I don’t know if anyone has ever clocked whether Tom Cruise is faster than a speeding bullet. The guy has legs, and guts. His sprints into the near-void have defined and sustained his stardom, becoming his singular superpower. He racks up more miles in “Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One,” the seventh entry in a 27-year-old franchise that repeatedly affirms a movie truism. That is, there are few sights more cinematic than a human being outracing danger and even death onscreen — it’s the ultimate wish fulfillment!
Much remains the same in this latest adventure, including the series’ reliable entertainment quotient and Cruise’s stamina. Once again, he plays Ethan Hunt, the leader of a hush-hush American spy agency, the Impossible Mission Force. Alongside a rotating roster of beautiful kick-ass women (most recently Rebecca Ferguson and Vanessa Kirby) and loyal handymen (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames), Ethan has been sprinting, flying, diving and speed-racing across the globe while battling enemy agents, rogue operatives, garden-variety terrorists and armies of minions. Along the way, he has regularly delivered a number of stomach-churning wows, like jumping out a window and climbing the world’s tallest building.
This time, the villain is the very au courant artificial intelligence, here called the Entity. The whole thing is complicated, as these stories tend to be, with stakes as catastrophic as recent news headlines have trumpeted. Or, as an open letter signed by 350 A.I. authorities put it last month: “Mitigating the risk of extinction from A.I. should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks, such as pandemics and nuclear war.” In the face of such calamity, who you gonna call? Analog Man, that’s who, a.k.a. Mr. Hunt, who receives his usual mysterious directives that, this time, have been recorded on a cassette tape, an amusing touch for a movie about the threat poised to the material world by a godlike digital power.
That’s all fine and good, even if the most memorable villain proves to be a Harley Quinn-esque agent of chaos, Paris (Pom Klementieff), who races after Ethan in a Hummer and seems ready to spin off into her own franchise. She tries flattening him during a seamlessly choreographed chase sequence in Rome — the stunt coordinator, Wade Eastwood, is also a racecar driver — that mixes excellent wheel skills with scares, laughs, thoughtful geometry and precision timing. At one point, Ethan ends up behind the wheel while handcuffed to a new love interest, Grace (Hayley Atwell, another welcome addition), driving and drifting, flirting and burning rubber in what is effectively the action-movie equivalent of a sex scene.
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