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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
The Observer

'Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One': Tom Cruise's quest to kill AI

Anna Falk | The Observer

The “Mission: Impossible” films were the best Hollywood blockbusters of the 2010s. “Ghost Protocol,” “Rogue Nation,” and “Fallout” were all deftly crafted spectacles, with jaw-dropping action set-pieces, riveting twists, endearing characters and an endlessly charming Tom Cruise at the center of it all. There's just something so wonderful about watching Cruise nearly kill himself to entertain us in these movies. So I was very excited to see what director Christopher McQuarrie and Cruise had in store for the most recent installment, “Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One.” They did not disappoint, delivering another excellent, enthralling action film.

“Dead Reckoning” centers on Ethan Hunt and friends trying to destroy a rogue AI software, ominously called “The Entity,” before it takes over the world. They're not the only people trying to get The Entity. All the governments in the world, including the U.S., want to harness The Entity's capabilities for world dominance instead of destroying it. It's Ethan alone who views The Entity as something evil that needs to be terminated, which pits him against both his own government and The Entity.

The quest to destroy The Entity is riveting and thematically rich. Although AI is exaggerated in the story, the film smartly recognizes AI's real and terrifying threat to society. AI is inherently soulless, devoid of emotions, ingenuity or compassion — the things that make us human. The AI sycophants who want to replace artists and writers with AI want a world without humanity or connection; they want life without the things that make life meaningful. Ethan has always represented the indomitable human spirit in these films. He's the perfect antithesis of AI like The Entity, portrayed in the film as a cold, unfeeling algorithm operating based on pure efficiency and nothing else. The viewer quickly sympathizes with how alarmed Ethan and the gang are about The Entity. It's the best villain the series has had to date.

In typical “Mission: Impossible” fashion, the action sequences throughout are top notch. The submarine cold open is a perfect vignette to establish the tone of paranoia throughout the film. The Abu Dhabi airport sequence is a wonderfully executed game of cat and mouse. The car chase in Rome is a continually escalating endeavor with lots of solid humor layered throughout. And the whole train sequence that takes up the entirety of the film's third act is incredible. The runaway European train functions both as a conduit for story drama to naturally escalate and as a setting for many spectacular set pieces. The motorcycle jump off the cliff is absolutely crazy; Cruise is not only our last true movie star, but an insane daredevil with a death wish. The fistfight atop the moving train is also great, and that final train cabin escape sequence is equally marvelous and stressful. It's like “Titanic” but on a train, with Ethan and Grace, the newest addition to the IMF squad, arduously trekking through train cabins falling off a cliff. And despite the film being a part one of two, it ends on a satisfyingly conclusive note.

The film is not without its flaws, though. The film kills off Ilsa Faust, an incredibly beloved character in the franchise, in a very poor, unceremonious manner. Furthermore, the film's cinematography isn't great. There's an omnipresent digital sheen to everything, making the picture often look bland and artificial. Some scenes are shot poorly, like the alleyway fight scene and even the epic motorcycle jump. And to make the problem of artificiality worse, there's some not-great CGI in this film, a first in a franchise of consistently solid visual effects work.

It's a tragedy that “Dead Reckoning” underperformed at the box office and became overshadowed by the Barbenheimer phenomenon shortly after its release. With timely themes and expertly crafted set pieces, “Dead Reckoning” is another fantastic entry in the “Mission: Impossible” franchise, despite stumbling in ways previous films in the franchise haven't.