The theater lights dim; as 22 stars skip across the screen to arch behind a snow capped peak to complete the Paramount Pictures logo, I am distracted by the twinkle of phone screens, poised to capture and post the title card sequence to Whatsapp statuses.
A Russian submarine is destroyed in the frigid Bering Sea by the machinations of a super powerful AI program, referred to as the “Entity” capable of annihilating the cybersphere. Cut to low key introduction of Tom Cruise’s elite operative Ethan Hunt in the ochre tinted shadows of a derelict apartment, reminiscent of Marlon Brando’s monologue scene from Apocalypse Now. Fast forward to a secret crisis meeting of top government honchos, doused in exposition-heavy dialogue. We are still in the prologue of the film. Hands slump; tired of holding up camera phones.
One of the suits in the meeting whips off his Scooby-Doo flesh mask; lo and behold its Hunt. Cue the burning fuse, the iconic fast beating score and the title card. Here, at the 30 minute-mark, realization dawns that the seventh installment of the M:I franchise is going to be different, because unlike the title sequence’s lit fuse, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is a slow burn.
A reliable litmus test for signs of franchise mellowing is the Tom Cruise run. M:I 3 (2006) boasted an impressive shot of Ethan’s sprint; with his arms whipped into invisibility and back held ramrod straight, the Cruise missile target-locks the right-hand side of the frame, eternally rushing to exit the shot. Though M:I 7’s runtime has an extended runtime, it feels labored and sweaty: nonetheless it is good that the series is slowing down. M:I 7 may not possess the high intensity of M:I 3 but the franchise has come full circle by harkening back to Brian De Palma’s stylistic Mission: Impossible (1996).
At two hours and three quarters long, the movie feels a bit self-indulgent. The emergence of the “Entity” has put the elite intelligence community on razor’s edge. Databases are being converted into hard copies in warehouses arrayed with clattering typewriters. Secure bunkers are being readied; cut off from outside networks with the adoption of analog means of transmission. The fate of the world rests with whoever controls the “key” – a two-pieced crucifix shaped McGuffin bonded with the “Entity”: an object whose threatening aura is somewhat diminished by the fact that everybody keeps saying the word “key” a lot. A spy organization couldn’t come up with a cool code name for their target?
Ethan Hunt has assembled his crew. Franchise regular Ving Rhames is back as the leveled toned Luthor; the Sancho Panza to Ethan’s hare-brained scheming Don Quixote though the camaraderie they enjoyed during previous installments is missing here. Benji is played by a very puffy-eyed Simon Pegg. Rebecca Ferguson as disavowed MI-6 agent Ilsa Faust turns in a stellar nuanced performance. Joining them is Hayley Atwell’s Grace, a thief with a shaded past. Together, they must thwart Gabriel (Esai Morales), a painful reminder from Ethan’s pre-IMF days and his henchwoman Paris (Pom Klementieff) from teaming up with the Entity.
A nudge at the dense plot might crumble the whole gestalt of the movie’s carefully laid choices; revealing bubbles of empty screen time trapped between stylized sequences. Like other decades-straddling franchises, the story of Mission Impossible has diffused into the subconscious of the pop culture consuming audience. Yes, we know a character is going to be revealed as wearing a flesh mask. Yes, we know an agent goes rogue. Yes, we know the mission is going to be impossible but they will pull it off somehow. At the point of this realization of the audience’s precognitive expectations from the franchise, the filmmaker’s only way forward is by treading the tightrope of narrative subversions balanced with the lull of familiarity.
MI 7 manages to do so by keeping abreast of spy movie cliches with a cheeky approach bolstered by stellar craftsmanship. Case in point is the nail-biting car chase in Rome, where Ethan and Grace must outrun Paris’ gargantuan Hummer. Fleeing afoot, Ethan tracks down their getaway car in an alley; only to discover that it is not the sleek gray Ferrari, but the tiny candy-yellow Fiat 500 parked alongside – a scene reminiscent of the yellow Citroën 2CV reveal from the Bond flick For Your Eyes Only (1981).
Sticking with the issue of similarities shared with the 007 series, the introduction of the Bond-girl imbibed character of Grace fails to breathe novelty into the franchise. The choice to omit presenting her motivations to join the hero’s quest may risk sinking Hayley Atwell’s wasted potential into the wearied trope of the morally ambiguous thief. Hopefully Grace’s backstory will be fleshed out in the sequel.
The major draw of the M:I series has always been the childish delight of anticipating the crazy stunts Tom Cruise dreams up. Though they are painstakingly choreographed with brutal realism, the clunkiness of the narrative-maneuvering required to arrive at the next big action set piece lets you know the movie’s priorities. I am not complaining. Mostly, the responsibility falls to Benji who acts as Google Map-equivalent of providing Ethan with the fastest route to his destination, no matter if there is a mountain in the way. If the Academy of Motion Pictures decides to institute Oscars for stunt choreography, M:I 7 would be a hot contender.
The movie’s promised escape of fantasy fulfilment into a parallel dimension of mysterious handsome people set in stunning locales is slightly marred by the topical allusions to a post-covid world struggling to adapt to a viral unfettered explosion in AI tech. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One premiered on 12th July. A week later, Hollywood talent went on strike demanding tighter regulation on using Artificial Intelligence in creative projects. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to shun the pragmatic threat of the existence of the “Entity” right here in your world in the ultimate suspension of disbelief.
I am a Chartered Accountant Final Level student from Kerala, India. Between my stressful workdays and weekends spent cruising around the hills on my bike, I like to slow things down by watching a movie once in a while.