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Tom Cruise battles AI in thrill ride of the summer – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Tom Cruise battles AI in thrill ride of the summer



Rewriting the text with better words and making it unique:

Maintaining a high level of quality in a franchise becomes increasingly difficult as the number of installments grows. However, there are exceptions to this, and the Mission: Impossible franchise is perhaps the closest example. Tom Cruise consistently surpasses his previous performances, and Dead Reckoning Part One is no different. Apologies to all the other summer releases, but this film is the epitome of excitement.

A still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One courtesy of Paramount. The film begins underwater on a submarine, where the crew receives a warning of an imminent threat to their ship. To their surprise, as the missile approaches on their radar, it suddenly disappears, leaving them unharmed. However, seconds later, they are struck by something unexpected. This is the essence of the threat in this Mission: Impossible film — artificial intelligence (AI). Although technically the film’s antagonist, Gabriel (played by Esai Morales) is merely a pawn in a larger chess game for the greater good of the world. But we’ll delve more into that later.

AI is a powerful tool, but it is also terrifying. Dead Reckoning Part One fearlessly confronts this idea, as most of the challenges faced by the IMF team are AI-based. For instance, when Ethan (portrayed by Cruise) and his crew attempt to meet a buyer at an airport, Luther (played by Ving Rhames) hacks into the security systems and manipulates the facial recognition to mislead the pursuing US government agents. However, the AI is able to counteract their efforts, and even surpass them. In another instance, while Ethan is rushing through alleys to reach someone, the AI takes over his system and disguises itself as Benji (portrayed by Simon Pegg). The film also explores the moral implications of AI and algorithms. When Benji tries to disarm a bomb, he encounters a lock that cannot be unlocked by traditional means. Instead, he must truthfully answer questions about his values and fears. Benji faces a moral dilemma, questioning whether he should reveal his deepest secrets to a system that may already know them. This threat is particularly intriguing in a world where social media algorithms constantly manipulate us.

Tom Cruise is known for his self-awareness as an actor. In Top Gun: Maverick, the motif of “you’re a dinosaur in a young man’s game” is explicitly stated, much like the overt messages in Dead Reckoning Part One that highlight the division caused by AI between governments, forcing individuals to choose sides. Whether it’s in politics or pop culture fandoms, this Mission: Impossible film clearly conveys its motifs without reservation.

As expected, the stuntwork in Dead Reckoning Part One is mind-blowing. The high-octane action is more captivating than the John Wick or Jason Bourne series because of its practicality. While the latter two series focus on real people being beaten up, the Mission: Impossible films have always stood out by avoiding mindless killing of nameless henchmen, offering chase sequences that feel authentic. Watching the film in Dolby, where the seats shake with every engine rev, only enhances the immersive experience. It is nearly impossible not to be captivated by the action. Additionally, the Mission: Impossible films have a knack for utilizing their settings effectively. In Paris, for example, the iconic Arc de Triomphe is featured in a high-speed chase scene. Ethan and Grace (portrayed by Hayley Atwell) navigate the city streets in a small, modified car, adding an extra layer of difficulty due to their handcuffed connection. They are not only evading the French government but also US agents and the new threat of Paris (played by Pom Klementieff).

A still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One courtesy of Paramount. In addition to the excellent use of the Arc de Triomphe, Dead Reckoning Part One also takes advantage of small, claustrophobic settings like dark alleys. A three-person fight scene in an alley, despite the dim lighting, is intense and engaging. The train sequences showcased in the trailers also deliver a thrilling climax reminiscent of Game of Death, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats.

Apart from Cruise, the film introduces some new faces to the franchise, including Klementieff and Atwell. Klementieff’s portrayal of Paris, an assassin assigned to kill Ethan and Grace, is exceptional. Most audiences are familiar with Klementieff as the lively Mantis from the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, but Dead Reckoning Part One showcases her versatility as an actress. Atwell and Cruise share chemistry on screen, although the recurring theme of “Grace as a wildcard” becomes repetitive after several instances of her running off from Ethan only to be reunited shortly after. The film’s conclusion suggests that Atwell’s character will have a more substantial role in the next installment. Vanessa Kirby makes a return to the franchise, although her presence in the previous Mission: Impossible film, Fallout, is easily forgettable. Unfortunately, her potential is wasted in Dead Reckoning Part One. Introduced halfway through the film, Kirby’s character, Alanna/White Widow, must choose between assisting Ethan or Gabriel. However, she seems disinterested on screen, lacking the charisma she displayed in films like Hobbs & Shaw.

