Franchise entertainment is the only thing studios feel like making. Or maybe it’s the only the thing most people feel like watching. Probably, though, it’s a symbiotic relationship. The critical failure of the latest Marvel films like Ant Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and, even worse, DC’s The Flash, prove that filmmakers must do more to capture an audience than simply bring back popular characters, but successful franchise entertainment is harder than it looks.
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1 is the seventh in the series of Mission Impossible films starring Tom Cruise. Of course, the film’s title refers to the in-world IMF (Impossible Missions Force) that now consists of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his various partners, but ‘Mission Impossible’ could similarly refer to the repeated success of the series of films, given the current cinematic and economic climate.
The film follows Ethan on his journey to collect the two pieces of a special key that will likely stop his most vicious enemy yet: a sentient AI who is infinitely powerful and has attracted human beings to do his bidding. The only problem is that almost no one understands what the key unlocks. Ethan and his team, which consists of series regulars like Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg), and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferugson), as well as newcomer Grace (Hayley Atwell), must obtain the key and learn what it does before the AI gains access to nuclear weapons.
Dead Reckoning is just about as pleasurable as any action movie can be. Marketed largely on the widely known fact that Cruise does his own stunts, the movie does not disappoint. The motorcycle stunt prominently featured in the trailer, posters, and behind the scenes featurette does not disappoint, and the rest of the film’s sequences keep up. Though there were certainly visual effects used, Dead Reckoning does not fall into the all-too-common trap of over-reliance on computer generated images. Because the film looks at worst semi-real and at best quite believable, the stakes are elevated. We are able to see what Cruise can do, but also the extremity of the places Ethan Hunt’s world can take him.
The fact that AI rules the zeitgeist at the time of this film’s release is either an insane coincidence or meticulously planned. Either way, the idea is presented in such a way that is just plausible enough without being too true to life and eliciting negative reactions from the audience. Artificial intelligence is just enough of an enemy to truly challenge Hunt, even though we’ve seen him take on the world at least six times before. Unique to Dead Reckoning, though, is a dash of comedy that runs throughout the first two sequences, balancing the terror inspiring enemies. If the economy insists that we only watch intellectual property we’re already familiar with, this is a wonderful place to land. It’s fresh, but plays on familiar faces without requiring too much advanced knowledge.
The film is not without flaw, of course. It tends to be slightly convoluted, and the final sequence seems a bit too improbable even for the series. Dead Reckoning attempts to add background to Hunt’s relationship with the IMF, which works in some cases and feels confusing in others. Even so, in a world where the future of feature films as we know them is in crisis, there is a small amount of solace in the fact that franchise films can be new and exciting. Tom Cruise’s personal mission to save the theatrical movie experience feels almost as impossible as Ethan Hunt’s. For the sake of cinema, let us hope they both succeed.