If it’s not apparent that AI is having the biggest summer ever, it’s now become an enemy of Tom Cruise.
AI is everywhere right now in the real world, and a pesky fictitious digital villain proves formidable and quite far-fetched for Cruises secret agent Ethan Hunt in the action-thriller Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One (out of four; rated PG-13; in theaters July 12). Directed once again by Christopher McQuarrie, the seventh M:I is jam-packed with gloriously insane stunt sequences, new and familiar faces alike, and Cruise racing (usually literally) from one international location to another.
Having a computer as the film’s antagonistic heart instead of a human villain is a huge change, though, and as a result this premiere of a two-part storyline faces some narrative hurdles between the usual face-swapping and double-crossing espionage.
When the world is in serious trouble, that’s when you call in the Impossible Mission Force even though Ethan still owns his rogue status as a champion and as usual is wanted by various authorities, including his own. However, his old boss Eugene Kittridge (a returning Henry Czerny) has a dangerous assignment for him: an evolving artificial intelligence dubbed The Entity threatens global security, and Ethan needs to get two halves of a key that are critical to stop this new threat.
Luther (Ving Rhames) and Benji (Simon Pegg) are back as Ethan’s high-tech teammates, and Dead Reckoning reunites Ethan with love interest Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson), a former British MI6 secret agent who is the first stage of this dense adventure. (There’s one fun exposition dump at the start, and it could use at least one more.) The race for the key especially introduces the enigmatic thief Grace (Hayley Atwell): She gives Ethan the fits with her pickpocketing skills and escape, but eventually become an effective duo who face a wild car chase through Rome in a tiny Fiat and a hellish train ride on the Orient Express.
‘Mission Impossible’:Tom Cruise zooms through Rome in 20 minutes of “Dead Reckoning” footage.
McQuarrie assembled a talented circle of complex female characters in Reckoning: While Atwell’s Grace steals much of the film as a fresh pair of eyes seeing the deadly espionage world of Ethan and Ferguson’s no-nonsense Ilsa for the first time is always a pleasure, Vanessa Kirbys shady arms dealer White Widow makes a return appearance (having debuted in the sixth mission, 2018’s Fallout), and Guardians of the Galaxy regular Pom Klementieff lets the guns do the talking as a new French assassin from name Paris. (A bit on the nose but it works.)
Paris works for the Entity, as does a hopefully sinister dude named Gabriel (Esai Morales) who is connected to Ethan’s tragic past. (While you don’t need to be an M:I expert to enjoy Dead Reckoning, a rewatch of the original 1996 film is helpful beforehand.) However, the problem with having an AI supervillain in our connected world is that it all seems too easy. : Like an angry Transformer, the Entity works hard to foil Ethan at various points, but even this seemingly all-powerful thing seems thwarted when it shouldn’t be.
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But don’t come to Mission: Impossible Movies for Sensible Plots, come see Cruise cheat death in stunts that would make most normal people say, Nah, I’m fine. One piece in particular has him riding a motorcycle off an insanely high cliff which leads to a jaw-dropping BASE jump. The Rome car chase (with nods to The Italian Job) works best as it allows Cruise to explore Ethan’s vulnerability and aggravation in a film that embraces the character’s humanity in the face of an existential computer threat .
Gentlemen robots? Not on Tom’s watch! If you choose to take this mission, and what action-movie fan or Cruise nerd wouldn’t, it’s truly the first half of a man-versus-machine epic that doesn’t skimp in the thrills department. Just don’t think too much about it, though you’ll probably still be giving your laptop a serious look.
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