Seven films into the Mission Impossible franchise, a franchise that has been going on with the same lead since 1996, and Tom Cruise and company haven’t missed a beat. The franchise has changed over the years, beginning as a semi-grounded paranoid techno-thriller where iconic director Brian De Palma before switching gears into a more generic action film for the surprisingly disappointing Mission Impossible 2 under the helm of iconic director John Woo. Mission Impossible III course corrected with what should have been a disaster with non-iconic director J.J. Abrams and the terrible writing team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (if you know, you know) setting the stage for everything that would come after. It was good and nearly doubled the previous film’s final gross, but it was just a hint of what was to come.

The Mission Impossible franchise really found its groove with the fourth film, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, iconic director Brad Bird’s first live-action film after making a name for himself with animation classics The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Not only was ditching the numbers a great decision, but bringing Christopher McQuarrie on board as both a writer and director was a stroke of genius. The next two films, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Mission Impossible: Fallout shifted gears even further, building characterization for not only the ongoing support team, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, and Jeremy Renner but also giving us a villain who was the equal to Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, the cold-blooded ex-MI6 agent Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris. McQuarrie also introduced the world to one of the most beautiful and deadly double-agents in the series, Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust.

This was the first time we had a returning villain and concrete continuity between films.

Not only was each of these films fantastic in their own right, but each also built upon what came before and the quality of the stories and the action sequences exploded in ambition and success. The team of McQuarrie and Cruise was unstoppable with grosses hitting $682.7 million and $791.7 million respectively. Which leads us to the latest mission that we all have chosen to accept.

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One has no qualms about being upfront about its intentions. It intends to be the biggest, most exciting, and most mind-boggling action spy thriller ever made. And for the most part, it does an impressive job at staking that claim. After defeating his evil equivalent in the prior two films, who else could challenge Ethan Hunt but a near-omnipotent Artificial Intelligence known only as The Entity. But the Entity isn’t acting alone in its attempt to take control of the entire world. The Entity has recruited Gabriel, Esai Morales giving us a never before seen glimpse into the pre-IMF life of Ethan Hunt, and his sidekick Paris, Guardians of the Galaxy’s Pom Klementieff. We also have the return of IMF boss Eugene Kittridge, played by Henry Czerny, who we haven’t seen since the first film back in 1996.

After an extended opening sequence that sets the stage and introduces us to the main threat and reintroduces us to the IMF concept (the Impossible Mission Force, who do the things nobody else can when the world is in danger, but always while answering to no one but themselves). There’s a killer AI whose main source code is located on a sunken Russian submarine and the only way to destroy it is with two keys that piece together to access the hard drive. After being discovered on the bodies of dead Russian sailors, it disappears, and Hunt is tasked with finding the first half of the key. This happens to have ended up in the hands of Ilsa, who has returned to the world of spycraft and has been disavowed with a bounty on her head. Ethan has to find her, help her survive a horde of bounty hunters, and then make sure that Kittridge knows he’s got the key, it’s too dangerous for any one government to have, and he is off to find the second part while the entire world’s governments also hunt for the key, and by extension, our man Ethan Hunt.

We’re going rogue once again, folks!

Roll opening title sequence!!

It’s at this point that we are introduced to the new characters who help move the action/plot along. We get Shea Whigham and Greg Tarzan Davis as Agents Briggs and Degas, who have been tasked by Kittridge to find and stop Hunt by any means necessary, and the always amazing Hayley Atwell as the world-class thief known only as Grace, who was hired to steal the key by someone revealed later in the film.

We’re avoiding spoilers from here folks, so prepare to get vague.

Ethan, Luther, Benji, and Ilsa (sorry, Jeremy Renner didn’t join up this time) find themselves racing against the clock to get their hands on the half-key with Briggs and Degas hot on their trail, before it can be delivered to a mysterious client who has the second half. With both halves, the mysterious client intends to sell the key to the highest bidder on board the Orient Express. If you’ve seen the previous two films, the mysterious client isn’t so mysterious, I guess. Especially if you’ve seen the cast list or the poster.

Anyway, there a number of chase sequences between here and there, with an especially inventive car chase through Rome that almost seems to have been made specifically to show Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny how it should be done, along with a fight on top of a train that seems to have been made specifically to apologize for the underwhelming green-screen finale of the very first Mission Impossible.

There are your usual twists and turns, dangerous stunt sequences, betrayals, alliances, and a world-threatening master plan – this time by an AI who just might be able to pull it off, but there are also surprising losses and emotional weight. And when things look their bleakest, Ethan Hunt wins allies by being just the goddamn best dude all around and snatches relative victory from the jaws of defeat.

Being titled Part One, it’s no secret that this film was going to end with plenty more story to tell, but the script by McQuarrie, Bruce Geller, and Erik Jendresen leave us with a satisfying ending that promises much more excitement to come. If this two-part epic turns out to be the grand finale of Tom Cruise’s impossible mission to entertain with escalating death-defying stunts, we’re off to a fantastic start.

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