Readers Write In #604: Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning: Tom thandavam vs AI

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Readers Write In #604: Mission Impossible Dead Reckoning: Tom thandavam vs AI

By Aman Basha

A scene set in an Italian party gives us, the audience, the rare chance to see all the principal players in the latest Mission Impossible in one place. Here, a man preaching a new god, terrifies all these agents and arms dealers to cower in fear.

His master is overwhelming and omnipresent, seemingly incapable of defeat or escape. This spell is broken by one man, whose sheer will manifests fear even in AI. The man is of course, Tom Cruise, playing for the seventh time, Ethan Hunt.

The Mission Impossible series is an outlier in this age of franchise IPs and cinematic universes. There is the undeniable quality of these entries, which are consistently good and thrice great, but more importantly, the universe of Mission Impossible revolves around one star who can be called its auteur and that is Tom Cruise.

His persistence for crazy stunts, his perception of himself and his personal preferences, right down to his dating rumors seem to influence the choices made on the film.

There is the now indisputable image of Cruise as the last purveyor of old school entertainer cinema, which focuses on giving audiences a good time without trapping them in lore and world building. He is the only one pushing blockbusters of great quality and practical effects, and the IMF too dwindles from an organization to being explicitly identified with Ethan Hunt alone.

Hunt taking on AI sounds like Cruise and his partner McQuarrie backing the efforts of their fellow artists, who went on strike, fearing exploitation through AI. What was a minor point in Top Gun Maverick of man becoming obsolete by machine is the full blown plot here, and the choice of villain enlivens the film considerably.

Though the cast and crew expand from the reliable trio of Pegg, Rhames and the gorgeous Rebecca to include hot Haley and bring back the ravishing Vanessa, one would have to go back before 2011 to find an entry so Hunt centered, with Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson somewhat sidelined after their roles grew in scope during previous films.

The weakest point of the film, for me, was how diminished Ilsa Faust was here, after her show stealing debut in Rogue Nation and the blooming romance between her and Hunt in Fallout. The producer and director’s commitment to keeping each entry independent and interest in bringing a newer player to the table seemed to have played the culprit here.

Newbie Haley plays Grace, a smooth thief who, in her name and poise, is a more direct tribute to Golden Hollywood by McQuarrie than Ilsa Faust. Where Ilsa brings mystique and experience, Grace brings freshness and excitement. Atwell’s look of being swept in something unbelievable is like an audience substitute, who too are being taken on the ride of their lives with Tom Cruise, sometimes on a tiny Fiat across Rome. The individual’s reaction to Haley Atwell here will, in my suspicion, shape his enjoyment of the film to a great degree.

The choice of a villain as powerful as this confirms the speculation that this was intended to be a potential climax to the saga of Ethan Hunt himself, and does not bode well for plans of a future installment as Cruise would have already faced off with the ultimate foe.

While the homage and reference to Brain De Palma’s visual grammar in the first entry are inevitable in a film toned in some places like a 70s thriller, traces of Hoffman’s terrifying villain and the return of personal loss call back to JJ Abrams’ overrated third.

Mission Impossible 7 is reminiscent of the third film, in the sense of a quieter tone and some smaller setpieces following their bombastic predecessors. Thankfully, Abrams’ shaky cam with flare style of shooting has long been forgotten, but these changes to simple which may have been fresh after John Woo’s excess, is a letdown after the thrilling action setpieces of Fallout.

While Cruise is confident of beating AI, the villain he and his film could not escape is COVID. The pall of the virus is most evident in its opening desert stretch, which is abrupt and seemingly added only out of the concern that its first hour is nearly actionless.

The other major sequence on the streets of Rome is both reminiscent and inferior to Fallout’s Paris mad ride, inferior as it seems to stretch on where Fallout was precise and taut.

The infrequent production schedules and the stress of shooting in a pandemic (bringing some fucks out of Cruise in a leaked clip) seems to make the film move in fits and starts. McQuarrie is great at directing Cruise in action (his London run is possibly the best Tom Cruise run ever), but he is not able to stimulate suspense or create the setpieces De Palma did, despite his best efforts.

Where he does succeed and raise the film is in its climax. With most Mission Impossible movies, the filmmakers pull off so many insane ideas through the films that the climax inevitably seems slightly low key. McQuarrie succumbed to this somewhat in Rogue Nation, but pulled off a spectacular helicopter chase climax in Fallout and continues with the same here, pulling off all the stops and throwing in a Buster Keaton hat tip in the end.

Where he finally unleashes his talents and lets Tom do his stunt thandavam is where the film finally roars to peak form, with an insane train sequence that just keeps getting better and better as the train chugs along and off.

That Cruise riding a bike off a cliff is just a setup for this sequence might put in context just how grand the climax of MI7 is. Here, the convoluted screenplay that seemed to struggle with balancing its ensemble, gets into groove with less characters involved.

Perhaps I am being generous with the faults and flaws of the film, but for that I have a reason. The Mission Impossible series are the last remnants of an older Hollywood, the Hollywood that could do action, stunts and spectacle with no parallel. For the better of cinema, for the sake of theaters and more, it needs to stun, it has to succeed.

I do hope that it was perhaps the setup for part 2 or covid that had to do with the lackluster parts of Dead Reckoning 1, and this time around next year, we see Cruise-Chris duo back in reckoning with an action classic to give closure to Ethan Hunt.

More than Ethan Hunt, audiences around the world will be rooting for Tom Cruise, the last action star in Hollywood to prove that stars and humans do matter. I will be one of those audiences next year. Your Mission, should you choose to accept it, is the same.

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