Someone on the internet once said that it’s really difficult to remember the plot of all the Mission: Impossible movies without checking on Google, and it really stuck with me. I have watched them ten times by now, so I know the plot down to the last detail. But if you ask a casual viewer who has probably watched it once, they probably won’t be able to tell them apart. That said, if you ask anyone to remember their favorite moments, they will certainly tell you about the Langley heist, the free solo rock climbing, the Shanghai run, the Burj Khalifa climb, the 3-minute underwater swim, and the bathroom fight. What it means, in my opinion, is that this particular action franchise is a celebration of the relentless spirit of the people involved in its making, thereby surpassing the need for a plot or relevant commentary. Now, for better or for worse, Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One does what every Mission movie has done before it while also being concerned about its plot and its relevance.
Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One opens with a Hunt For Red October-esque sequence where an artificial intelligence that can be switched on and off with a pendant-like key manipulates a submarine to fire a torpedo on itself. The key should’ve technically gone down with it, but one-half of the two-part contraption managed to find its way to Ilsa Faust, with the other half being in the wind. Ethan Hunt is tasked with bringing in the part of the key that’s with Ilsa and delivering it to the director of National Intelligence before a group of mercenaries gets to her. He obviously does the job with some help from Ilsa. However, as soon as he realizes that various nations are vying for the key so that they can control this AI (referred to as The Entity) and weaponize it against others, Hunt launches his very own mission to get to its source code and destroy it. He’s assisted by Benji, Luther, and a reluctant ally, Grace. Those standing between Hunt and the Entity are The White Widow and a ghost from Hunt’s past, Gabriel.
To be honest, I don’t have anything new to say about Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One since it has been roaming around the world since the 19th of June. If you have read any of the reviews, you have read all of them. McQuarrie directs the movie like a true maestro. The copious amounts of Dutch angles used by Fraser Taggart are a brilliant homage to Brian De Palma’s body of work. Eddie Hamilton’s editing is amazing for the most part, but the cross-cutting between the action sequences happening simultaneously is a weird choice. Lorne Balfe’s score is fantastic. The Rome chase (five stars for just that!), the alleyway fight, and the train sequences are tense and funny. The dialogue is a little repetitive. The commentary on AI is really relevant, even if it was probably written a few years ago. Every single actor in the cast has poured their heart, and soul into their characters. Hayley Atwell is the standout. I’m sure someone has pointed out the parallel between Hunt fighting a cult leader and Cruise’s—how should I put it?—personal religious beliefs. It’s all true, but it’s repetitive. So, I don’t want to do that. Instead, I want to go back to the point in the introductory paragraph about the celebration of the human spirit through the medium of cinema.
I’m not sure if every single person in their respective profession feels it or not—or even if they feel it, they want to acknowledge it or not—but it’s really, really bleak out there. This sense of bleakness emanating from the advent of technology adds to the layer of pettiness that humans are capable of, and it’s depressing. To be specific, it’s difficult to wake up every day and find out that a new hurdle has been placed in front of me that’s going to make my job difficult. Who has decided to put up that hurdle? An algorithm sifting through statistics, data, requirements, number of views, number of followers, and so on and so forth. It’s becoming less about genuine talent and more about the kind of talent that helps achieve virality on the internet. Who is enabling this mindset? Humans. Why? Out of some false sense of superiority that makes them ignorant about their expendable nature in the hands of something virtual. And the sheer number of people who are ready to abandon their sense of ethics and morality to gain whatever definition of popularity is trending nowadays is immense. It’s so immense that it dwarfs your ability to rebel, to think, and to express. The allure of just giving in and writing a compilation of buzzwords that will make your work SEO friendly, or not writing anything at all since you know it doesn’t matter in the sea of opinions, feels appealing. But then you see something like Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, and your brain goes, “No.”
What you’re watching on screen is the result of Tom Cruise (the producer) and his team working against unthinkable odds. There was COVID (you’ve heard the leaked audio of Cruise screaming), due to which shooting was shut down multiple times! There was the bridge explosion controversy, which led to some more delays. Then there was the advice from director Edgar Wright that apparently forced Cruise and McQuarrie to alter the entire film! And all this is on top of the usual shooting woes, on-set mishaps, and the good old push for an early digital release, even though no one will openly admit it. But why go through it all? Why put in all this effort? Why don’t they just let generative AI do the heavy lifting? Why don’t they just shoot a bunch of stuff in front of a green screen and let the already starving CGI and VFX artists make it look good? It’s because when they see the face of a person sitting in a dark room light up with all kinds of emotions as they recognize the effort that’s visible on that giant white canvas, the push to keep the steering wheel in the hands of humans seems worth it.
If we go a level deeper (by that, I mean getting closer to the plot), much like the makers of Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One, the heroes of the film draw their sense of enthusiasm from the humans around them and the authenticity they bring with them. At one point, as he’s having a panic attack about the extent of the Entity’s powers, Ethan Hunt literally says that he doesn’t trust anything that exists beyond the room consisting of Benji, Luther, Ilsa, and himself. Hunt’s central dilemma with everyone beyond that room is that he doesn’t want to be governed, motivated, or directed by something virtual or those who worship everything that’s virtual. He wants to prioritize his friends and what they bring to the world. He wants individuality and he rejects the homogeneity that comes with technological nonsense. To blur the line between Tom and Hunt even more, he wants things to feel humane; and I can’t help but relate to that sentiment. There are small pockets of people who still believe in preserving the human touch in this profession. They believe in cherishing it and promoting it so hard that anything artificial pales in comparison. That is what keeps me going. The people putting their fingerprints all over their projects are what keep me going. It’s not easy to deal with humans. There are ups and downs. But I’d rather tolerate the shenanigans of a flesh-and-blood human being with lived experience and a passion for their work and personal space, than an immoral, unethical, and soulless machine that’s only capable of mimicking human emotions and doesn’t have an ounce of sincerity. Artificial intelligence and the humans who treat it as the second coming of Christ can seek to “inspire” me when I need it the most by presenting a collage of quotes gathered from the internet. However, I’d rather listen to the subjective experience of a person—who can be a friend, a family member, or a complete stranger—surviving through the journey of life or watching something they’ve made with their own hands whenever I’m in dire need of some motivation. If said experiences and hand-made products are cinematic in nature, all the better.
In conclusion, much like all my favorites of the year, Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part One is more than just a movie for me. It’s one more well of motivation that’s keeping me from succumbing to the immeasurable forces at play, i.e., the algorithm gods and their fanatics. It is a reminder that, even if I have the worst year imaginable, if I remember to put a bit of myself into my work, it’s going to add to the pushback against artificiality achieved through technology. I mean, can a chatbot (even after decades of training) write what you’ve just read? Nope! Of course, nobody is against the ethical uses of technology. But if that technology is used to measure the importance of human lives and then replace them, that is not cool, and yet that is exactly what is happening. Our daily fights can seem minuscule when compared to the herculean task of making a Mission: Impossible movie. However, it’s no less important. So, stay in touch with your humanity, keep fighting the good fight despite what an algorithm (and the brainless people who treat it like a god) tells you, and assist those in need of help in any way you can. That said, these are just my thoughts about the film. Please watch M: I: Dead Reckoning Part One for yourself, form your own opinion, and let us know what you think about it.