and arrested. Turns out she’s got a long history of thievery all over the world. But then her lawyer shows up – her lawyer being Ethan, of course. Grace admits she’s been hired by an anonymous third party to get that other half of the key. But they’re not the only ones chasing it.
Ethan and Grace snag a police car, but are chased not only by the authorities but also by a crazy assassin named Paris (Pom Klementieff). She runs them down in this jacked-up, armored Hummer that basically rams its way through anything in its path. Ethan finds a car that the Entity can’t control – a teeny, tiny yellow Fiat. Aww, so cute. And he and Grace, now handcuffed together because of course they need another challenge, lead the police and Paris on a merry, messy, insane chase all over Rome. At the end of which, Grace pulls a fast one and manages to slip away again.
Ethan regroups with the team, including Ilsa, and tells them about Gabriel. Way back when, he killed someone Ethan was close to. The team also finds out that Gabriel will be at a big party in Venice that’s being put on by none other than the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) from Fallout. When they get to the party, all the characters meet up with the Widow and her brother Zola (Frederick Schmidt).
Turns out it was the Widow who hired Grace. But Gabriel tells them all about the Entity, and how it’s not only watching them, but it also engineered the whole party to bring them all together. Gabriel talks about how the Entity sees all possible outcomes to the situation – and that either Grace or Ilsa will die before the night’s over. Ethan tries to convince the Widow to join their side of the fight. But she’s only out for her own interests, which means giving the Entity what it wants.
Everybody scatters then, and Ethan goes after Grace – but gets sidetracked by the Entity, which poses as Benji’s voice in his ear, sending him down the wrong path. He gets corralled into a close quarters fight with Paris and another heavy. Meanwhile, Grace gets snatched up by Gabriel, but Ilsa finds them at the bridge and gets into a fight with Gabriel. Ethan emerges from the fight, leaving Paris defeated but alive. Then he runs to the bridge, only to find Ilsa dead. Really dead this time.
Grace joins the team as they regroup, all of them stunned by Ilsa’s death. Grace feels responsible (as well she should), but the guys welcome her to the team. In order to defeat the Entity, Luther decides he has to leave the group and find some place off the grid that the Entity can’t infiltrate, somewhere where he can dissect its code. But he warns Ethan that he can’t kill Gabriel, no matter how vengeful he feels. Because only Gabriel knows why the Entity needs that key.
So they discover that White Widow will be meeting her buyer on the Orient Express. The guys make a mask for Grace to double as the Widow. But the mask-making machine craps out in the middle of making the mask for Ethan to double as Zola. So they have to come up with a new plan.
Gabriel and Paris board the train, and Gabriel kills the conductor and rigs the controls so that the train plows ahead at top speed. Then they meet up with Denlinger, who’s also there for the key and tells them about how the Entity took control of the Russian sub and caused the crew to sink their own boat. Denlinger tells Gabriel he knows exactly where the sub is. Gabriel’s answer to that is to kill Denlinger. Then he moves against Paris, saying that he knows she will betray him. He stabs her and leaves her to die.
Meanwhile, Grace is doubling as White Widow and meets up with the buyer, who’s none other than Kittridge. Grace thinks about taking the money and running, but realizes she’d basically be selling her soul. She takes the key instead – but then the real White Widow wakes up and she’s busted. Things are looking bad for Grace – but then Ethan shows up, crashing through the window after doing that bonkers, death-defying motorcycle jump that you’ve no doubt already heard about.
Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget Jasper and Briggs. They’re on the train too, of course. So Ethan sends Grace to the front of the train to try and stop it. Gabriel manages to slip away and arms the bombs he set on the bridge they’re coming up on. As Jasper and Briggs move all the passengers to the back, Ethan and Grace unhook the locomotive from the rest of the train.
The bridge blows, which forces Ethan and Grace to climb their way up through each car as it goes over, in another crazy-cool, gravity-defying action piece. It’s not looking good for our heroes though, as they’re just about to fall – until Paris saves them. With her last breaths, she tells Ethan he needs to find the Sevastopol.
And while Ethan escapes capture by Jasper and Briggs, Grace goes to Kittridge and tells him that Ethan told her she’d be given a choice. She chooses to accept the mission and join the IMF. Meanwhile, Gabriel soon discovers that what he thought was the key in his pocket is actually just a lighter. He’s none too happy about that. Ethan finds Benji and together they head off on the new mission, to find the Russian sub. Good luck, Ethan.
It’s no small feat to consistently come up with action sequences that not only maintain the level of what’s already been done, but also surpass it. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning does this with seeming ease, though, and it’s a delight to watch. So many, much kudos to McQuarrie, Cruise and their crew for creating something so thrilling and fun.
That said, I do have one big issue with the flick story-wise. I’m incredibly bummed by the elimination of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa. That character grew over the course of two movies into an awesome, multi-faceted heroine who was the closest thing to a perfect match for Ethan. And while I suppose it’s in keeping with Ethan’s character that he’s doomed to never have a love life, Ilsa’s death was not just romantically tragic. It was something that, in my opinion, shouldn’t have happened. At least, not in this way.
And as awesome as Hayley Atwell is – I mean, come on. She was Peggy Carter. She gets coolness points for life for that – but as a character, I just don’t think Grace is as interesting or as cool as Ilsa was. In fact, I found her to be kind of annoying. And maybe that’s something the character will grow out of in part two – but even if she does, Grace will never be a substitute for Ilsa. Her absence will be deeply felt in the last installment, as a character who deserved to finish out the journey.
On the whole, though, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is 100% pure, concentrated fun. It’s the reason why we go to the movies. And hopefully, as Tom Cruise has been promoting so hard, its success will help to ensure that the theater experience is never allowed to fade away.