'MI7' on a mission to save the summer box office
With actors and writers now on strike and studios disappointed by the box office returns of "The Flash," "Elemental," and "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny," it may be up to Tom Cruise to save Hollywood once again.
Steven Spielberg credited Cruise with no less than "saving Hollywood" with "Top Gun: Maverick" last year. And now Cruise arrives with the off-screen mission to rescue the box office and an on-screen mission for Ethan Hunt in "Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning - Part One." I guess a two-and-a-half hour action film needs a lengthy title. But I'll just refer to it as "MI7," for brevity's sake.
So "MI7" might just succeed in its mission. It has pleased critics and fans, receiving (at of this writing) a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Plus, Cruise has been on every talk show and outlet revealing his crazy stunts for the film. So people are buzzing about it and eager to see it.
The franchise (inspired by the popular TV series that launched in 1966) was a bit of a slog early on but rebooted with director Brad Bird coming onboard for "Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol." That film added more humor, more Simon Pegg, more fun and made Cruise's Hunt into a more vulnerable character who got the crap beat out of him and just banged around a lot more during action scenes. Seeing Cruise less serious and less perfect was the exact right change. That tone held through "Rogue Nation" and less so through "Fallout." But "Ghost Protocol," "Rogue Nation," and the bathroom fight in "Fallout" were an absolute blast and I enjoy going back to them.
But now we come to "MI7," and while it is fun and some stunts are impressive, Cruise seems to be returning to a more stoic Hunt and the film feels decidedly padded in order to extend its story across two parts. The "Fast and the Furious" franchise has taken the same approach. "Fast X" proclaimed "the end of the road begins." Really?
I guess filmmakers feel that if people can binge 10 hours of a streaming show they can easily sit through a three hour movie or a six hour one cut in two. Perhaps. But "MI7" feels overly complicated in its plot with action scenes always followed by extended plot exposition to clarify the Skynet-style AI nemesis. There's a lengthy opening sequence in a Russian sub that could have easily be cut. Plus, the AI is presented as so all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful that the shenanigans of the plot make no sense.
And while the stunts are exciting on the big screen, the big train wreck and car chase go on for far too long without any cleverness thrown in. They are stunt show pieces that sort of stop the film to unfold. The "John Wick" films always made the action feel organic and so fast that you did not have time to pause and think, "oh that's a cool stunt." You were too busy picking your jaw up from the floor. And there are definite stylistic moments in "MI7" (the party scenes in particular) that seem desperate to imitate the Wick films.
Coming out of the press screening I heard a number of people gasping about how impressive the stunts were. Perhaps it is impressive because Cruise does a lot of the stunts himself. But since I am in the midst of launching a Hong Kong action film series, I feel like Jackie Chan did more insane stunts back in the '80s and even B-action movies from Asia now are just so much more innovative. Anyone who walks out of "MI7" thinking it is the height of action cinema just has not seen enough movies.
But "MI7" does bring back the immensely likable Pegg and Ving Rhames, gives us the return of the enigmatic Rebecca Ferguson, and adds Hayley Atwell and Pom Klementieff. And while there is humor, there is also a little grit to the action that shows us there is a cost to these spy games. Cruise is Cruise. Nobody does fast sprints better or tackles stunts with such earnest enthusiasm. He's not great at hand-to-hand fighting like Keanu Reeves in the "John Wick" films but he turns on his charm and has come to own the role of Ethan Hunt. But "Dead Reckoning" just feels more blandly formulaic that the last three films.
Director Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote "Top Gun; Maverick" and directed "Fallout," is a serviceable director but does not really bring any flair to the franchise.
With a heat wave coming this weekend, a long action film in an air-conditioned theater might be exactly what people want. "MI7" does offer summer escape but I can't help but think what a really efficient, fast-paced actioner "Dead Reckoning" could of been if it had been conceived as a single movie.