Blockbuster action movies are designed to stun the audience into submissive acceptance. Complexity, humanity, emotion and beauty are reduced to a few flickering lights in the swirling darkness of death and destruction. This is not a criticism. Great art has sometimes been like that and Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is certainly art, though perhaps not great. Anyway, I, for one, was stunned.
For context, this is the seventh Mission: Impossible movie. The first was in 1996 so the hero Tom Cruise, aka Ethan Hunt, is now in his sixties. The fact that he is still alive, in spite of several thousand increasingly exotic attempts to kill him, suggests the franchise should be renamed – perhaps Mission Actually Quite Probable.
He had to survive this one because, as the title suggests, it is only half a film. It has been shot concurrently with Part Two, which will be released next year. Both will do well; the first six films cost a total of $828 million to make and grossed $3.6 billion. These sums suggest they have gone a long way to saving a deeply troubled film industry.
From the beginning they have been made by masters of the action art – J.J.Abrams, Brian De Palma – and now Christopher McQuarrie has become resident director, writer and producer.
He has brilliantly refined and intensified the entire action genre. It’s the same old things but even longer and louder. His car chase in Rome – action movies tend to be tourism-centred – is exemplary, not least because the world’s favourite sexagenarian demonstrates his ability to drive a Fiat 500 at high speed while handcuffed to his passenger and then change places while still handcuffed to the alarmed lady.