Release Date(s)2023 (October 31, 2023)
Studio(s)Skydance/TC Productions/C2 Motion Picture Group (Paramount Pictures)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C+
[Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers for the film. You have been warned.]
Deep beneath the ice cap in the Arctic Ocean, the Russian nuclear submarine Sevastopol is testing a new “active learning defense system” that allows it to evade detection by every other Navy in the world, when the test suddenly goes wrong. The system tricks the crew into firing a torpedo at a phantom enemy target, which ends up circling back and hitting Sevastopol itself, killing everyone aboard as the sub sinks to the bottom. Unaware of these events, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is in Amsterdam when he receives his latest mission from none other than Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny), the former IMF director and current head of the CIA who briefly targeted Hunt as a suspected mole back in Brian De Palma’s original 1996 film. That mission: To recover a mysterious key, its purpose unknown, one half of which is currently in the possession the disavowed MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson). But a bounty has been placed on Faust’s head, presumably because of this key, so Hunt must find her quickly to recover it and also to save her life.
But Hunt’s no fool—he knows there must be more to this mission than meets the eye. Indeed, upon infiltrating a high-level U.S. national intelligence briefing in which Kittridge is involved, he learns that a rogue artificial intelligence has infiltrated the computer networks of every major nation-state, tech company, government agency, and secret service in the world, and that it may even have become sentient. Meanwhile, many of these nations believe that the aforementioned key not only unlocks this AI—known as the “Entity”—it might actually grant them control of it. So the race is on to find this key, weaponize the Entity, and use it to establish total supremacy of an entirely new global order that would eliminate privacy and control not just all information everywhere, but the very nature of truth itself—a power so great that no one should have it. And the only thing standing in the way of this is Ethan Hunt, Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg), Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and the Impossible Missions Force.
Now… there’s really no way to discuss this film properly without spoilers. So if you haven’t seen this film yet: Stop reading here. (And consider yourself warned.)
Still with me? Okay.
Here’s the thing: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is not bad film. It’s just not nearly as good as the three entries that preceded it—Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol and Christopher McQuarrie’s Rogue Nation and Fallout. The simple fact is that, for over a decade now, the Mission: Impossible franchise has been absolutely outstanding, two steps ahead of the Daniel Craig-era James Bond films at every turn. Each of the previous three M:I films succeeded by assembling a true ensemble of good actors and using them to the fullest, by staging incredible set pieces in which Cruise has literally put his life on the line again and again, by weaving multiple plot threads together at an absolutely breakneck pace, and by somehow dropping all the dominos neatly into place in avalanche-like final acts that feel genuinely thrilling and satisfying. And it’s a formula that Cruise, McQuarrie, and their filmmaking accomplices seemed to have cracked to perfection, despite the fact that—by their own admission—they often start shooting without a finished script and find their way to the story on the fly while shooting. Which seems absolutely insane, and yet it’s somehow worked perfectly thrice in a row.
But unfortunately, it hasn’t worked this time. Part of this might be due to the many COVID pandemic disruptions to Dead Reckoning’s production, which generated some rather infamous headlines. But I think there are two bigger issues at play here. First, splitting Dead Reckoning into two separate films (the second of which is now expected in 2025), means that there’s really no satisfying conclusion to be found. The formula that’s worked so well until now simply can’t here. So this film’s pacing feels off, its admittedly inventive set pieces and revelations don’t really add up to much, and the narrative struggles to maintain what momentum it does build. But the far bigger issue with Dead Reckoning, in my opinion, lies in its decision to kill Ilsa Faust.
Remember how great Casino Royale was when we first saw it back in 2006? A big part of the reason for that film’s success was the casting of Eva Green as Vesper Lynd. Craig and Green had incredible chemistry together. They were perfectly matched on screen—not just as actors, but as characters. Their first meeting on the train to Montenegro is one of the all-time great Bond scenes. And the problem that franchise had after they killed Vesper, is that they were never able to find another Bond girl that was nearly as compelling (apart from Judi Dench’s M).
