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12 July 2023

Mission Intolerable: a stupid franchise gets stupider

Reviewing the Tom Cruise film Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is an exercise as absurd as critiquing porn scripts.

By Ann Manov

Everything about Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is larger than life. With a thin plot filled out by half-hour chase sequences, the film is 163 minutes long: even at the press screening, people were checking their phones. Mission: Impossible (1996) was 110 minutes long. Mission: Impossible 2: 124 minutes. Mission: Impossible III: 126. Later sequels ran for 133, 131 and 147 minutes respectively; Dead Reckoning Part Two will be released next year. Richard Wagner’s 1874 Ring cycle totals about 15 hours of music. If Dead Reckoning Part Two is the same length as Part One, the Mission: Impossible franchise will soon exceed the Romantic masterpiece in length. And Tom Cruise has assured us Ethan Hunt is not finished yet.

The first film was made by Brian De Palma, the art-house director of Carrie, Scarface and Dressed to Kill (notorious for its depiction of transsexuals as dangerous sexual deviants). The budget of Mission: Impossible was $80m. The budget of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is $290m, seemingly largely spent on blowing up a bridge. The first film has a 66 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, which proudly repeats lines such as, “You can’t escape your past,” sits at 99 per cent. Eleven of the 20 highest rated movies on the site postdate 2015. In 1996 two of the top ten grossing films starred Tom Cruise, and two were sequels or spin-offs. In 2022 Cruise only starred in one, and they all were sequels or spin-offs.

Much ink has already been spilled praising Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’s representation of women, or criticising its conceit. This seems as absurd to me as a criticising the scripts of PornHub videos.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One begins with a Russian submarine mysteriously detecting an aggressor and firing missiles at it, before the aggressor disappears from the radar (“A phantom – a ghost in the machine!” exclaims the captain). The missiles are redirected towards the Russians’ own submarine and explode, the camera zooming in on a cross hanging around the neck of a dead Russian submariner. Then “the Impossible Mission Force” instructs agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) to locate a cruciform key (oohhhhh) to unlock the source code of the Entity, an all-powerful enemy that is basically AI gone rogue.

[See also: The Night of the 12th Review: a grim look at an unsolved murder]

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In a shoot-out in the Arabian Desert, Hunt saves sexy MI6 agent Ilsa Foust (Rebecca Sundström); in a sequence in Abu Dhabi airport, he enlists sexy double-crossing thief Grace (Hayley Atwell). Hunt goes on a car chase through Rome, attends a ball in Venice and executes a dazzling motorcycle-parachute leap on to a runaway train in the Austrian Alps. There is some discussion of AI, which seems really scary.

A sentient nuclear bomb (AI?) asks Hunt’s sidekick Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) questions such as, “What is always approaching but never arrives?” and, “Are you afraid of death?” The AI takes human form as a middle-aged Hispanic man (Esai Morales). Of course, Hunt finds the key – but as this is just part one, we don’t know what the key unlocks. The acting, script and Christopher McQuarrie’s direction are all adequate.

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For some reason the press release for the filmis 65 pages long. It includes sections titled “THE DREAM TEAM” and “GIANT LEAPS.” It begins: “On 6 September 2020, the first day of principal photography on Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, Tom Cruise drove a motorbike off a mountain. Specifically, he drove a custom-made Honda CRF 250 off a purpose-built ramp on the side of Norway’s Helsetkopen mountain.” In the moments before, Hunt helpfully explains the details of this stunt to Dunn: “How can I possibly…” We are alerted to the self-driving capability of Dunn’s BMW crossover, perched on the same glorious mountain top.

But the stunts are real. When I complained to men at a party that I couldn’t go to the beach because I had to see the new Mission: Impossible, they all said: “Why are you complaining? Tom Cruise does all his own stunts.”

Tom Cruise is 61 years old, a Scientologist and one of the most interesting men in the world. As I wrote this review, a friend texted me: “Is Tom Cruise the last eunuch?” In Dead Reckoning Part One, Cruise is frequently on top of Atwell, but never has sex with her. When he speaks to her, he is often sitting on a table. When he speaks to men, they are often on the floor. He never appears to be 5ft 7in and, perhaps, the reason that more than a billion dollars has been spent on Mission: Impossible movies is for Tom Cruise to appear tall.

“Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One” is in cinemas now

[See also: Pearl and Infinity Pool review: The rise of Mia Goth mania]

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This article appears in the 12 Jul 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Tabloid Nation