The most puzzling aspect of Dead Reckoning Part One is Gabriel. The film includes flashbacks of Ethan witnessing one of Gabriel’s former love interests being killed. This haunting memory affects Ethan, even causing him distress at the mere sight of Gabriel through his augmented reality sunglasses. However, to my knowledge, Gabriel is a newcomer to the franchise, which makes their shared history confusing. It’s a shame because Gabriel is an effective villain. He embodies the classic villain complex, believing that AI needs him, unaware that he is merely a tool used by the AI system. Similar to how Eugene Kittridge (played by Henry Czerny) informs Ethan that he is being “used,” Gabriel’s purpose is to be of use, unbeknownst to him. Ethan’s emotions become the biggest obstacle in completing his mission, as he struggles to accept this truth. Although there are other obstacles in Ethan’s path, characters like Jasper Briggs (portrayed by Shea Whigham) and Degas (played by Greg Tarzan Davis) serve as minor resistance. Unfortunately, the team led by Jasper lacks effectiveness, and the mission, despite being “personal” to him, lacks the impact it should have.

Dead Reckoning Part One is a lengthy film, spanning 163 minutes, making it the longest installment in the franchise. However, it is far from being boringly long like some other films. What hampers the experience is the film’s adherence to Hollywood’s recent trend of splitting movies into parts. This Mission: Impossible film falls into that trap, leaving audiences wanting more.

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The earliest offense…

While it’s nearly impossible for any franchise to maintain a high bar of quality with a growing number of installments — not everybody can put the care that Richard Linklater does into the Before movies — the Mission: Impossible franchise is perhaps the closest thing. Tom Cruise is always finding a way to outdo himself, and Dead Reckoning Part One is no exception. Sorry to all of the other movies coming out this summer, but this is the thrill ride of the summer.

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One review

Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One
A still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One courtesy of Paramount.

Beginning underwater on a submarine, a crew is alerted of a looming threat about to hit their ship. Much to their surprise, as the missile tracks closer and closer on their systems, it disappears and they are fine. That is, until a couple of seconds later when something does hit their ship and they were completely unprepared for it. That’s the threat of this Mission: Impossible film — AI. Okay, fine — Esai Morales’ Gabriel is technically the film’s antagonist, but he’s just a pawn in a greater chess game over the greater good of the world. But more on him in a moment.

You see, AI is a wonderful tool, but it’s also terrifying. Dead Reckoning Part One is not afraid to confront that, as most of the obstacles the IMF team faces are AI-based. For example, when Ethan (Cruise) and the crew are attempting to meet a buyer at an airport for one-half of the film’s MacGuffin, Luther (Ving Rhames) hacks the security systems and manipulates the face tracking so that the U.S. government agents in pursuit get thrown off the trail. However, the AI is also able to hack it — just faster. At another point, when Ethan is running through alleys to try and reach someone in a hurry, the AI took over his system and posed as Benji (Simon Pegg).

There’s also the morality involved with AI and algorithms. When Benji is attempting to dismantle a bomb, the lock has a code that’s not unlocked by manually trying combinations — you have to answer questions such as “What matters most to you?” and “Are you afraid of death?” truthfully in order to get one of the variables unlocked. Benji has a moral dilemma; do you reveal your darkest secrets to a system, or do they already know? It’s an interesting threat posed in a world where social media algorithms manipulate us on a daily basis.

Tom Cruise is one of the most self-aware actors out there. However, the “you’re a dinosaur in a young man’s game” motif that’s very explicitly said early on in Top Gun: Maverick is almost as overt as Dead Reckoning Part One by saying that AI has the ability to draw a line in the sand between governments and you have to choose a side. Whether it’s politics or pop culture fandoms, this Mission: Impossible film is very clear with its motifs and is unashamed about it.

As expected, the stuntwork in Dead Reckoning Part One is insane. The high-octane action is far more engaging than something like the John Wick or Jason Bourne series given that there’s a practicality to them. While the John Wick and Jason Bourne series deal with real people being beaten up, the Mission: Impossible films have never been about killing nameless henchmen and the chase sequences have a real feel to them. Maybe seeing it in Dolby where the seats shake with every rev of an engine helped, but it’s nearly impossible to not be glued in when it’s going down.

Plus, the Mission: Impossible films have always utilized their settings well. In Paris, the Arc de Triomphe — which has seen a surge in its usage in action movies from John Wick: Chapter 4 to Murder Mystery 2 this year alone — is used during a high-speed chase. Ethan and Grace (Hayley Atwell) are in a small Beetle-looking car that’s decked out. However, the two are handcuffed together, so driving the car is a lot harder than your standard chase. They’re also not just running away from the French government, but also United States agents and the new threat of Paris (Pom Klementieff).

Tom Cruise, Hayley Atwell, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One
A still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One courtesy of Paramount.