But when the Mission: Impossible franchise found its Vesper Lind in Rebecca Ferguson, not only did she had terrific chemistry with Cruise—and her Ilsa Faust felt like a worthy match for Ethan Hunt both personally and professionally—the filmmakers actually had the good sense to put her to use! Faust wasn’t just a Bond girl, she was a vital part of the story and she made real contributions to each mission. And at the end of Fallout, it appeared as if she was finally going to become a real member of the IMF team, and that she and Hunt would get some kind of emotional payoff for all they’d been through together. Yet at the start of Dead Reckoning, not only is she not part of the team, Hunt and Faust don’t even seem to have stayed in contact. And her character’s only real purpose here seems to be to die, thus making room for not one but two new femme fatales (Hayley Atwell’s Grace and Pom Klementieff’s Paris). It’s almost as if Cruise and McQ were nervous that Faust had become Hunt’s equal, so they decided to kill her to give him greater emotional stakes. But the two characters haven’t had enough screen time together—when they weren’t running, shooting, and fighting—for that to work. Faust makes almost no contribution to this mission. She barely has any dialogue. And her death is so anti-climactic, it kills the film’s momentum. It’s also far too predictable. (Benji’s death would have been more surprising and impactful.) Atwell is actually quite good as Grace... but she’s just no Ilsa Faust.
[Editor’s Note: Upon watching the film for a third time, I’m beginning to suspect that Faust’s death was simply a ruse to fool the Entity and Morales’ Gabriel. Eagle-eyed viewers might notice that in this double-fight scene, the camera takes in the knife laying on the ground for a moment, suggesting that there may have been a switch—that this particular knife was essentially planted for Gabriel’s convenient, unsuspecting use. We’ll see. If this ends up being the case, my film grade will be revised upward... and I will gladly tip my cap to Cruise, McQ & Co. for their cleverness accordingly.]
Admittedly, each of the stunt sequences in this film is dazzling from a technical standpoint, and special note must be given to the Fiat 500 chase in Rome that (intentionally or not) feels like a nod to Hayao Miyazaki’s Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. But the motorcycle jump off a mountaintop in the Alps was featured so prominently in the film’s promotional campaign that it too is a bit anti-climactic. The supporting cast here is fantastic and ample indeed, including the likes of Vanessa Kirby (Napoleon), Esai Morales (Caprica), Shea Wigham (Boardwalk Empire), Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride), Charles Parnell (Top Gun: Maverick), Indira Varma (Game of Thrones), and Mark Gatiss (Sherlock), but most of them are underutilized. So all of this, combined with Cruise and McQ’s decision to make Dead Reckoning feel more international, results in a sequel that isn’t bad by any means, but still feels more Quantum of Solace than Rogue Nation, more Skyfall or Spectre than Fallout. And that’s a real shame.
The film sure looks great though! Dead Reckoning Part One was captured digitally by cinematographer Fraser Taggart (The Birth of Boxing, Robot Overlords) in the ARRIRAW, X-OCN XT, and ZRAW codecs (at 4K, 4.5K, and 6K) using Arri Alexa Mini LF, Sony CineAlta Venice, and Z CAM E2-F6 cameras, with Panavision C-, D-, E-, and H-Series, and Zeiss Compact Prime anamorphic lenses. What’s more, the entire post-production process (including visual effects) was done natively in UHD resolution to produce a 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. (Note that while this film appeared in IMAX theaters, none of its scenes were shot specifically for that larger format using IMAX cameras.) Graded for high-dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are included) and presented on a 100GB disc (with data rates averaging between 50-60 Mbps), the resulting image quality is impressive—not Top Gun: Maverick good, but still very cinematic. Contrast is exquisite, with very deep shadows, inky blacks, and realistically-bright highlights. The overall resolution is fantastic, offering lovely fine detailing and well-refined textures. Colors are well saturated, accurate at all times, and highly nuanced, bold in some scenes and naturalistic in others. And there’s a light wash of photochemical grain, obviously simulated, that lends the image a pleasing filmic quality. This is a great looking 4K disc.
[Editor’s Note: Upon investigating further, while this disc is indeed 100GB, the actual movie file tops out at 69GB, meaning that the larger disc size was used because the optimized file wouldn’t fit on a double-layered 66GB disc. This is not uncommon, especially at the major studios. Whereas indie labels like Kino Lorber Studio Classics will typically optimize their movie files for the 100GB size right from the start, and use every bit of that space to maximize their video and audio data rates, the major studios often shoot for 66GB yet still need a little bit of extra space. What this means is, while the disc still looks and sounds great in my opinion, this 4K image potentially could have looked even better. So I’ve knocked the video grade down to an A- accordingly. Thanks to Bits reader Ben G. for alerting me to this.]
