Barbie vs Oppenheimer may be the summer showdown everyone’s talking about, but one movie legend would like to remind you that he’s back.
Despite some occasional headline-grabbing bouts of odd behaviour, Tom Cruise is one of the last true movie stars, someone who can get crowds to turn up based on his name alone. But with both Indiana Jones and Batman meeting muted responses this year, does the nostalgia of his flagship Mission Impossible franchise still hold up?
The terribly titled Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part 1 is the seventh film in the spy franchise. It sees IMF agent (it stands for Impossible Mission Force, not International Monetary Fund, although the latter would be a movie City A.M. could get behind) Ethan Hunt brought out of hiding to save the world from The Entity, a genius-level Artificial Intelligence that has gained sentience and gone rogue.
Various governments around the world want the tech for themselves, and Hunt must best both them and The Entity itself.
Making AI the villain of the movie is a double-edged sword. It’s certainly a topical choice, with the whole world speculating on what the rapidly evolving space might mean for our species.
On the other hand, computer programs do not lend themselves particularly well to the visual medium of film. Here, a flashy name and wavy computer display give The Entity some presence, but after Sean Harris and Henry Cavill respectively impressed as M:I villains, something is missing this time around.
Esai Morales is menacing as The Entity’s human advocate, a man with a connection to Ethan’s past, and there’s a delightful henchwoman in Marvel actor Pom Klementieff, who plays the deadly assassin Paris. However, a flesh-and-bones mastermind would have completed the picture.
What isn’t missing is action. The film comes in at just under three hours, and it’s no exaggeration to say that half of it is made up of set pieces. Whether he’s engaged in a tense cat-and-mouse chase around an airport or facing off against scooters in Italy, Cruise proves he can still deliver thrills almost three decades on.
This is all complemented by the kind of taut spy yarn that kickstarted the franchise, with the original 1996 Brian De Palma film being referenced through both camera work and the return of Henry Czerny as former IMF director Eugene Kittridge.
But a shaky reliance to twists and turns, conveyed through a series of whispered meetings about the fate of the world, leads a ludicrously over-plotted film; it ends on a cliffhanger that will be lost on you if you weren’t paying close attention.
Still, masterful storytelling isn’t why the crowds come. For the seventh time, Cruise proves himself an all-action hero and even sprinkles in some comedy with the help of new co-star Hatley Atwell. The British star plays a professional thief caught up in the espionage, and brings verve and energy to an otherwise underwritten role.
Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames are still on fine form as Ethan’s back-up men, while Rebecca Ferguson makes a thin return as his beloved co-agent, Ilsa. One female character who doesn’t feel like an afterthought is Vanessa Kirby as arms dealer Alanna, exuding charisma in a number of great scenes.
Director Christopher McQuarrie raised the bar with previous Mission movies Ghost Protocol and Fallout. Here, he falls short of that high standard, delivering a blockbuster that’s always thrilling but never groundbreaking. I expect more from next year’s Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning – Part 2 (and I’ll still hate the title when it comes out).