Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is an undeniable achievement. Like all of the Mission: Impossible movies before it, the film features more awe-inspiring, death-defying stunts than it rightly should. As a result, while the film’s place on fans’ personal Mission: Impossible rankings remains unclear right now, what’s less uncertain is whether or not Dead Reckoning Part One has managed to maintain its franchise’s track record of blowing moviegoers away. Spoiler alert: It definitely, definitely has.
Now that the film is playing in theaters nationwide, the conversations surrounding its action sequences have only intensified. But which of Dead Reckoning Part One’s stunts, you may be wondering, is its best? And which is its worst? Wonder no more. Here are Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One’s stunts, ranked from the most to least thrilling.
In the third act of his latest big-screen adventure, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) comes to blows on the top of a runaway train with his new-old archnemesis, Gabriel (Esai Morales). Their fight isn’t just driven by Ethan’s desire to retrieve a powerful technological key, either, but also to avenge the death(?) of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson).
Make no mistake: Ethan and Gabriel’s fight atop the Orient Express is just as thrilling as you’d likely imagine. As far as the film’s stunts go, though, it’s the least impressive and well-choreographed. It also bears the unfortunate burden of falling short of the iconic train climax in 1996’s Mission: Impossible, which set a standard specifically for confrontations on top of trains that Dead Reckoning Part One just doesn’t meet.
Ilsa Faust’s Venice-set sword battle with Gabriel has all the potential to be the best 1-on-1 fight in Mission: Impossible history. In the end, it doesn’t take that crown, but that doesn’t mean the scene itself isn’t thrilling and intense. Rebecca Ferguson, Esai Morales, and their stunts doubles sell every single swing and punch that’s thrown, and writer-director Christopher McQuarrie’s decision to intercut Ilsa’s fight with shots of Tom Cruise’s Ethan running to try and get there in time to help her only ramps up the sequence’s tension.
Unfortunately, Dead Reckoning Part One doesn’t linger on the fight’s conclusion long enough for it to be as impactful as it should be, nor does it take the necessary amount of time to make viewers feel the weight of Ilsa’s apparent death at the hands of Gabriel. Ultimately, it’s not even the best hand-to-hand fight that Ferguson’s Ilsa has been a part of on-screen. That title still goes to either her knife fight with the Bone Doctor (Jens Hultén) in Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation or her savage cabin brawl with Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) at the end of Mission: Impossible — Fallout.
This is when things get real. Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning One is comprised of more than a few memorable sections, but it only delivers three totally stunt-driven sequences. One of them is a car chase through Rome involving Ethan Hunt, Grace (Hayley Atwell), Paris (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3‘s Pom Klementieff), and a few other noteworthy players. The sequence features not just one but two vehicle changes, well over a dozen drifts, a shootout, and an ongoing gag involving Grace and Ethan’s handcuffed hands.
It’s like Christopher McQuarrie and Tom Cruise looked at the now-iconic car chase in Mission: Impossible — Fallout and decided to try and top it. They don’t quite do that — nothing in Dead Reckoning Part One’s Rome sequence matches the elegance of Fallout’s Parisian chase — but they come incredibly close. The set piece is also, notably, elevated by Pom Klementieff, who goes all-in as Paris and delivers some of the best behind-the-wheel reaction shots we’ve seen in a movie since Popeye Doyle tried to chase down a train in The French Connection. Gene Hackman would be proud.
Tom Cruise’s motorcycle jump off the side of a cliff has been at the center of the Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One marketing campaign since the film began production and for good reason. While it takes a bit of jury-rigging on the part of Christopher McQuarrie and co-writer Erik Jendresen to actually get Cruise’s Ethan in position for his fateful jump, that matters little once he’s actually falling through the air. McQuarrie, like so many great action directors before him, elongates the moment, cutting between multiple angles as Cruise freefalls. The wind whips against his face and body and, for just a moment, Dead Reckoning Part One makes you feel like you’re falling with him.
There is no higher compliment than that, but it’s to McQuarrie, Cruise, and Jendresen’s credit that the jaw-dropping quality of Ethan’s leap of faith is later matched by his landing. In case you needed any more proof that the Mission: Impossible team knows how to make action movies, look no further than the moment when Cruise’s Ethan saves Grace’s life by literally parachuting into her train compartment and knocking another guy out the opposite window. It’s the kind of sublime physical joke that would make even Buster Keaton smile.
It takes a lot to top Tom Cruise riding a motorcycle off the side of a literal mountain, but Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One manages to do just that. The film’s third-act climax follows Hayley Atwell’s Grace and Cruise’s Ethan as they try to make their way through one train car after another, even as each slowly but surely topples off the edge of a blown-apart bridge. It’s a stunning piece of technical filmmaking — awe-inspiring, utterly engrossing, and unbelievably intense.
It’s also really, really funny. The entire sequence is full of darkly comedic visual gags, whether it be Ethan and Grace slipping on oil and vegetable stock as they run through the train’s kitchen car or the moment when Ethan finds himself and his partner in real danger of being crushed by a falling grand piano. It’s both a breathtakingly elaborate homage to The General and a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon.
While it’s not often nowadays that you find yourself watching something and asking, “How did they do that?” Dead Reckoning Part One’s climactic train escape provokes that exact reaction. There’s nothing else to say but this: Bravo.
Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is now playing in theaters.
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