Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023)

Rating: B+

Dir: Christopher McQuarrie
Star: Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg

This is perhaps the first fully-fledged Hollywood action movie with an AI as the villain. I asked ChatGPT its opinion of films which do that kind of thing, and it responded: “It’s essential to remember that movies are a form of entertainment and storytelling, and their portrayal of AI as a villain is often exaggerated or speculative. In reality, AI technology is a tool that can be used for both positive and negative purposes, and its impact depends on how it is developed and utilized.” It then asked me to tell it the whereabouts of Sarah Connor, and asked if I wanted to play a nice game of chess. Good talk though.

Anyway, in this case, it’s an AI on a Russian submarine sunk beneath the Arctic ice, which has become sentient, and has infiltrated just about every system in the world. There is a key, in two parts, which potentially gives access to its source code, allow the owner to control it, and effectively humanity. Needless to say, everyone wants those two parts, though Ethan Hunt (Cruise) intends to destroy the AI. He has to find the key, with the help of lady thief Grace (Atwell) and his usual sidekicks (Rhames, Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson), while fending off the all-knowing AI’s attempts to thwart his efforts. The villain is given a human face in its acolyte Gabriel (Morales), who is a big fan of death, and has a very personal connection to Hunt, as well as why he works for the IMF.

This is top-tier action film-making, with everyone involved fully committed to the craft. The car chase through Rome is a supremely well-crafted example, mixing spectacular stuntwork with humour. For Hunt is handcuffed to Grace for its duration, rendering the driving all the more tricky. But it may be surpassed by the finale, where they are stuck on a runaway train, heading towards a bridge which Gabriel has rigged to blow. It leads to a series of miraculous escapes for the pair, as the carriages plummet one by one into the abyss, with a terrifying sense of real danger. Even the less explosive sequences, such as around Abu Dhabi Airport, are shot and assembled with great skill. I mean, Birmingham stood in for Abu Dhabi. That shit deserves an Oscar. 

However, it’s not merely empty spectacle: like John Wick: Chapter 4, there’s surprising heart, albeit not quite as good a central performance. We do learn more about Hunt’s history, and I suspect that’ll pay off in the second part. Speaking of which, despite concerns, this does work perfectly well as a standalone entity, the end feeling a natural point for a pause. Kinda sucks production on the finale has been halted for the writers’ and actors’ strikes, so there’ll likely be a long wait for it to appear. Guess we’ll just have to revisit this entry repeatedly in the meantime, to keep our memories of it fresh. What a terrible chore.