By Ben Konuch
Summer blockbuster season is always too overwhelming to try to fit every major release into your schedule. Whether it be all the new streaming series, or the brand new franchises being started in cinemas or even iconic names returning on the big screen like “Indiana Jones,” this summer blockbuster season has been no exception. But when you can’t watch every new release, you have to pick the ones that look most intriguing. For me, those movies were “Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I,” “Extraction 2” and “The Flash.”
“Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I” is the first entry to the “Mission Impossible” franchise in five years, and a direct followup to 2018’s “Fallout.” Once again featuring Tom Cruise as the iconic IMF agent Ethan Hunt with his team of specialists assigned to tackle the world’s greatest threats, “Dead Reckoning” is both the same genre of action and espionage that “Mission Impossible” fans are used to, while also being a subtle reinvention of the franchise. This time, the threat isn’t a diabolical madman or a potential nuclear war, but an AI that can infiltrate any system to control the very fabric of information and how the world operates. This mission, should Ethan choose to accept it, is a war against an unseen enemy in an oblivious world that will be controlled without even knowing it should they fail.
If you’ve seen any of the “Mission Impossible” movies before, you should know what to expect by now. This is the same franchise full of explosive setpieces and death-defying real-life stunts that fans have loved for over two decades, yet “Dead Reckoning” has a clear identity of its own. This newest entry to the franchise features a subtle tonal shift that isn’t formula-breaking by any means but marks this film as a more serious mission with far more dangerous stakes. It’s darker, it’s grittier and it works wonders for building the trademark tension and drama that the franchise is known for. Pair that with standout performances from both series regulars and newcomers such as Pom Klementieff and Hayley Atwell, and “Dead Reckoning: Part I” is dead on target. I give “Dead Reckoning” an 8.5/10.
“Extraction 2” hit Netflix in June, and is once again directed by Sam Hargave with Chris Hemsworth as troubled mercenary Tyler Rake. This film resumes right at the end of the last film, revealing the circumstances of Rake’s miraculous escape from death and the hurdles he has to face to regain his life. But when his estranged wife asks him to help her sister and children escape from her abusive husband with ties to organized crime, Rake must make one more extraction with stakes that have never been greater: personal redemption and the love of family.
The first “Extraction” is one of my all-time favorite action films, and this sequel mostly replicates what made the original so strong. The action is fantastically choreographed with gritty, bloody, hand-to-hand fights and gunfights where you can practically feel the impact, but Hargrave’s direction is what makes “Extraction 2” so hard-hitting. Extended camera shots and a tight, focused framing of the camera means the viewer is never far from the action. Hargrave utilizes this most famously in an extended one-shot scene that lasts over 20 minutes and is one of the most thrilling action sequences I’ve seen in a very long time.
What sets “Extraction 2” apart from the first film, however, is a more personal and impactful story that plays off of the foundations of the original. “Extraction” was so interesting because of the way that it explored this unlikely bond between a father who lost a son and a son who was separated from his father. The way Rake started to sift through his past in the first film is continued here, with the chance to save his sister-in-law and nephew and niece becoming a direct line of redemption from the loss of his own son. It’s not a perfect story, and nonsensical character decisions sometimes hold it back when it could truly excel, but the way it continues the themes of what the first film built upon while still magnifying its scale and unique action identity ensures that “Extraction 2” is a thrillingly fun watch. I give “Extraction 2” a 9/10.
“The Flash,” unfortunately, is not as polished. Directed by Andy Muschietti of “It” fame, the film stars Ezra Miller once again as Barry Allen / The Flash from previous entries in the DCEU. The film follows Barry Allen as he struggles to make ends meet in life despite being a superhero, most significantly in his struggle to prove that his incarcerated father wasn’t responsible for his mother’s murder. But when Barry discovers a way to run fast enough to actually travel back into time, the once-impossible dream of saving his mother becomes a reality – one with disastrous consequences.
To address the elephant in the room, “The Flash” has some very rough edges. Inconsistent CGI can be painful to look at and sometimes clutters the action, legal controversies around Ezra Miller undermine a stellar performance and a muddied final act takes steam away from the climax. In spite of all this, “The Flash” has undeniable heart. Its story packs a surprising amount of emotional depth as it follows familiar paths while still managing to put a new spin on the superhero genre.
While its plot can sometimes feel basic, the character work in this film excels. Barry’s arc is one of intense personal reflection, and seeing that represented through another universe’s less-experienced version of him works wonders. The older Bruce Wayne played by Michael Keaton isn’t just nostalgia fuel, but a genuine player in this plot and the lessons Barry has to learn. Rounding out the cast is Sasha Calle’s Supergirl, who absolutely stole the show for me and contributed to the film’s greatest emotional punch in a way I never saw coming. Despite its flaws, “The Flash” tries with genuine earnestness not to reinvent the superhero genre, but to show how it can be used in some unexpected ways. I give “The Flash” a 6.5/10.
“Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I” is playing in theaters, “Extraction 2” is streaming on Netflix and “The Flash” is streaming on Max.
Ben Konuch is a junior Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Netflix and Warner Bros. Pictures.