–Arts and letters for the modern age–

Cathode Ray Zone

–Arts and Letters for the Modern Age–

Tom Cruise Cranks Mission: Impossible Movies to Diminishing Returns

by | Jul 8, 2023

I’m not one to rate films with multiple sequels per se. For instance, making lists of the best films from a particular title, like the best Rocky or Star Trek movies doesn’t provoke interest in my neck of the woods.

I know what I like and as far as M:I goes, the ones I rewatch are the De Palma Mission: Impossible and the previous release,  Mission: Impossible – Fallout. It’s not often you have a title with a colon followed by a hyphen.

The seventh in the series Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One presents the most ambivalent story yet for the rogue intelligence team. Despite spy tropes that propel the film and above average production values, the plot revolves around a concept crying out for a science fiction genre switcheroo.

There’s an AI computer on a Russian submarine that’s achieved sentience. The opening sequence depicts the computer faking out the sub crew with a simulated attack. The computer can only be approached with two keys. The mission involves retrieving the two keys. It’s a rogue computer that can only be defeated by a rogue team of secret agents.

Perhaps most cleverly M:I – DRPO spends an entire reel with the sub only to shift to an intriguing CIA debriefing meeting complete with people we won’t see again except Kittridge (Henry Czerny from the first Mission: Impossible). Only then does the film shift into overdrive with the popular theme and the television style montage that teases flash cuts of future action.

It’s a device associated with M:I and the theme song, alongside the theme to Hawaii Five-O, has the catchiest beat of any modern entertainment cue. In four notes there’s instant recognition of the tune. The original single hit number 41 on the Top 40 in 1967. It was awarded a Grammy the following year.

The same can’t be said of the story that tries to generate excitement with characters purloining the keys in various exotic places like Rome and Vienna. There are entire sequences where the key in question is pickpocketed back and forth or appears via sleight-of-hand. Seems like that would’ve worked better in a sequel for Now You See Me.

Part of the attraction of the franchise is guessing what stunt will Cruise do next. A much publicized motorcycle-off-a-cliff-parachute jump plays nicely into a second act bravado. Yet the stunt only reminds as a replay of the opening of the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me.

(It’s hard to conceive of a stunt more hair raising than in the movie Cliffhanger where a stunt man crossed between two jet planes at 15,000 on a zip line. The film bonding company refused to insure the stunt so star Stallone reduced his salary $1-million to cover the cost. Simon Crane was the stunt man.)

With the M:I franchise Cruise has a license to thrill and sets the bar higher for each film. Haley Atwell, a new addition to the cast matches Cruise in wits and even in some scenes brawn. With so many IMF team regulars it’s not a surprise that some are expendable.

Flashback to the first Mission: Impossible with its massive train sequence that took up most of the third act. In a nod to Buster Keaton’s The General, an entire bridge is blown up as a train crosses its tresses. (Sergio Leone also blew up a real bridge for Duck, You Sucker!)

Originally, the Dead Reckoning team was going to demolish a bridge in Poland only to have local opposition pass a law to protect the historic site before filming could commence. Subsequently, the sequence was lensed at a remote quarry in the UK.

The entire chain of train events outshines the parachute cliff jump and stands out as the best part of Dead Reckoning. The film’s momentum aided by sharp editing makes the lengthiest Mission: Impossible seem like a ninety-minute movie. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One clocks in at two-hours and forty-minutes but you’d never notice. Despite being a two-parter the ending offers a conclusion that doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger.

Credit to the team of Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie referencing the entire history of cinema, with quaint nods to Keaton, 2001s Hal 9000 and the most outrageous of sentient computer spectacles, Colossus: The Forbin Project.

If only the plot wasn’t as ludicrous as a new millennium twist on computers taking over the world to justify a globetrot.