In the latest Mission Impossible adventure, the unstoppable force that is artificial intelligence meets the immovable object known as Tom Cruise. The existential threat posed by AI that has roiled the real world is so serious in the fictional universe of Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning that the movie is being delivered in two parts.

In Part One, an AI programme called The Entity has gone rogue, much like Cruise’s operative Ethan Hunt has in the past. The Entity is controlled by an interlocking set of keys, which are scalped by the pickpocket Grace (Hayley Atwell). Grace is pursued by Ethan and his colleagues Luther (Ving Rhames), Benji (Simon Pegg) and Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson).

Also in hot pursuit are Central Intelligence Agency boss Kittridge (Henry Czerny), Gabriel (Esai Morales) and his enforcer Paris (Pom Klementieff), and the underworld broker Alanna (Vanessa Kirby).

A barebones plot that could have been wrapped up in a single movie has been stretched out to yield a second part scheduled for 2024. Director Christopher McQuarrie, who has also co-written Dead Reckoning with Erik Jendersen, pads the screenplay with throwbacks to previous Mission: Impossible films, a peek into the origin stories of Ethan and his teammates and an extended character arc for new cast member Hayley Atwell.

Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023). Courtesy Skydance/Paramount Pictures.

At 163 minutes, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One should feel overly long, but it stays light on its feet and even soars ever so often. While Dead Reckoning can’t measure up to its own high standards in terms of action, writing and character development – the bar was raised with Ghost Protocol (2011) and peaked with Fallout (2018) – the new film has something going on at all times to keep the eye away from the cellphone clock and on the big screen.

It’s adrenaline-plus-exposition layered with throwaway humour. It’s also the kind of maximalist movie that takes only the staging of jaw-dropping action very seriously and little else. The film’s special skill for creating stunts that are fantastical as well as believable is relentless – a three-way fight is set in an alleyway, with barely any room to move.

A distinct return-to-basics feel runs through the references to analogue over digital technology. The frequent use of canted-angle framing goes back to the first Mission: Impossible production from 1996, as does the resurrection of Kittridge from that movie. One of the heart-stopping chase sequences, set in Rome, revolves around a dinky Fiat car. A bust-up on a luxury train – which includes one of the most memorable instances of ticketless travel – pays homage to the 1926 silent classic The General.

There’s a silent film quality too to Ethan’s hyper-kinetic movements, his improvised daredevilry, his old-fashioned values of friendship and loyalty. Tom Cruise’s peerless talent for death-defying stunts and earnest heroism has propelled the Mission: Impossible series into a James Bond-slaying global money-spinner. Now 61 – and looking it on occasion – Cruise remains in complete command of his character and in perfect sync with the demand for Ethan to act first and think later.

Apart from Cruise, Hayley Atwell shines as Grace, the nimble-fingered thief who becomes the latest object of Ethan’s chivalry. The focus on Grace comes at the cost of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust. Introduced in Rogue Nation (2015) and established as Ethan’s new love interest in Fallout, Ilsa was a valuable addition to the franchise. Dead Reckoning treats her in a cavalier fashion, giving her little to do beyond gazing awestruck at Ethan, as do we.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (2023).