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In ‘Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One,’ Tom Cruise Is Summer’s Superstar Savior

Buckle up for the 61-year-old actor’s wildest ride yet

spinner image tom cruise hanging from the end of a train car high in the air in the film mission impossible dead reckoning part one
Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One."
Paramount Pictures

⭐⭐⭐⭐☆ Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, PG-13

Tom Cruise, 61, makes competence sexy again!

With the white-knuckle ride that is Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One, the energetic four-time Oscar nominee has become the king of summer action heroes (a precarious post once held by Will Smith, 54). Among last year’s competitors for best actor at the AARP Movies for Grownups Awards for Top Gun: Maverick (also an AARP best picture nominee), Cruise is now among the few remaining stars, maybe the only one, that can carry a blockbuster across the globe despite the headwinds of a weakened theatrical market. (Harrison Ford, on a career roll at 80, tried to do so with his excellent, expensive film Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, but its $248 million gross is far short of what it would need to be profitable.)

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spinner image tom cruise and vanessa kirby in a scene from mission impossible dead reckoning part one
Tom Cruise (left) and Vanessa Kirby
Christian Black/Paramount Pictures

On screen, Cruise is a charisma bomb. He’s athletic, jet-fueled and playful. He remains the good-looking boy next door with a killer grin, even if he displays a few more wrinkles (smile lines, really) and doesn’t rush to remove his shirt.

And while he can deliver zingers, romance women and deploy the serious acting in his quiver, Cruise’s special sauce — and it’s on full display in Dead Reckoning — is perpetual motion. He continually raises the stakes to superhuman levels, and then pushes harder. Channeling what a mass audience wants from its theatergoing experience these days — big, big and loud — he delivers one jaw-dropping sequence after the other, with less reliance on the CGI that has rocketed the Marvel Universe to dominance.

spinner image tom cruise performing a stunt jump on a motorcycle in a scene from the film mission impossible dead reckoning part one
Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt in his most dangerous mission yet.
Christian Black/Paramount Pictures

Here, in the seventh iteration of the Mission: Impossible franchise that began 27 years ago, Cruise once again plays frequently rogue adrenaline junkie Ethan Hunt. The top-secret agent’s in the doghouse again at the Impossible Mission Force (IMF, but not the global banking organization). But can Hunt resist one more unthinkable mission that pits him against his old rival Gabriel (a suave Esai Morales, 60), a dark angel who long ago slayed one of a series of Hunt’s true loves before his very eyes? Not bloody likely. Raise those stakes!

Don't miss this: The Best Tom Cruise Movies of All Time, Ranked

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The movie’s premise is that — bear with me — there is an Entity, a form of artificial intelligence, empowered to change the way humanity processes reality. That digital parasite has become (oh, no!) sentient. The adventure’s chief antagonist is an electronic boogeyman, a manifestation of our current AI fearmongering.

spinner image esai morales and om klementieff in a scene from the film mission impossible dead reckoning part one
(Left to right) Esai Morales and Pom Klementieff
Paramount Pictures

Gabriel acts as the Entity’s human representative — and to up the stakes, there’s also a bejeweled key split into two halves that resembles a medieval cross pendant. Whoever can unite both pieces will control the Entity’s on-off switch, a mission that will leak into the next episode of this two-parter.

This plot is a long clothesline on which to hang massive action sequences and spin around the globe from Abu Dhabi to Amsterdam. Cruise crushes it on a horse named Zeus, rising out of the desert to rescue colleague Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who just so happens to have half of the mysterious key and a legion of bounty hunters trying to return her to dust. Was that a romantic spark flying only to be doused by the rising desert sands?

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spinner image tom cruise and hayley atwell handcuffed to each other in a scene from the film mission impossible dead reckoning part one
Hayley Atwell (right) and Tom Cruise
Christian Black/Paramount Pictures

From there, we have a Rube Goldberg-like chain reaction that has Hunt jumping from a plane executing a HALO, a high-altitude, low-opening, death-defying leap (kids, don’t try this at home). He and Grace (Hayley Atwell, who portrays Peggy Carter in the Marvel Universe), the stunning pickpocket he’s pulled into the caper, go on a breathless chase through Rome manacled to each other in a tiny yellow Fiat. (The pair’s burgeoning romance is uncharacteristically chaste for a Hollywood movie, their time together perpetually dangerous, without even a Bond-level detour to the bedroom for a little R&R.)

After Hunt goes mano-a-mano with a knife-wielding Gabriel atop the speeding Orient Express, tunnels nearly squashing them both, the movie’s biggest nail-biter arrives. Their runaway train heads for a bridge that explodes as it nears. One car, then another, drops into the abyss. Hunt, dragging Grace behind him, or pushing her ahead, leaps from train car to train car, desperately trying to survive while random objects, like a grand piano, fly past.

spinner image rebecca ferguson ving rhames simon pegg and tom cruise walking together outside in a scene from the film mission impossible dead reckoning part one
(Left to right) Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Tom Cruise
Christian Black/Paramount Pictures

For Hunt, the real love affair is with his trusty team, who’ll follow him into any impossible, improbable situation, and deliver most of the wisecracks. That includes a delightful returning crew of dedicated actors, including Ving Rhames, 64 (in his seventh M:I outing), and Simon Pegg, 53. The seductive and surprising Vanessa Kirby returns as the opportunistic arms dealer White Widow, while Guardians of the Galaxy star Pom Klementieff kicks butt as a villainess who belatedly experiences a change of heart.

Kudos to Cruise for knowing his audience and how to please it. He nails a nearly impossible mission: becoming the summer’s box office savior riding a sequel, again, while performing stunts that would terrify actors half his age, and possibly even send a shiver up a Navy SEAL’s spine. He may lack superpowers, but he owns superstardom.

Watch it: Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One in theaters

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