Director: John Woo
Writer: Robert Towne, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga
Producer: Terence Chang, Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner
Cast: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, William R. Mapother, Brendan Gleeson, Anthony Hopkins, John Polson, Dominic Purcell, Richard Roxburgh, Rade Serbedzija
Running Time: 123 min.
“Mission: Impossible II” is one of those films that debuted to big money at the box office (it’s still the most successful film in the franchise, although “Ghost Protocol” is getting there), only to later be regarded with great critical and fan derision. The notion is that M:I2 is little more than a vanity piece for its star, Tom Cruise; that even though the television show was about the Impossible Missions Force working as a team, Cruise had to turn it into a solo affair where he is the toughest, fastest, and coolest guy in every frame of the movie. I remember that my own opinion of the film soured after repeated viewings so when I recently sat down to revisit the film on blu-ray, I wasn’t expecting much despite my love for all things John Woo.
Against the odds, I find that “Mission: Impossible II” has aged remarkably well. Let’s face it, nobody makes action movies like this anymore: with our distinctly feminine hero gazing into the camera like a lover’s eyes, his hair tousled by the wind as the scenery whirls around him in slow motion ecstasy. Meanwhile: some poor bastard henchmen are about to be crushed by a semi-truck. Say what you want but Cruise has charisma; I’ll take him over a dozen Sam Worthingtons any day.
The “Mission: Impossible” franchise has endured because of its malleability, each film reflecting the sensibilities of its particular auteur. Part II, then, is defined entirely by John Woo. Tom Cruise brought Woo on board while the Hong Kong filmmaker, post-”Face/Off“, was arguably one of the most in-demand action directors in Hollywood. One senses that Woo was hired to do exactly what he does best and as a result M:I2 is truly ‘Woo unleashed.’ Why do two characters need to exchange dialogue in order to fall in love? Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton stare at each other from across the room for an eternity thanks to Woo’s breakdown of time and space, a flamenco dancer’s dress fluttering between them in slow motion. Later on, Cruise and Newton manage to have a love scene with their sports cars as the vehicles spin wildly out of control on the edge of a cliff. It’s an utterly ridiculous moment that’s elevated to high art thanks to Woo’s unflinching technique.
In truth, Tom Cruise ended up being the perfect foil for Woo, perhaps even better than Jean Claude Van Damme. Both actors are men who, in their heyday, had big egos and wanted to look as cool as possible onscreen; and Woo obliged them in every way he could. Cruise dives through the air, dual pistols drawn; scales a sheer rockface without climbing equipment; plays chicken with a motorcycle; and obviously does as many of his own stunts as the insurance companies would allow. Sure, he’s no Chow Yun Fat – and the impact of the violence is lessened somewhat by a PG-13 rating – but Cruise performs ably and M:I2 seems designed from the ground up to be the Platonic ideal of the Big Dumb Action movie, and it succeeds spectacularly at it.
For Woo fans, it’s interesting to note how much M:I2 mirrors his earlier American effort “Hard Target.” Once again we find our steely-eyed hero up against a Big Bad (Lance Henriksen then, Dougray Scott now) and his right hand man, the Heavy (Arnold Vosloo vs. Richard Roxburgh). The movies are even similar on a structural level, devoting an hour or more to setting up the story and romantic subplot before ending in a solid 40 minutes of chase and action sequences. It may be hard to believe but the same guy who wrote “Chinatown,” Richard Towne, wrote “M:I2.” The plot is fairly ridiculous and the characters routinely assume the audience is dumb by spelling out the story in explicit detail, but there are a few good exchanges here and there, and the movie does benefit from having an actual love plot. While the crucial love scene in DePalma’s “Mission: Impossible” was actually edited out, robbing the ending of some of its impact, the romance between Cruise and Thandie Newton is central to most of M:I2. Many will disagree but I found Cruise and Newton to have decent chemistry and Lord knows John Woo filmed Newton as flatteringly as possible; she has never looked better than she does here.
One would hope that M:I2, being a handsomely produced and relatively recent film, would make an easy transition to blu-ray. Unfortunately, Paramount’s blu-ray edition of the film is a solid if unremarkable catalog title. Close-ups reveal a good deal of detail but, overall, the image appears a bit too dark and lacking in dimensionality. It’s less grainy than the blu-ray for 1996′s “Mission: Impossible” but the film still looked older than it actually is to my eyes. I get the impression that Paramount is holding out on better editions of these films. Perhaps now that “Ghost Protocol” is a runaway success, they’ll go back and give the series the transfers it deserves. I’d recommend that casual buyers hold off on a purchase except that the entire series can be had for such a steal: they routinely go for $20 on Amazon. Just don’t be surprised if Paramount asks fans to double-dip with a superior disc somewhere down the road.