Just as they utilized the Arc de Triomphe well, Dead Reckoning Part One also makes use of small, claustrophobic settings like dark alleys well too. There’s a three-person fight in an alley that’s so visceral and interesting despite the dim lighting. The last notable set piece is the train sequences seen in the trailers. No spoilers here, but the Game of Death-like ending is just incredible and had the whole theater on the edge of their seats.

Aside from Cruise, some newcomers to the franchise include Klementieff and Atwell. The former is incredible as Paris, an assassin tasked with killing Ethan and Grace. While most are used to Klementieff as the bubbly Mantis in the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Dead Reckoning Part One shows a completely different side of the actress. Atwell and Cruise have some spark, but the whole “Grace is a wild card” bit grows tired after numerous occurrences of her running off from Ethan only to be reunited moments later. With the way this film ends, there’s promise that Atwell gets more to do in the next film.

Vanessa Kirby returns to the franchise — truthfully, I don’t even remember her being in the sixth Mission: Impossible film, Fallout — and could not have been more wasted. She’s introduced about halfway through Dead Reckoning Part One and has the decision to make between who she’ll help — Ethan or Gabriel. She just seems so disinterested in being on screen when she’s playing Alanna/White Widow, and there are only small flares of the charisma she had in a film like Hobbs & Shaw shown here.

The most confusing part of Dead Reckoning Part One is Gabriel. The film shows flashbacks to Ethan watching one of his former love interests die at the hands of Gabriel. This haunts Ethan, as he’s even shaken by catching a glimpse of Gabriel in his AR sunglasses.

Hayley Atwell, Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One
A still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One courtesy of Paramount.

However, to my knowledge, this is Morales’ franchise debut, so it’s confusing why there’s any sort of history there. It stinks because as a villain, Gabriel actually works well. It’s the classic villain complex where he believes the AI needs him, when in all reality, much like how a returning Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) tells Ethan that he “uses him” and that Ethan’s purpose is to “be of use,” the AI system is using Gabriel and his purpose is to be of use (unbeknownst to him). He’s essentially just a fire-proof conduit since he does have knowledge that Ethan needs in his mission — making Ethan’s emotions the biggest obstacle in his way of completing this mission.

There are a few other roadblocks thrown in Ethan’s way, but people like Shea Whigham’s Jasper Briggs — a part of “The Community” — and Greg Tarzan Davis’ Degas are merely slight resistance. The team is so impotent for being led by Jasper, who — as revealed in a line ripped straight out of a bargain bin action movie — has never met Ethan personally yet the mission remains “personal” to him. I oftentimes give the Mission: Impossible franchise credit for being slightly more high-brow than the likes of Fast & Furious — even if this franchise oftentimes features ridiculously wordy exposition to explain a threat that basically can be summed as “can take over the world” —  but this line did make me chuckle.

Dead Reckoning Part One is also a long film. At 163 minutes long, it is the longest film in the franchise. To be clear, it’s not a boringly long film like Fast X, but what hurts it is this Mission: Impossible film following in Hollywood’s latest horrible trend — announcing films as a part one. The earliest offense I can remember off-hand is when Marvel announced Infinity War and Endgame as two parts. It made the ending of the first film feel inevitable (no pun intended), even if we didn’t know exactly how it was going down. Even Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse was hampered by the fact that you know there’s another film coming that will continue the story.

Similar to Across the Spider-Verse, there’s so much story told in Dead Reckoning Part One that at a certain point, you’re waiting on the film to abruptly end because you know you’ve been there for a long time. Truthfully, I was expecting the film to end with the shot of Tom Cruise driving off a cliff, but the second the shot goes on just long enough, you know that it’s safe from ending at that moment. But from there, your instincts are to not get too invested as you’re somewhat expecting it to cut off. Luckily, the Mission: Impossible franchise has a bit more class than the Fast & Furious franchise and does not end on a shot so abrupt that you question whether or not the filmmakers literally ran out of budget or film reel to continue on.

Should you see Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part One?

Esai Morales, Tom Cruise, Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One
A still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One courtesy of Paramount.

While it may be hard to see Dead Reckoning Part One in IMAX thanks to Christopher Nolan, it is yet another must-see Mission: Impossible film that will have your jaw on the floor with some of the technical feats they pull off. It’s just as ridiculous and fun as the previous films, and while maybe not quite as good as Fallout, it’s the blockbuster of the year and Tom Cruise continues to prove why he’s one of the last movie stars in an age where movie stars are largely reduced down to being a part of manufactured franchise shlock. The Mission: Impossible franchise never has, and hopefully never will be, that kind of franchise. Seven movies in and each one finds a way to up the ante without sacrificing what it is.

Grade: B+

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One will be released on July 12.

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