To Catch a Thief

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part 1

It's fun watching Tom Cruise do dumb shit on the big screen. If that's all you want out of a Tom Cruise movie, and that includes basically every Mission: ImpossibleIntroduced in 1966, the original Mission: Impossible featured a team of agents (with varying skills) heading out into the field to solve puzzle-box like cases on a weekly basis. This simple concept spawned a long-running series, a second series in the 1980s, and a hugely successful movie franchise starring Tom Cruise that continues today. impossible movie made since 1996's first one, then the seventh film in the series, Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part 1, delivers everything you're looking for. That's the review: Tom Cruise does dumb shit and it looks awesome. Feel free to go see the movie now.

With that said, it's arguable if this is the strongest film in the series to date. This is, in large part, because the series had been essentially firing on all cylinders since Mission: Impossible III. That film, helmed by J. J. Abrams, helped to solidify the look and feel of the series into the form we have now. Since then, there have been fantastic entries with amazing stunts -- the Burj Khalifa climb in Ghost Protocol, Hunt scaling a plan in mid-flight from the outside in Rogue Nation, the entire last act, with the helicopters in Fallout -- and the series has regularly met expectations time and again, both on the story front as well as with its action. It's a solid series that delivers.

All that being the case, this seventh entry does have a steep hill to climb. It has to deliver some of the most amazing action we've seen yet, all without replaying stunts we've seen before, and in the process it has to give us a great story that we can once again latch onto. Arguably the film does a better job with its action than its story, relying on cliches for the franchise that are really starting to get played out. The film is a great action spectacular at times, but it does feel like maybe, just maybe, the series is starting to run out of a little bit of steam. And, at 61 years old, maybe Cruise should consider letting newer actors take the reins of his franchise to usher it into the next phase.

That is not a critique of Cruise here, in this film. He's still at the top of his game, running around like a mad man while shit blows up all around him. But he does look more tired, more haggard, more like someone that really should have taken a desk job five or so years back. The immortal, boyish looks are starting to wear, and it's getting harder and harder to really believe that this guy is an absolute super-soldier and master spy. Cruise can play the hell out of the secret agent part of the role, even now, but while he's clearly still game to do all his own stunts (and he does here), it's harder to think that he can really survive all of it without a lot of Hollywood trickery and safety protocols. Something, in essence, is missing here.

That was a vibe that I got during two of the big action set pieces this time around. The first major event came during a car chase through downtown Rome. The chase's setup is great, and Cruise and newcomer to the series Hayley Atwell seems to be doing all the stunts they can. But the action is filmed in such a way that much of the tension is missing. It's shot too close, with too many edits, to make you believe the actors are really doing everything. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't, but it all feels very safe and controlled in a way you don't want from a thrilling chase sequence. The vibe is all wrong.

Then there's the biggest stunt of the film, a motorcycle jump that was billed as the most dangerous stunt yet performed in the series. No doubt, a base jump off of a motorcycle and out to a moving train really would be super dangerous. It's not filmed that way, though. The main jump is performed, and it's decent looking (although filmed from an upper angle so you can't really get the sense of scale. But then it's edited, cut to closer shots so the sense of gravity is lost. And that's to say nothing of the jump gliding in for the train, a sequence that absolutely would be too dangerous to film in reality, so the movie doesn't even try. The jump itself looks cool, but it doesn't lead to a truly satisfying action sequence no matter how much Cruise tried to pump it up to audiences.

It's a pity those sequences, that were actually hyped up, fell flat (or, at least, flatter than they should have) because there are great action moments in the film that aren't even really discussed. An early foot chase sequence through an airport is tense without being flashy. There's set of fights in the back alleys of Venice that have a ton of impact and feel very raw. And there's the final sequence of the film, with the heroes scaling the back cars of a train as they slowly slide off a sheer drop. That was a showstopper, and it really capped the movie perfectly. Those are the sequence I wanted in a Mission: Impossible film and it did deliver.

But then we have to get to the story and this, frankly, is the weakest part. It's not a bad idea, in concept. Hunt has to go and track down two pieces of a key that can be used to unlock the safe keeping spot of a hostile A.I. Meanwhile, the A.I. keeps sending its agents after Hunt and his team, always three steps ahead of everything they do because it can predict all outcomes. To fight the A.I., the team has to be fast, nimble, and unpredictable... and even then, they still might lose.

Although the sci-fi twist is a little over-the-top for the franchise, admittedly the films have never shied away from a bit of the fantastic. The big issue I have, though, is that I've already seen this story before. It's basically a two hour version of the whole arc of Person of Interest (a series I liked a lot more before lead actor Jim Caviezel was revealed to be a far right whack job). The only real differences is that instead of a good A.I. fighting a bad A.I., it's just humans doing the job on their own. That didn't change the vibe that I've seen this story before (and considering J.J. Abrams was involved in that TV show, and has had a hand in four of the last seven films, that seems all too coincidental).

Now, the story is thrilling at times. And there are some great moments in the movie. I like the introduction of Atwell's Grace, a thief who gets wrapped up in the team's big mission (because she keeps stealing the key and running away), and Atwell seems more than happy to do all the stunts requested of her, handling it all with aplomb. Of course, Atwell playing a charismatic super-spy isn't really a stretch for her considering all the time she's spent over the last 15-plus years playing Agent Peggy Carter over in the Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe.. Hell, Atwell as a super-spy is probably the most believable and grounded part of this whole film. If they decide she should become the new face of the franchise, taking over from Cruise's Ethan Hunt eventually, I welcome that.

I think the friendship developed between all the major players -- Cruise's Hunt, Ving Rhames's Luther Stickell, Simon Pegg's Benji Dunn, and Rebecca Ferguson's Ilsa Faust -- is fantastic. These are actors that have been playing these roles for a while (Cruise and Rhames since the first film, Pegg since the third, Ferguson since the fourth). The roles are lived in and it's great to have these people back, time and again, to keep the franchise feeling cared for and familiar. It just wouldn't be this franchise without these guys... at least until they all decide to retire and pass the series off to the next crew.

The flaws I see are with a franchise that has gone on for a long time and that is struggling to figure out how to keep topping itself while telling the same kinds of stories (this is a critique that can also be lobbed at the other super-spy franchise currently in theaters, The Fast and the FuriousStarted as a film about undercover policing in the illegal street-racing community, this series has grown to encompass a number of different genres and become one of the most bankable franchises in the world.). We've seen these kinds of adventures before, and done with similar beats even. A team forced to work on their own because their government disavows them. A car chase through a European city. A big fight on a train. The series has done all these beats, and done them well, and while they're done well here, too, they aren't as fresh or interesting anymore. The series has built up some cruft and is starting to feel, if ever so slightly, a bit tired.

I liked this film and would gladly watch it again. I think anyone that has enjoyed this franchise up until now will find a lot to like in this seventh entry. But, once the eighth comes to theaters, I think the franchise heads would be wise to let the main team here walk off into the sunset while the next crew takes over. Cruise has said he wants to keep making these (even after saying these two films, Part 1 and Part 2, would be send-off for his character). I think that's a mistake. Sure, Hunt can come back, but he should be an advisor to the new team. Grace, or whoever, should take over and we should get new adventures with new tropes and a new, fresh angle on these stories. We need something new. Let the old guard take the franchise home with their familiar stories. And then, after this, it'll be time to reinvent again.