Tom Cruise saves cinema again with religious; meta-themed DEAD RECKONING

by Charles Gerian

“If anything happens to them, there’s no place that I won’t go to kill you and your God. That is written.”

Christopher McQuarrie’s 7th film in Tom Cruise’s star-making and star-retaining franchise, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING: PART ONE opened last week and continues to solidify the absolute fact- not opinion- that Cruise Control is the single most defining thing of our generation as audiences.

In my 2022 review of TOP GUN: MAVERICK I wrote that “if cinema is a church, Tom Cruise is a god” and this latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise writes that upon a tablet.

After years of battling rogue agents, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and the Impossible Mission Force (Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames) are up against the most dangerous enemy they could ever face: a rogue, seemingly sentient artificial intelligence hell-bent on causing absolute chaos to humanity at large.

The A.I. known as “The Entity” has infiltrated every government in the world and made a clear declaration that it is all-knowing, all-powerful, and most terrifyingly enough, all-capable.

As the world powers all seemingly align themselves in defense of this faceless, nationless, aggressor one thing becomes clear: whoever controls this will control the world.

Ethan Hunt and the IMF are tasked with finding two parts of a whole cruciform key that, seemingly, could unlock the A.I.’s core in its submerged antarctic tomb.

Of course, Hunt must rekindle old flames from his past including his dangerous lover Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and former frenemy The White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), ally himself with new players such as the expert thief Grace (Hayley Atwell), and contend with dangerous new enemies including the government agent Briggs (Shea Whigham) and the threat of The Entity’s personal agents of chaos in the form of the dangerous Gabriel (Esai Morales) and psychotic Paris (Pom Klementieff).

DEAD RECKONING is a globe-trotting blockbuster that will have you gripping your seat as Hunt and his crew survive break-neck car chases, adrenaline-fueled fights aboard a runaway train, and struggle with out-smarting an enemy that knows virtually every conceivable variable they could throw at it.

DEAD RECKONING succeeds on multiple levels, of course.

On the surface, to any eagle-eyed viewer, DEAD RECKONING is a personal attack by Tom Cruise on the dangers of streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, etc.

Cruise is often cited as “The Last Movie Star”, and it was his feverish and fanatical devotion to the art of “films in movie theaters” that caused Paramount to sit on TOP GUN: MAVERICK through the pandemic at a time when studios were dumping everything they had into streaming which would see that movie gross over $1 billion dollars and, effectively, save the art of theatrically released films.

In this entry, Hunt is constantly foiled by the rogue A.I. “The Entity” and reminded constantly that The Entity’s “algorithm” can predict his every move and replicate it, constantly finding contingencies for his plans.

The film hammers the word “algorithm”, which any moderately tech-savvy viewer will immediately relate to the way Netflix, TikTok, YouTube, etc curates an audience’s tastes and preferences based on their viewing history.

This “Entity” or “Streamer” tries to replicate Hunt’s (Cruise’s) entire life, even down to harkening back to back-alley street chases, his interaction with government agent Kittridge (Henry Czerny, reprising his role from 1996’s “Mission: Impossible”) and staging Hunt’s final battle upon a speeding train with an arms dealer, exactly like the first film.

But of course, try as it might, The Entity cannot predict Ethan Hunt just as Netflix cannot predict Tom Cruise.

Beyond that reading, however, there is a Biblical coding within DEAD RECKONING that raises some eyebrows.

Hunt’s key nemesis here is the character Gabriel- an effective and chilling Esai Morales.

Gabriel, in the Bible, is the absolute messenger of God. In the film, Gabriel and Hunt’s relationship goes way back, before his IMF days, when he caused a woman Hunt loved to die.

Gabriel, now, acts as an absolute agent or messenger of the all-seeing, all-powerful Entity.

Morales, who audiences may know as Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke in HBO’s “Titans”, plays this role with a chilling and effective coldness.

Hunt finds the expert and aptly named thief Grace, a foil somewhat to his flame Ilsa Faust. As any literary-minded viewer will note, Faust was the name of author Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe’s two-part magnum opus about a man who sells his soul to the devil for life and inspiration.

Also, of course, the “key” to this Entity or God are two halves of a key that, when formed, make a biblical crucifix that is jeweled as one would expect the neckpiece of any priest to be.

There is a slew of biblically-coded imagery here with Hunt carrying the weight of every person that has died because of his missions on his shoulders and soul to the point where Hunt becomes a holy warrior against a false God or, barring that, an Old Testament God.

It begs the comparison of God himself smiting the Tower of Babel in the Bible, The Tower being mankind’s reliance and slavish devotion to the digital age and the faith we put within it, and there is the holy terror of contemplating if this A.I. is, in effect, a God of our age.

A God we made. That could smite us, if it so chooses.

DEAD RECKONING, thus, becomes an all-too-timely parable for the current age we live in where A.I. generated art, animation, actors, etc threaten the very existence and sanctity of what “art” stands for.

Try as one might to find fault in Tom Cruise’s seemingly apparent savior-complex, there isn’t really a fault to be found.

Whatever one might think of him as a Scientologist, there is one thing the man is devoted to, more wholly and holy than anyone else might be- the church of cinema.

Cruise, at 61 now, has long-been imitated and never replicated, and it is his faith in audiences and the holy church of a movie theater that has kept the mega-plex’s full for years now.

Outside the religious and personal ramifications here, DEAD RECKONING is a beast of a film on it’s own.

The stunts? Amazing. Jaw-dropping, really. The action? As tight as humanly possible. Watching director MacQuarrie evolve from 2015’s ROGUE NATION to 2018’s FALLOUT and now is astounding. You are always wondering if these films can outdo themselves and, shockingly (or perhaps not?) they do.

Perhaps the most amazing thing here is how insane the performances are.

Cruise, ever an actor unto himself, never fails to let the impressive supporting cast not only shine but dazzle.

Perhaps the most hilarious addition here is Shea Whigham, who audiences will know from KONG: SKULL ISLAND, and HBO’s “Perry Mason”, “Vice Principals”, and “The Righteous Gemstones”. Whigham’s character is brilliant because he is the most anti-Mission Impossible character one could muster.

He is constantly foiled by Hunt’s two-step-ahead methodology and doesn’t quite understand how or why Hunt can get away with everything that he does.

DEAD RECKONING is why they invented movie theaters.

And you need to see it.