In a summer full of blockbusters offering up stale, pandering nostalgia, Tom Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie have arrived to show everyone how it’s done with their rip-roaring Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One (hereafter M:I7). Theirs is a film bursting with action, humor, wit, and spectacle. M:I7 is a transportive experience. I felt like I was 11 years old again, back when each new movie you saw had the potential to be the coolest thing you’ve ever laid eyes on.

The plot, such as it matters, revolves around potentially world end—you know what? It doesn’t really matter. More than ever, the plot driving this movie forward feels irrelevant. There’s a doo-dad and a computer thingy that promises to destroy the world if it falls into the wrong hands. There’s a special key that requires two pieces joined together in order to do something bad. If you can track all the details of the plot, good on ya.

The script (credited to McQuarrie, Erik Jendresen, and the late creator of the M:I television series Bruce Geller) doesn’t even try to keep a straight face when delivering story exposition. The number of times characters refer to something called “The Entity” is worthy of its own supercut. It’s a joke the movie is fully aware of and leans into for increasingly rewarding laughs. That pretty much sums up the whole attitude of M:I7. Cruise, McQuarrie, and everyone else are completely aware of what they’re making and who they’re making it for.

M:I7 feels like it’s practically sprinting from the time it opens, maintaining its breakneck pace and getting stronger the longer it goes on. It’s not a major revelation to say this series runs like a machine at this point, but it’s truer than it’s ever been. Ethan (Cruise), Luther (Ving Rhames), and Benji (Simon Pegg) run a three-man weave through one precarious situation after another. The characters and actors have the chemistry reminiscent of other top-shelf star fests like the Ocean’s films. The way McQuarrie mixes thrills and laughs in nearly every scene only works if the cast is game enough to sell it. That extends to returning players like Ilsa (Rebecca Ferguson) and White Widow (Vanessa Kirby) down to new faces Paris (Pom Klementieff), Grace (Hayley Atwell), Gabriel (Esai Morales), Jasper (Shea Whigham), and on down the line. As the action jumps around the globe from one exotic locale to another, M:I7 — more so than previous entries — feels like Rat Race (or It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World if you’re more sophisticated). There are three different factions in pursuit of the key and the ever-evolving alliances and duplicities provide constant surprises and laughs.

In McQuarrie, a great writer and increasingly great director, Cruise has found the perfect complement. Whether it’s a foot chase, a shootout, a fist fight or city-spanning car chase, or just a scene meant to knock out some exposition, Cruise and McQuarrie never take the easy out.

Back when I was 11 I got my first real dose of summer blockbuster glory with Twister and Independence Day. In the nearly 30 summers since, I’ve certainly seen better movies. But I haven’t seen many that recaptured that initial feeling. M:I7 did. To paraphrase Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol director Brad Bird, this is popcorn cinema at its finest, hot and fresh.

Like this year’s other premier blockbuster action franchise entry John Wick 4, the sense of gamesmanship and competition is palpable in every frame. M:I7 isn’t just trying to outdo the nearly insurmountable Fallout, it’s trying to top every other action movie. If I really think about it, I’m not sure if it quite gets there, but in the moment with one insane setpiece after another unfolding, it might be close. 

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