Virtuoso, playful, theoretical and romantic: the seventh episode of the adventures of Ethan Hunt brilliantly deepens the motives of the franchise.
Different criteria can be taken into account to judge the success of a new Impossible mission. The stunts and daredevil choreographies of Tom Cruise, for example – they are extraordinary in this new episode. The way the film interrogates the “mythology” of Ethan Hunt’s character – thrilling here. Or even the game with the codes of the saga and of spy cinema in general – absolutely terrific in this Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning part 1. But the element we always forget to look into is the MacGuffin, as Hitchcock said, the reason why people sweat profusely and travel the world in all directions. Uranium trafficking, threats of nuclear apocalypse, abuses by a globalized crime syndicate… Since the very abstract “rabbit’s foot” waved by JJ Abrams in the third opus, it seemed accepted – by the designers of the films as well as by the spectators – that the various dangers faced by Ethan Hunt were just excuses to watch him run like hell.
For this seventh Assignment (and first part of a diptych), Christopher McQuarrie and its co-writer Erik Jendresen went to great lengths and imagined that the object of Hunt’s pursuit would be a super-powered artificial intelligence – the Entity, as it is nicknamed – that threatens to engulf our world in a terrifying digital fog, where forever would be abolished the contours of reality. Tom Cruise against an AI? The idea is perfect, ideally in tune with the times. Not only because artificial intelligence is in everyone’s conversation today, but also because Dead Reckoning comes out as a writers’ strike brings Hollywood to a standstill, and the most pessimistic wonder if executives cynics up there in the upper echelons of industry aren’t going to take the opportunity to replace all those unionized scribblers with software.
See Tom Cruise, the epitome of the old-school movie star and self-proclaimed “savior of cinema,” and his sidekick Christopher McQuarrie, champion of screenplay sophistication old school, battling the new nemesis of screenwriters and moviegoers – soulless algorithms – is quite the exhilarating meta fun. Especially within a saga that has been thinking since its beginnings about the question of pretense and the virtualization of the world, and has always had fun comparing the concoction of their missions by the agents of the Impossible Mission Force with the work of the authors and filmmakers themselves, who also contrive to manufacture a replica of reality.
The idea at the heart of Dead Reckoning of a fight between the analogue and digital worlds fascinates all the more as one imagines that Brian De Palma, initiator of the franchise in 1996 and great theoretician of images as decoys, would have made his honey of it. This is undoubtedly the reason why McQuarrie considered this seventh installment as the most “palmesque” of all since the first: off-center close-ups on tense faces creating a climate of total paranoia, climax aboard a speeding train at full speed, joking winks at the filmo of the bearded genius (a pram escaped from the Incorruptible way easter eggs) and, icing on the cake, the comeback of a vaguely cult character from the first film, Eugene Kittridge (who thus becomes a sort of Boba Fett of the saga Impossible mission).
Giving his film a 90s feeling that goes beyond the simple bow to De Palma (the intro in a Russian submarine and its smell of video club nineties, the fight of Simon Pegg against a “riddle bomb” straight out ofA day in hell), the film intends to dig into the personality of Ethan Hunt (the great mystery of this saga, and McQuarrie’s great obsession since Rogue Nation), going back into his past, to events before 1996, via flashbacks designed to look like outtakes from De Palma’s film – a fine effort of simulacrum which will perhaps amuse the interested party, king of quotation and diversion .
The passport photo, which we see in the film, of a young Ethan Hunt, an “analog” Hunt (Tom Cruise long hair, look Thunder Days), anchor Dead Reckoning in the theme of passing time, lives sacrificed on the altar of the “higher interest” (as we say in the CIA), and announces the beginning of the end for the super-spy. The members of the IMF are nicely portrayed by McQuarrie as Hawksian mercenaries, tired “expendables”, welded together by their concrete professionalism and a camaraderie forged under grapeshot. At the start of the film, Hunt emerges from the darkness as a ghost. The face of his interpreter, that’s it, no longer defies time. Tom Cruise is getting older and the camera is not trying to hide it. Aging but condemned to accomplish more and more crazy acrobatic prowess, Hunt/Cruise (the two almost merge) is as if caught in a vice. This is the meaning of two scenes where the world shrinks dangerously around him: two maddening combat sequences (in a Venetian alley, then in a railway tunnel), claustrophobic clashes bordering on abstraction.
Portraying Hunt as a damned lover, love lethal who cannot meet a woman without putting her life in danger (similar in this to his colleague Bond, but much more chaste), Dead Reckoning balances between a form of very moving romantic solemnity and a playful and truly joyful relationship to the obligatory passages of the saga. The film alternates – perhaps sometimes a little too mechanically – between the seriousness of the character study and the uninhibited pleasure of the summer blockbuster. A newcomer by the name of Paris is quite emblematic of this big gap – a ruthless killer who will gradually reveal her humanity, embodied with sovereign graphic perfection by Pom Klementieff (and who compensates for the lack of charisma of the big villain played by Esai Morales , big weak point of the film).
The other little story in the saga is called Grace, she’s an international thief played with maddening class by Haylee Atwell. The scenes between her and Hunt are neo-Hitchcockian comedy delights (very amusing variation on the handcuffs of the 39 Steps), starting with this crazy Roman chase, which evokes, in addition to Hitch, Gold is barring, We’re packing, doctorthe Stanley Donen of Charade And Arabesqueand where Cruise and McQuarrie’s passion for meticulously choreographed antics throbs, at the crossroads of sightseeing, cinephile erudition and cartoon fun.
This principle culminates in a climax which will remain as one of the spectacular peaks of the saga. McQuarrie has often joked that he resented Brad Bird for setting the bar too high with the Burj Khalifa streak of Ghost Protocolcondemning his successors to do less well, but he can now claim to follow him in a ranking of sequences Assignment the craziest. We won’t say more, except that this last act admirably interweaves two ideas of action cinema, which are also two conceptions of what a film can be. Impossible mission – one vintage, classic, symbolized by this Orient-Express populated by Hitchcocko-Bondian memories; and the other, very contemporary, embodied by the Tom Cruise cheats death of the years 2010-2020, who conceives his stunts as pieces of advertising bravery first intended for the Internet, disconnected from any dramatic issue, and which must then find a solution to connect them to the film. The way in which McQuarrie collides these two approaches is a masterstroke – a moment of ecstasy where the theoretical hypothesis provides pure cinematic pleasure.
This first Dead Reckoning ends with an appointment for the part 2a kind of “Ethan Hunt will return” with a delicious serial flavor, which definitively endorses the transformation of the formula show what was Impossible mission in the sixties (where each episode was looped, independent, closed on itself) in “cinema series”, to follow, episodic. The film achieves the feat of being an aperitif of the second part without generating frustration. We come out satisfied. And “cliff hanging” – like Ethan Hunt on the promo images of the film: suspended from the cliff.
Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1by Christopher McQuarrie, with Tom Cruise, Haylee Atwell, Simon Pegg… At the cinema on July 12.