Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) fate is not yet written — and neither is the second half of his latest adventure. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning is the latest blockbuster (and the third in 2023 alone) to split its story into two discernible halves. As the seventh film in such a pulse-pounding, crowd-pleasing saga, that’s not exactly a bad thing. But for Dead Reckoning, it’s not exactly a satisfying one either.
Dead Reckoning Part One delivers on more of Cruise, more bonkers stunts, and more movie than anyone could possibly know what to do with. Not even Christopher McQuarrie, whose been helming the Mission: Impossible saga behind the scenes since entry number four, fully knows what’s in store for Ethan after Part One. Fortunately, the film does spare us from the frustrating fate of a cliffhanger ending. Instead, it leaves us with a “to be continued” of sorts. Part One’s end is satisfying enough — if not a little bittersweet — but it does come after a bloated, twisty adventure that probably could have been streamlined.
Once the dust settles and the Big Bad is defeated, does Dead Reckoning actually justify its status as a two-parter? Spoilers ahead!
Dead Reckoning Part One ending, explained
Dead Reckoning Part One finds Ethan once again going rogue to stop another rising threat. This time, he’s up against The Entity, a malignant artificial intelligence that can rewrite the truth as we know it. Multiple world powers are seeking to control this AI, including Ethan’s employers, the Impossible Mission Force. What few realize is that they are, in fact, being controlled by the Entity.
Ethan is wise enough to know something like this can’t be subdued, only destroyed. He sets off with his team to recover the two-part key that controls the Entity, but they’re not the only ones in pursuit. Ethan’s old ally, Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) has retrieved one half of the key for MI6. And after a dizzying game of cat and mouse in Abu Dhabi, career burglar Grace (Hayley Atwell) finds herself in possession of the other. Both eventually join forces with Ethan to unite the two halves of this key, but they still have to contend with Gabriel (Esai Morales), the Entity’s liaison in the real world.
By the end of Dead Reckoning, Gabriel is one of two people that knows exactly what the key unlocks: an early version of the Entity that dwells in a scuttled Russian submarine, Sevastopol. Ethan is the second, and fortunately, he’s also the one that ends up with the completed key. His victory comes at great personal cost though, with key allies either killed or captured, and the others scattered to the winds. Ilsa is killed in a duel with Gabriel, and Luther (Ving Rhames) heads underground to crack the Entity’s code. That leaves Ethan and Benji (Simon Pegg) to locate Sevastopol, while Grace pledges her allegiance to the IMF.
The case against Dead Reckoning Part Two
For all the melodrama that the film works to set up, Dead Reckoning’s plot is deceptively simple. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie was adamant about beefing up the emotional threads throughout the film and giving key players a lot more to do — but you have to wonder why all that couldn’t be done in one movie.
Look, the Mission: Impossible franchise isn’t well-known for its streamlined stories. So many of the saga’s best entries run well over two hours, thanks to the globe-trotting missions that zig-zag from city to city, and the stunt sequences that creep well over the 20-minute mark. Dead Reckoning zips along at a breakneck pace, so the hours do fly by — but there’s still a sense that this story is spinning its wheels. There’s plenty of set-up (and even a bit of backstory into Ethan’s life before IMF), but not a whole lot of plot. And I get it, no one’s really coming to these movies for that. But the lengthy exposition goes on for so long that it starts to feel like a character in and of itself, and it might be to the film’s detriment.
The M:I films have always been lax on story, if not outright fueled by their setpieces. But previous entries have also had an endgame, a fixed point to strive towards. Dead Reckoning doesn’t, and you do start to feel it as the film chugs toward its final showdown. Sometimes, it is enough just to watch Tom Cruise and his merry band of operatives in a freewheeling stunt spectacular. Dead Reckoning Part Two will likely be just as exhilarating as Part One, but how will it stick the landing?