The sound mix too is fantastic, presented in a home theater port of the theatrical English Dolby Atmos experience. The soundstage is pleasingly large and enveloping, with everything from atmospherics to score filtering in from all around the listener. In the opening credits sequence for example, the percussion rumbles all around the listening space, and a digital ‘sizzling’ sound skitters in from the rear channels. When the location shifts to the Arabian Desert and the sandstorm arrives, there’s tremendous energy in the LFE channel. Your subwoofer will get a real workout here with rumbling wind, thundering hoofsteps, and punchy gunfire. The motorcycle and street chase through the streets of Rome is a surround tour de force, as tires squeal and cars drift across the front channels. When Paris and Grace’s vehicles collide, the latter’s airbag deploys with a deep boom, then a sharp ringing sound blasts in from all directions, emphasizing the disorientation of the impact. Growling engines have deep low-end bite, plowed over scooters clatter-slide into the surround channels, and the Fiat’s weird little battery-electric hum whistles all over the place. Once the action reaches the Orient Express, the subtle sound of clattering wheels on tracks is ever present. And I haven’t even mentioned the motorcycle base jump or the train crash yet! Dialogue is clean at all times and Lorne Balfe’s score lifts the action at just the right moments in fine fidelity. Additional audio options on the 4K disc include, English Audio Description, Latin Spanish, and Canadian French in 5.1 Dolby Digital format, as well as French Dolby Atmos, with subtitles available in English, English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Danish, Latin Spanish, French, Canadian French, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish.
For the record, the movie Blu-ray offers its audio in English Dolby Atmos as well as English Audio Description, Latin Spanish, French, Canadian French, and Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subs in English, English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Danish, Latin Spanish, French, Canadian French, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish.
Paramount’s 4K Ultra HD disc, and the 1080p HD movie Blu-ray that’s included in the Steelbook package, each offer the following special features:
- Audio Commentary by Christopher McQuarrie and Eddie Hamilton
- Isolated Score Track
The commentary with the director and editor is interesting and lively, but unfortunately there’s not a lot of time given to discussion of the film’s plot, presumably because of a desire not to give away any of the story points for Part Two. So you get a lot talk about the editing and stunt work, but little discussion about Ilsa’s death. Note that optional subtitles for the commentary are included in English, Latin Spanish, French, and Canadian French. Meanwhile, the isolated score track is excellent and welcome indeed, offered in 5.1 Dolby Digital format. You might find it surprising, though, how much of the film proceeds without any score.
To this, a bonus features Blu-ray in the package adds the following video-based content:
- Abu Dhabi (HD – 3:55)
- Rome (HD – 4:12)
- Venice (HD – 4:12)
- Freefall (HD – 9:05)
- Speed Flying (HD – 4:17)
- Train (HD – 5:32)
Freefall is the best of this material, but having only a half an hour’s worth of extras—most of which you’ve probably already seen on YouTube during the film’s media blitz—is incredibly disappointing. I don’t even really want to describe this content in any detail, because there’s just so little of it. You don’t even get trailers or the CinemaCon introduction video. Previous films in this series had lots of video-based bonus features, so this is just a bummer. But for those who care, optional subtitles are available on the bonus disc in English, Cantonese, Czech, Danish, German, Spanish, Latin Spanish, French, Canadian French, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Magyar, Mandarin, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, Slovak, Swedish, Thai, and Turkish. Note that this 4K title is available in both wide-release Amaray and Steelbook packaging (only the latter includes the movie on Blu-ray too, but the Blu-ray version is also available separately). And of course there’s a Digital Copy code on a paper insert in the case.
I should close here by saying that I’m perfectly willing to consider the possibility that Dead Reckoning will be prove to be much more satisfying when the entire story is finally available to watch in a single viewing, so I’ll certainly revisit the film then. If you’re a fan of 4K eye and ear candy, this title delivers in spades. But on its own, Part One is just okay—technically brilliant, but still missing something. And while the A/V quality is first rate, the extras on this disc are a bit of a mixed bag. So tag this UHD release as recommended… kind of… and make your purchase plans accordingly.
- Bill Hunt