‘Dead Reckoning Part One’ Missed a Major Opportunity With Ethan Hunt


The Big Picture

  • Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One mishandles the death of Ilsa, Ethan’s love interest, and fails to let him properly grieve.
  • The movie falls into the tired trope of killing off female characters to emotionally motivate the male hero.
  • Ethan’s lack of emotional response to Ilsa’s death contradicts his established character and weakens the impact of the story.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is a movie with stakes higher than just worldwide destruction (although that’s on the table, as always). Things go deeper for superspy protagonist Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) when he encounters a new kind of threat with a very familiar modus operandi. The Entity, a sentient AI with lethal impulses, concludes that the best way to protect itself from Ethan is to emotionally destabilize him by killing someone he loves. This plot point is an unfortunate but expected echo of prior Mission: Impossible movies. Despite the franchise’s many outstanding cinematic achievements, its creatives also decided to saddle Ethan with a trope as tired as time itself.

His mere existence spells inevitable doom for the people he cares about, especially the women in his life. Befriending this man, let alone loving him, can only end in disaster. Dead Reckoning Part One brings this disaster upon Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), a recurring member of Ethan’s core team and his current love interest. Killing off women characters to emotionally motivate a male hero is always a controversial move, but Dead Reckoning Part One further mishandles the situation — and severely weakens the story it’s trying to tell — by not letting Ethan properly grieve Ilsa in a meaningful way.

Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One

Ethan Hunt and his IMF team must track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands.

Release Date
July 14, 2023


‘Dead Reckoning Part One’ Mishandles Ethan and Ilsa

Ethan and Ilsa’s beginnings might have been contentious, but even when their separate organizations pitted the agents against one another, affection was the only personal feeling that carried over. The pair’s tentative romantic tension was never marked with antagonism but with mutual concern. If not for Ilsa, Ethan would have died multiple times over, and vice versa. By the end of Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Dead Reckoning Part One, the two are clearly in love, even if the films never depicted anything beyond emotionally charged stares and meaningful embraces. Regardless, Ethan and Ilsa are Mission: Impossible‘s strongest romance thanks to Ilsa’s repeat appearances and her unquestioned status as Ethan’s equal.

Unfortunately, Dead Reckoning Part One hasn’t learned from its franchise’s past mistakes. It recycles the trope of “imperiled woman in love with the hero” rather than allowing Ilsa to continue existing as an individual outside of her romance with Ethan. The movie even unnecessarily bookends Ethan’s relationship with Gabriel (Esai Morales), his old nemesis and franchise villain, through two murdered women: an anonymous person from Ethan’s past, and Ilsa. Gabriel stabbing Ilsa through the heart and leaving her to die is a dissatisfying conclusion for the franchise’s most prominent female character, especially one who’s far more complex than action movies usually allow their women to be.


The ‘Mission: Impossible’ Oscar Nominations Were a Long Time Coming

‘Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One’ definitely deserves its two Academy Award nominations.

This contextual history makes how little time Dead Reckoning Part One spends with Ethan’s grief even more puzzling. It’s a loss the movie designed to be deeply significant and deliberately vindictive on the Entity’s part, and one it then proceeds to breeze past. Certainly, losing any member of his team is a full-circle fear for Ethan. With the dye cast in favor of Ilsa’s demise, one expects some deeply moving scenes to follow her death. Instead, Ethan tenderly touches Ilsa’s face and looks sad for maybe a scene and a half. He spends as much time lingering over Ilsa’s loss as he does the unnamed, mysterious woman from his past who’s depicted in a short flashback. Why develop a tender and loving relationship between Ilsa and Ethan across several installments only for Isla’s death to basically occur in a vacuum? It’s a glaring, missed opportunity and incongruent with what’s been previously shown.

‘Dead Reckoning Part One’ Has a Character Development Problem

Ilsa’s death failing to meaningfully affect Ethan is especially inconsistent with the character the six other Mission: Impossible films established. Ethan is a man with a consistently selfless, loving heart, and no stranger to watching the women he cares about fall like a row of morbid dominoes (insert frustrated sigh). That particular pattern dates back to the original 1996 film and his forbidden love for Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Béart), who dies in his arms from a gunshot wound. Similar to Ilsa and the woman Gabriel murdered, Ethan silently strokes Claire’s hair and mourns in brokenhearted, vengeful, one-and-done silence. This guy can’t keep romantic happiness to save his life and values his friends above the sanctity of any mission. Fans know Ethan must be consumed by regret, guilt, and anger over Ilsa.

But instead of examining how a history of loss compiled atop loss might challenge a stubbornly altruistic character, Dead Reckoning Part One just barrels into its climatic finale. The film certainly had plenty of time to accommodate how Ethan might make mistakes out of rage, fear, or both. The nearly three-hour runtime feels bloated with needless exposition about the Entity that could have instead gone toward needful, and needed, character beats. The always-wonderful Luther (Ving Rhames) gives Ethan a moral lecture, but does anyone really doubt that Ethan will choose what’s best for the world over his personal revenge? Survey says otherwise, especially since Dead Reckoning is a two-part storyline. This movie actually spends more time on Grace (Hayley Atwell) grappling with her guilt over Ilsa rather than how Ilsa’s loss affects her main emotional counterpart — who happens to be the franchise’s main character. The stunts might be breathtaking movie magic, but if the cost was wasting Isla, then it was a mistake to also waste the aftermath.

Mission: Impossible has never been a standard-bearer for quality feminism, but Dead Reckoning cuts itself and its hero off at the knees. Killing Ilsa just so Ethan can mope for approximately thirty seconds is a rushed, hollow development without lasting consequences. And as a beloved member of the IMF family, Ilsa deserved the time to be properly grieved. Simon Pegg‘s Benji Dunn is rightfully beloved and a cinnamon roll who can do no wrong, but there’s little doubt that his death would have triggered an earthquake of a reaction in comparison. What was the point of continuing an unfortunately sexist trend if the hero didn’t display any emotional payoff? The decision isn’t fair to Ilsa or Ethan, and it weakens the wider impact Dead Reckoning‘s story tries — and somewhat fails — to achieve.

Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning Part One is now available to stream on Paramount+ in the U.S.

Watch on Paramount+


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