Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in "Mission: Impossible — Dead...

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One." Credit: Paramount Pictures / Skydance

PLOT A secret task force must prevent new technology from falling into the wrong hands.
CAST Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Ferguson
RATED PG-13 (action and some bloodshed)
WHERE Area theaters on Wednesday
BOTTOM LINE Movie No. 7 in the series falls just shy of spectacular.

Is Tom Cruise running just a little slower in “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One”?

After all, Cruise, 61, has been working at a pace that would tucker out a star one-third his age. First came 2018’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” a blockbuster that showcased Cruise’s real-life stunt work and cemented his reputation as Hollywood’s Last True Movie Star. Then came last summer’s “Top Gun: Maverick,” which saved the movie industry (and not just symbolically; it made $1.4 billion). You might think the guy would take a breather.

Yet here he is, once more playing the indefatigable secret agent Ethan Hunt, dashing around the globe, pummeling adversaries atop a speeding train and driving a motorcycle off Norway’s Helsetkopen mountain into 4,000 feet of thin air — all in service of the franchise’s first-ever two-parter. With Christopher McQuarrie back at the helm, “Dead Reckoning Part One” is top-notch summer entertainment. If it doesn’t quite match Cruise’s recent highs, well, what could?

In a series known for its fanciful technology, Hunt was probably destined to face — drumroll, please — an evil A.I. Just a few months ago, this notion might have felt like a sci-fi cliché; thanks to the sudden rise of ChatGPT and new fears of human obsolescence, it feels uncannily prescient. The thing is called simply “The Entity,” and whenever it appears — say, on a Jumbotron at a high-society gala in Venice — it looks like a pulsating human iris.

The Entity sees all and knows all; it can even predict individual behavior. A figure from Ethan’s past, Gabriel (Esai Morales), seems to have surrendered his very soul to it. Like many an A.I., this one sparks debates about free will, human nature and absolute power. McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen also explore an underappreciated facet of this franchise’s lore: Every mission is a choice, right? A new character, an international thief named Grace (Hayley Atwell), will face a momentous decision of her own when she finds herself holding the literal key to the Entity.

It’s all a little familiar but carried off with aplomb thanks to veteran cast members Ving Rhames and Simon Pegg (as the guys in the chairs) and recent additions Vanessa Kirby (as the amoral White Widow) and Rebecca Ferguson (as Ethan’s maybe-soulmate Ilsa Faust). Newcomers Shea Whigham and Pom Klementieff keep Cruise’s Hunt on the run, while Henry Czerny (in his first appearance since the 1996 original) and Cary Elwes play slippery D.C. bureaucrats. The action is propulsive and large-scale, though truth be told there’s nothing as visceral as McQuarrie’s famous men’s-room brawl in the previous film.

Along with the cutting-edge tech there’s lots of old-fashioned sleight-of-hand; it’s possible the filmmakers are keeping their best tricks up their sleeves until the sequel (planned for release next June). If “Part One” doesn’t feel as mind-blowing as it might, it’s only because Cruise has set our expectations so high.


Here's what other critics are saying about "Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One":

Tom Cruise has enjoyed one of the longest runs as a global superstar in motion picture history, and he shows zero signs of slowing down. — Chicago Sun-Times

A two-hour-plus session of cinematic self-care, wherein the chases, fights, mayhem, exegetical speeches and jaw-dropping derring-do knit together to form a comforting weighted blanket of pure escapism and reassurance. — Washington Post

That McQuarrie and Cruise are eventually able to get this hurtling, heavy plane level and pull off a rewarding climax is a testament to the fierceness of their commitment to these projects. — Vanity Fair

This is a worthy entry in America’s best ongoing franchise, one where sincerity and absurdity walk hand in hand with vital, triumphant conviction. — The Atlantic

Like so many globe-trotting thrillers and big-screen tourist brochures, 'Dead Reckoning' is also a gleaming advertisement for Hollywood itself. — Los Angeles Times

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