Mission: Incomplete?

So Ethan Hunt and the IMF made a triumphant return to the big screen at last last week, with the much-anticipated and hyped release of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: DEAD RECKONING.  It’s the seventh time this supercharged, reinvented IP has been tapped into by Paramount to save the world, let alone its sagging stock price, and given what Tom Cruise was able to do for them and the industry at large with his resurrection of yet another iconic character of his, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, when TOP GUN: MAVERICK finally brought millions of otherwise skittish fans back in theatres last year, expectations were elevated.  Oh, and as THE ASSOCIATED PRESS’ Jake Coyle reminded yesterday, there was also that small little issue about studio accounting that exponentially raised the bar that would define success:

Paramount had higher hopes for the action extravaganza of “Dead Reckoning,” which cost $290 million to make, not counting marketing expenses.  Those costs were inflated, in part, by the pandemic. “Dead Reckoning,” directed by Christopher McQuarrie, was among the first major productions shut down by COVID-19. It was preparing to shoot in Italy in March 2020. When the film got back on track, McQuarrie and Cruise helped lead the industry-wide recovery back to film sets – albeit with some well-publicized friction over protocols along the way.

So the results that Coyle reported, despite Paramount’s valiant efforts to spin the numbers as favorably as possible, have to be seen in a context that is perhaps a bit less rosy than the reviews of those who did see it:

After a globe-trotting publicity blitz by star Tom Cruise, “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” launched with a franchise-best $80 million for five days, though it came in shy of industry expectations with a $56.2 million haul for the three-day weekend, according to studio estimates.

The debut was boosted by strong overseas sales of $155 million from 70 markets. But while a $235 million worldwide launch marked one of the best global openings of the year, “Dead Reckoning” couldn’t approach the high-speed velocity of last summer’s top film, “Top Gun: Maverick.”

“Dead Reckoning Part One,” the seventh film in the 27-year-old series, had been forecast to better the franchise high of the previous installment, “Fallout,” which opened with $61 million domestically in 2018. Instead, it also fell short of the $57.8 million “Mission: Impossible II” debuted with in 2000.  That puts the film’s opening-weekend tally very close to the tepid launch of Disney’s “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” which opened in U.S. and Canadian theaters with $82 million for five days and $60 million for the three-day weekend. 

Still, “Dead Reckoning” was hailed as a high point in the franchise. Critics (96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and fans (an “A” on CinemaScore) alike came away awed by the stunts and chases of the latest “Mission: Impossible” film.

DEAD RECKONING–and, at this point, every other summer release from this coming weekend on–is gonna need every one of those online evangelical reviews to continue to put butts in seats because, well, ya know, there’s that small little issue of concurrent strikes of writers and actors that has effectively shut down all publicity attempts going forward.  A strike, ironically, with one central issue being the use of AI, which is also the antagonist in DEAD RECKONING.

And not only does MI: DR face potentially stiff competition from the upcoming double whammy of competing studios’ blockbuster released BARBIE (Warner Brothers) and OPPENHEIMER (Universal) this coming weekend , but there’s also a growing belief among some union members and supporters that one surefire way to show the studios their displeasure is to avoid going to movies and cancelling subscriptions to streaming services.  Because every dollar they make on our watch gives them that less reason to go back to the barganing table.

That said, someone I respect immensely raised the point that since studios use data as both a negotiating tool and a bargaining chip, lower returns on investment will give them more reason to justify not willing to budge on what the industry considers to be non-negotiable issues.  That person’s take was unless the unions themselves specifically call for a boycott of theatres and a mass cancellation of subscriptions as a strategy, it might be unwise to believe that not consuming content will be effective.

In the specific case of this film, that person’s point could be even stronger. As the title suggests, a direct sequel, DEAD RECKONING PART TWO, has already been in production, with that process on to a budget-approved hiatus so that the cast, led by the otherwise omnipresent Cruise, could do publicity.  With the strikes shutting that process down, it’s now anybody’s guess if Part Two will meet its desired release date for June 28, 2024, which is not gonna sit well with the pundits and puppetmasters of Wall Street that are effectively driving the decisions of those CEOs who the union members and those in solidarity are demanding get back to work

And if people really do like what they see when they see it, the demand for Part Two will only intensify, and knowing it’s corporate greed surrounding issues like artificial intelligence, not to mention the ability of nearly 90 per cent of the rank and file to qualify for health insurance, that will delay that gratification, the court of public opinion may wind up being an even more effective bargaining chip down the road.

So assuming it’s within one’s budget, I’m actually reconsidering my initial instinct to not see this film right now.  More than anything, I want writers and actors back at work doing what they love, and yes, I’m selfishly motivated that their work increases the likelihood for mine,  And absolutely nothing would make me feel as good as knowing we’re all making a decent living at the same time.

THAT might indeed be an impossible mission.  But possibly not improbable.  So this mission is definitely incomplete.  As is mine.

Until next time…

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