Arts·Group Chat

With Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, can Tom Cruise save cinemas?

Culture critics Rad Simonpillai, Cassie Cao and Sarah Hagi join host Elamin Abdelmahmooud to unpack the latest Mission: Impossible film and what sets Tom Cruise apart from the rest.

Rad Simonpillai, Cassie Cao and Sarah Hagi review the latest installment of the action franchise

Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in a still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One.
Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell in a still from Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One. (Paramount Pictures)

In the latest Mission: Impossible movie, Dead Reckoning Part One, agent Ethan Hunt and his crew embark on their highest-stakes mission yet.

But after six action-packed installments in the decades-old franchise, can star Tom Cruise still manage to bring audiences out to movie theatres and keep them on the edge of their seats?

Culture critics Rad Simonpillai, Cassie Cao and Sarah Hagi join host Elamin Abdelmahmooud to share their thoughts on the latest film in the Mission: Impossible franchise, and what sets Cruise apart from the rest.

We've included some highlights below, edited for length and clarity. For the full discussion, including a review of the new raunchy buddy comedy Joy Ride, listen and follow the Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud podcast, on your favourite podcast player.

Elamin: It's honestly hard to sometimes remember that this is a franchise that's been going on since 1996. It's been 27 years of Ethan Hunt, and I'm still giddy to talk about Mission: Impossible. Rad, we'll start with this. What is Ethan Hunt up to in Mission: Impossible seven?

Rad: This movie has Ethan Hunt squaring up on artificial intelligence.

Elamin: Timely.

Rad: Exactly…. And what that does is by him fighting this kind of futuristic force, you get Ethan Hunt and his gang going back into the past; they go more analog. You get a lot of callbacks to the original [movie], one of them being Toronto actor Henry Czerny who plays the original IMF boss. You get a finale on a train, just like the original. You have this movie that on the one hand, stylistically, it's bringing you back to the original — which is, I think, still the best — but then bringing the unrelenting action and big set pieces of the latter movies. It's all packaged into one.

WATCH | Official trailer for Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One:

Elamin: Cassie, what did you think of it?

Cassie: Oh, I loved it. I had such a good time. It was three hours long [and] I didn't even have to go pee. It was so good. No idea what the plot is; I actually think it is the exact same plot as Fast X, which I thought was very funny. But I think this movie defies that. I think it's such a compliment that this movie is so good that it can reuse another blockbuster's plot, and make no sense, and still you're just like, "But Tom Cruise jumps off a freaking cliff!"

Elamin: Yeah, there's a key. They're trying to get the key. I don't know what the key does…. It does not matter to me, Sarah, because I'm in it for Tom Cruise. What about you?

Sarah: I watch these movies over and over again — [I] could not tell you an actual plot point. I cannot tell you what anything means. I'm like, "AI bad, Tom Cruise good." It just works! He's so charming and honestly, this is the only franchise where ... any of these seven movies could be the best one of the whole franchise. It's just banger after banger. It's a summer blockbuster. It delivers. I was delighted.

Elamin: Rad, there's something to be said about the fact that Mission: Impossible is the only franchise committed to outdoing itself every single time. A really big part of the marketing campaign is, "Look at the really big stunts we had to do this time." Do you think that's why people keep returning to this franchise?

WATCH | The Biggest Stunt in Cinema History with Tom Cruise:

Rad: I think there's a general entertainment level, and if you took away a stunt I don't think that people are not going to turn out for that. But I think part of that is a conflation of Tom Cruise's ego.… [Audiences] know Tom Cruise as the last great movie star, as reliable entertainment. He wants you to know that he is always going to go out of his way and deliver that. And then in terms of the really big stunts — I mean, he's fighting a war to save cinemas, so he wants to make sure you have a theatrical experience. You want to come to the theatre to see something where if he's diving off a cliff, you have a reason to see that on the big screen. So that's kind of part and parcel with this package.

Elamin: I think there's something to be said about Tom Cruise being the person to do these stunts. Do you think knowing that Tom Cruise puts his life literally on the line for these movies changes the way you connect to the movie, Cassie?

Cassie: Yeah, absolutely. I'll also add that he's old now.

Elamin: He's 60 years old!

Cassie: And that really elevates it for me…. I'm a simple audience member. What I want is crazy people risking their lives. That's just from the dawn of time, like gladiator games — that's what I want. He delivers!

Elamin: Hagi, I feel like one of the marketing points of Mission: Impossible six was when he jumps from one building to the other and he breaks his foot, right?

Sarah: Breaks his ankle.

Elamin: He breaks his ankle, but then he keeps running. And that's the shot that they keep in the movie. This has become an age-defying exercise at this point.

WATCH | Tom Cruise Reacts to Slow-Mo Footage of How He Broke His Ankle on The Graham Norton Show:

Sarah: Yes. I think we have to take into consideration that he's not like us. He's not a regular human being. He's, yes, technically 60 years old — but physically with all the stuff he has at his disposal, he's probably a cool 40 years old. But the thing about Tom Cruise is that he has one function and it is "movie star," and it is "give audience what they want" — and he's going to do it no matter what. The crazy part about those stunts also is, those clips were going around when [Mission: Impossible six] first came out. When you watch the movie, it's even crazier somehow. You think you know, and then you watch the movie and you're like, "No, this is a lot crazier."

Elamin: Yeah, the way that shot ends up landing is even crazier; it still takes your breath away. Rad, you mentioned that Tom Cruise is engaged in this larger fight to save cinema. I think that's important to talk about because he's the guy who says, "I'm not going to do a streaming movie." He's the guy who Netflix can park some kind of large money truck in front of him and he'll be like, "No, my movies are meant to be seen in the theatre." As part of the big promo push for this movie, he's been photographed holding up a ticket for Oppenheimer and Barbie because he's trying to say, "Hey, go to the theatre. Stop seeing movies at home." Why do you think he's championed this fight so much?

Rad: Well, first of all, I think him holding up the ticket to Oppenheimer is also a PR move, because he was initially at war with Oppenheimer over IMAX screens. But he has genuinely been fighting this fight to save theatres and save the big screen experience — because, again, that goes with his whole old-school-movie-star mentality of "I am the last great movie star. I need to be the one that is going to keep this experience up."

I love how it's holistically part of the narratives in his movies. In this movie, the bad guy is AI — literally the threat to movies! He hates CGI, he hates making green screen monstrosities, so he's diving off cliffs for real to save the movies — because it's all about real actors, real stunts, real humanity, not an algorithm dictating what the movie is. This has been part of his mission even with the last Top Gun movie. Remember Top Gun: Maverick? Part of the plot was, "We need real pilots piloting in real canyons, not drone pilots." So his whole thing is … putting a middle finger up to AI and algorithms and green screen. Let's do it all for real: real actors, real script writing, real stunts — and even sleight-of-hand.

You can listen to the full discussion from today's show, including a review of the new raunchy buddy comedy Joy Ride, on CBC Listen or on our podcast, Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud, available wherever you get your podcasts.

Panel produced by Ty Callender.


Amelia Eqbal is a digital associate producer, writer and photographer for Commotion with Elamin Abdelmahmoud and Q with Tom Power. Passionate about theatre, desserts, and all things pop culture, she can be found on Twitter @ameliaeqbal.