“Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning,” Part One, is Tom Cruise’s latest entry into that series, the 7th in a series stretching back 27 years, and supposedly the next-to-last.

The movie runs 2 hours and 43 minutes and contains one over-the-top action sequence after another. The efforts of Ethan Hunt and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) pits Ethan against an evil power known as The Entity represented by the arch-villain Gabriel (Esai Morales). There is a key involved, with two sides of the key meant to power the most nefarious weapon in the world. Everybody wants it and tries to get it.

The main impression I came away from this over-long film were these:

  • Tom Cruise is shown running repeatedly—-scene after scene after scene. SEE TOM RUN! RUN, TOM, RUN!
  • Tom Cruise drives a motorcycle a lot.
  • Tom Cruise also does a lot of hang gliding/parachuting while looking for half of this All-Powerful key in some of the most exotic locales in the world.
  • This movie cost A LOT to make! Supposedly it is the priciest film of Tom Cruise’s career. Pandemic delays ballooned the budget to $291 million. By contrast, “Oppenheimer” cost $100 million.
  • Tom Cruise has the ability to switch Significant Others onscreen almost as readily as he has done in real life. When the movie begins, the love interest is Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust. Before the movie ends, the new love interest becomes Hayley Atwell as Grace. Both are very good.
  • Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell are also good, but the standout for most critics has been Pom Klementieff as Paris.

I’d like to say that the plot and the character development keep pace with the action sequences, but I’d  be lying. They don’t. As the old saying goes, “It is what it is.” That means a very opulent-looking (some scenes are shot on what is represented to be the Orient Express) movie with action sequences that are so far removed from reality that we are watching a violent ballet. We are reassured, however, that the car chase did not actually occur on the real Spanish Steps, but took place on a studio sound stage built for the stunt.

Director ChristopherMcQuarrie, who is also one of the three writers (Erik Jendresen and Bruce Geller are the others) has directed 3 movies with Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt (and worked with him on 4). He allows for some sardonic humor, here and there. There are many pompous-sounding pronouncements, like, “We live and die in the shadows for those we hold dear and for those we never meet.” Also, “Our lives are the sum of our choices, and we cannot escape the past.”

Perhaps Ethan/Tom cannot escape the past, but he sure can escape everything else! In one memorable escape an entire train is being sent hurtling over a cliff as the bridge blows up. It isn’t enough to just have the train, car by car, hurtling into the void. It also is necessary for the interior of the train to be on fire! (I can just hear the screenwriters talking that one up. Rumor is that they think up a lot of this stuff on the fly.)

By now, you’ve probably seen the stunt with the motorcycle going off the cliff and the Ethan Hunt character then unfurling his parachute and gliding to safety in previews. As Manohla Dargis of the “New York Times” put it,  “Like the other large-scale, stunt-driven sequences, this showy leap at once underscores Cruise’s skills and reminds you that a real person in a real location on a real motorbike did this lunatic stunt.”

Then there’s the villain of the piece, Gabriel (Esai Morales). The two fight atop a moving train, which might be an homage to something similar in the very first “Mission Impossible” film (1996).Tom Cruise and Esai Morales were both born in 1962, so they are 61. Cruise is listed as 5’ 7” tall, while Morales is said to be 5’ 10.” The fight on the train, then, features two stocky middle-aged actors who are giving it their best shot. (The close-ups of Cruise atop the train are the least flattering shots of him in the film, forehead wrinkled, hair askew.)Here we have a perfectly attired middle-aged stocky male figure who isn’t so tall that he makes Tom Cruise look even shorter than the 5’ 7” he is (*Note: Al Pacino- only 5’ 6”).

Some critics have criticized Esai Morales as not being “evil” enough to embody the total villainy of the plot’s Gabriel. I was fine with Morales’ version of evil and have liked him ever since “La Bamba.”However, I do remember films where other baddies were far more evil-looking/acting—say Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate” (1997) for the intrinsically evil acting, or Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” and “The Witches of Eastwock.”

For the appearance alone aspect, consider Dr. No or Goldfinger or Ernest Stavro Blofeld (“You Only Live Twice,” Donald Pleasance, 1967) or Jaws or even the much more recent appearance of Rami Malek in “No Time to Die.” So, does Esai Morales look like the quintessential “bad guy.” In a word, no. But, then, neither did Ted Bundy

The locations are also standout, with the Orient Express-mentioned train scenes, others shot in what is supposed to be a Russian submarine; some in the deserts near Yemen; Amsterdam; Venice; and as many other exotic ports of call as you can name. Starting shooting in northern Italy was a stroke of particularly bad luck, as the pandemic kicked off and hit Italy hard. Cruise was sick with something early on and then both Cruise and McQuarrie got Covid (as did many others working on the film.) It even caused a much-publicized blow-up from the perfectionistic Cruise, who read the crew out in no uncertain terms.

The expert choreography of the action sequences (some of which feature Cruise and Atwell handcuffed together) is to be marveled at. The acting is sufficient for a film of this nature. Because, as mentioned earlier, “It is what it is.

Stay tuned for the second installment (and eighth and last in the “Mission Impossible” franchise) if you care whether the key fits anything and what it does when inserted.

Meanwhile, more interesting to me than the movie itself is the drama going on behind the scenes, as reported in the “Hollywood Reporter.”

The studio tried to reign in the ever-burgeoning budget, which had to shut down 7 times due to Covid-19. At one point, Cruise rented an entire cruise ship for $676,000 so that the cast could isolate. Then there was the matter of the Russian submarine, added to the budget at the last minute (and the opening of the film) in one of those on-the-fly last-minute moves that the McQuarrie/Cruise partnership has involved. Paramount tried to tell Cruise that this entry in the series would only have a 45-day theatrical window and then would begin streaming on Paramount Plus.

Cruise, aware that he has earned $3.6 billion dollars for the studio over his 37-year association with Paramount (and his 30-years playing the character Ethan Hunt) lawyered up and told the studio that the 45-day theatrical window was not going to prevail. After all, there was language in their contract that said this film would be handled like the others that preceded it.

The most successful film of the series, financially, was 2018’s “Fallout,” which brought in $791.6 worldwide. It is going to be interesting to see what the numbers add up to when the dust clears on this next-to-last outing of the series that spun off from a TV series. Regardless, sources say that Cruise will make more from the film than the studio will.

 A veteran of Tom Cruise movies laughed about the attempt to tell Tom Cruise that the film would only have a 45-day theatrical window showing  (according to the “Hollywood Reporter”). This insider said, “ This is the way these things go. ‘Tom says what he wants and the studio says what it wants. And then Tom gets what he asked for.'”