I know for some movie fans, defending M:I2 is tantamount to defending “Batman & Robin.” But in reality, this is not a film that needs defending: it appeals to exactly who it was meant to appeal to. The film critics, the Woo purists who feel he should have stayed in Hong Kong – M:I2 was never gonna win them over. But if you have an appreciation for Woo’s American films, and the way he managed to transfer many of his patented themes to the West alongside the bigger pyrotechnics that Hollywood budgets afforded him, then M:I2 is a damn fun time at the movies. Revisiting this film made me realize that the “Mission: Impossible” series has never really missed a beat. Each movie is shaped by the vision of its particular director and Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is a character just surface-level enough that he can be molded to fit whatever genre or style the director calls for. Part II forgoes the shadowy intrigue and espionage of DePalma’s entry, but what it lacks in subtlety it makes up for with Woo’s carefully constructed maelstrom of action and slow-motion bad-assery.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10
John Woo’s power as a filmmaker is not only so great that I consider him the best action director ever, but also that, just because of his association with it, I actually watched the sequel to what I considered one of the worst movies of the 1990s: the first Mission: Impossible. That movie, with it’s “let’s just confuse everyone instead of telling an actual story; the kids’ll love it” attitude, pissed me off to no end. So much so that when I saw the trailer for M:I-2 a few years later, I had no intention of seeing it, regardless of Woo’s presence. Plus there was also the fact that I hadn’t liked any of Woo’s US films. I figured that, like the first one, Mission: Impossible 2 would be nothing more than a vanity vehicle for Tom Cruise.
Well, I recently watched this movie, and discovered that I was half right. This is certainly a vanity project for Cruise: he does his own stunts (seemingly), we watch him climb a mountain barehanded, and in each and every scene he’s dressed in the most expensive clothes possible. And, just to let us know how cool he is, he even takes the time to slip on a pair of shades during the climactic gun battle.
But still, this movie isn’t bad at all. It’s probably the best movie Woo’s done in Hollywood, as all of his trademarks show up intact: slow-motion, guys holding a pistol in each hand, doves, everything. Even though it’s his best movie, it’s not my favorite Hollywood Woo film; that honor, believe it or not, still goes to “Hard Target.” A movie hated by many, true, but one day I’ll do a review and go into why I actually think it’s the best Woo’s done over here. Well, actually, I can sum it up right now, in one word: Action.
Action is something “Hard Target” had in spades, that is noticeably lacking from M:I-2, at least until the second half of the movie. Mission: Impossible 2 is more cloak-and-dagger suspense than James Bond action. There are a few, brief bits of action in the first half of the film, but they’re more of the car chase/run and hide variety. It isn’t until an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie until the first gun is fired. From then on, though, it’s classic John Woo action, with bullets flying everywhere. The violence has obviously been toned down, though. There’s hardly any blood in the movie at all. I’m guessing this isn’t Woo’s doing, though. You can tell by the way scenes play out that the violence was filmed, but was later trimmed for a PG-13 rating. The most obvious example of this is the opening scene on an airplane, when a poor sap gets his neck broken.
The cast is good, though Ving Rhames is wasted entirely. He literally sits in front of a computer throughout the movie. Dougray Scott, who looks like Ewan McGregor’s older brother, is good as the villain, if a little non-menacing. Thandie Newton is exceptionally attractive, though her “globe-trotting, beautiful thief” character has been done to death in these sort of movies. And Tom Cruise actually is believable in his role as the death-defying spy: he looks right at home, running around with a gun in each hand. He looks a hell of a lot better doing it than John Travolta did, that’s for sure.
Overall, I’d recommend the film. Other than a few plot holes and some implausibility factors (such as the magical masks that appear out of nowhere, exactly when needed), I’d say it’s a positive sign that Woo still has the touch.
Joe909′s Rating: 7.5/10
By James H.
After viewing the film in question, I am certain John Woo is the only director that can make Tom Cruise look like an action hero. Gone are the boyish looks Cruise had in the first film. Here he showcases a tougher, darker edge.
The plot of M:I-2 has Ethan Hunt returning to recover a stolen virus known as Chimera. The man that has stolen it is ever so recently disavowed IMF agent Sean Ambrose (devilishly played by Dougray Scott). He plans to sell it and make millions. To do this successfully, Hunt recruits the help of Luther Stickell (Rhames), some other second-hand agent and Ambrose’s ex-lover Nyah (Thandie Newton).
Some may say, “Hey, that sounds like a second-rate Bond movie plot.” That may be so, however, it should be known that the original “Mission: Impossible” was created in the wake of the Bond-mania in the 60s. And really, isn’t every spy-like movie a Bond knock-off in some way?
The performances are good considering the material. As I said, Scott is great as the villain; he’s very slick. Cruise is also good, but his character isn’t developed as much as I hoped (not that he was well developed in the first one either). Everyone looks like they were having a fun time, with the exception of Anthony Hopkins in his little cameo.
The biggest difference from the first movie is the amount of action. Woo fans will definitely not be disappointed. Cruise gracefully runs around with a gun in each hand. Jumping and diving from explosions in slow-mo. The chase at the end is intense and exciting. The final fight is also great. Cruise and Scott show off some nice moves.
When it’s all over, you’ll want to see it again. “Mission: Impossible 2″ is a visually stunning movie, and will solidify Woo’s good name in Hollywood.
James H’s Rating: 8.5/10