The latest ‘Mission Impossible’ is a topical, reasonably thrilling big-screen crowd-pleaser with plenty of fabulous action, even if it lacks originality and runs long

Hang on: Tom Cruise in ‘Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One’.

The overriding fear presently coursing through the veins and crackling across the synaptic network of every man, woman, child and professional catastrophist with an internet connection is the threat posed by the destructive power of Artificial Intelligence should it ever free itself from the shackles of human control and take on a life of its own.

That’s the intriguing, highly topical, sky-is-falling, pre-apocalyptic worst-case scenario nightmare fuelling the premise for Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One, the reasonably thrilling seventh installment of the high-end action-adventure franchise.

Though way overlong – 2 hours and 43 minutes for just the first part? – MIDRP1 mounts a globe-trotting, lusciously photographed escapade as Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise – who else?) and his nimble high-tech crew face off against their most formidable adversary yet.

It’s a cyber entity called…well…The Entity – an Artificial Intelligence program beast that has escaped the clutches of its creators and has become self-aware, dutifully following in the cinematic wake of 2001, The Terminator, The Matrix, Blade Runner and every other machine-versus-human film going all the way back to 1927’s Metropolis.

As far as evil enemies go, The Entity turns out to be pretty cool, constantly getting smarter with every move and able to predict behaviour so accurately characters in the film have to wonder whether what they’re about to do next has already been factored into the Entity’s grand plan. It’s quite fun watching them grapple with something they know is already smarter than them.

Entwined into all the growing global threat this thing represents is the need for Hunt and his small team of IMF operatives (IMF = Impossible Mission Force – and shame on you if you didn’t know that already) to locate a very special key.

This key will unlock a device that sits at the bottom of the Arctic ocean in a Russian submarine that was bamboozled by The Entity.

The key, of course, is in two parts, thus requiring much chasing and fighting and tracking down of people using super-snazzy computer gear that can instantly create deepfakes and so send rival teams who are also after the key after the wrong people.

Much fun is had with this particular plot point and it’s typical of the film’s well-judged use of humour; situation-specific gags and one-liners merrily pop up during scenes when the tension is mounting and the action is intense, just so you don’t make the tragic mistake of taking any of the heightened spectacle too seriously.

Naturally things can’t go too smoothly for the IMF, so in walks Grace (Hayley Atwell), a wily thief who becomes embroiled in the race for the key, half of which is now on the market for sale, with super-smart super-villain Gabriel (Esai Morales) hot to acquire the thing and take control of the world.

Generously garnishing the film with more than enough awesome commotion, director Christopher McQuarrie again shows what a dab hand he is at propelling multi-headed plots and orchestrating frame-filling action sequences, the scale of which are often staggering, if not exactly original.

McQuarrie, who co-wrote Part One with Erik Jendresen (Band of Brothers), has lots of runs on the board with Cruise.

He directed him in Jack Reacher, the somewhat ordinary MI jaunt Rogue Nation and the far superior follow-up Fallout (episodes five and six respectively).

He also co-wrote Top Gun: Maverick and Valkyrie. (Going back 28 years, McQuarrie also wrote the neo-classic crime thriller The Usual Suspects.)

Admittedly, the nuts could have been tightened on the film’s elaborate exposition scenes, some of which go on so long they start sounding like screenwriter’s notes rather than actual dialogue.

Overall, though, McQuarrie imbues the shenanigans with lots of spark as the stakes rise and the race for the key in this espionage fantasy adventure becomes more desperate and deadly.

Castwise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg and Rebecca Ferguson all return in good form, and how sweet it is to see Henry Czerny back in the fray as Eugene Kittridge, who last appeared as the IMF director in the first Mission Impossible way back in 1996.

Cruise is typically terrific. Apart from doing his signature no-stunt-double action thing, he gives our hero the necessary gravitas required to ground the film’s many over-the-top sequences.

Indeed, many of the film’s plot-selling moments are done so well it reminds you how good a dramatic actor Cruise is, making you wish he’d tap back into his roots and do more films like the ones that established him: Rain Man; The Colour of Money; Born on the Fourth of July; A Few Good Men; Eyes Wide Shut, etc. And if you haven’t seen his Oscar-ignored turn in 2017’s American Made check it out on Binge. Fantastic stuff.

Now for some sobering notes.

As much as we love Tom Cruise and the MI franchise, it’s important for us not to get too worked up about some of the big claims being made by this film.

It is wholly terrific how Cruise and his MI ethos has championed the primacy of real stunt work and staging action practically rather than relying on computer generated imagery (CGI). Seeing the actual Tom Cruise stunting away is a gift to fans and a strong statement against the fakery of 21st century blockbusters. Good.

All in all, however, there’s no getting away from the rather obvious fact that MI7 is as crammed with digital VFX work as any other film of comparable heft.

Indeed, we see in the film’s closing credits something we see with every big film – screen-filling lists of the hundreds of digital artists who slaved away creating the film’s impressive array of visual effects.

You simply can’t make a film of this scale or expense without massive digital assist, and though the practical work here is noticeable, so too is the digital artistry assisting it.

It’s also worth noting that MI7 was also the first film in the series to be shot digitally.

The MI films have earned their status as prestige action movies that strive to be a cut above, and they have been, more or less.

That said, it’s obviously getting increasingly difficult to come up with original ideas. And much of what we see in Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning – Part One echoes what has come before.

To wit:

The notion of self-aware AI has been used in cinema for nearly a century, as in: The Terminator; Colossus; A.I.; Metropolis, etc, etc;

Fight scenes that take place on top of speeding trains have been around for ages, including in the first Mission Impossible film;

The thrilling car chase through Rome has lots of moments that look like lifts from The Italian Job;

Answering riddles from a villain is a trope we saw across the Batman franchise and in Lethal Weapon 3;

Even Cruise’s Big Stunt as he rides a motorcycle off a cliff and freefalls until his parachute opens is an obvious salute to the classic audience shushing moment from The Spy Who Loved Me.

Speaking of which, there’s been so much publicity about The Big Jump – with featurettes and interviews and commentary all over the shop – that when the moment actually arrives in the film it’s something of an anti-climax. Well, not so much an anti-climax, perhaps, but a moment that we’ve already ingested from all the over-publicity.

As with Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the editing in MI7 has the rhythm of so many other action films, with a cut every second or so.

For some sequences that is perfectly appropriate to heighten tension, the editing in key scenes being superlative. At other times though, you wish they’d hold on to shots for just a few seconds more.

The look and sweep of the film tells you where the reported $US290 million production budget for MI7 went. It’s all up there; the dosh is on the screen.

But to get the full measure of what that kind of coin gets you, scan through the final credits and look out for the catering crew. You’ll see the film was blessed with an executive chef, a head chef and a sous chef.

Riding motorcycles off mountains must really take it out of you.

* By the way, where’s the sequel to Risky Business? Cruise could play an up-and-coming conservative politician – like the one he played in Lions for Lambs (another terrific dramatic turn) – whose run for governor or the presidency or whatever is tainted when rumours emerge that he ran a brothel out of his parents’ house when he was in high school. Throw in an accusation of sexual impropriety, a scandal erupts and only one person can save him. Enter Rebecca De Mornay.