This is not mission difficult, Mr. Hunt, it's mission impossible.
Mission: Impossible II is directed by John Woo and stars Tom Cruise, who also served as producer. Cruise returns to reprise his role of Ethan Hunt, with Ving Rhames also returning to reprise his role from the first film. Newcomers to the cast include Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, and Anthony Hopkins in an uncredited cameo role. The film was the highest grossing movie of the year 2000.
I have watched John Woo films with mixed results. Face/Off is an over-the-top action film that I enjoy far more than I probably should. However, Broken Arrow did not fully entertain me the way I wanted it to. And then there's Mission: Impossible II, a John Woo film that is about as mixed as I think any John Woo film can be. It's a dream come true for those in search of nothing but brain-proof popcorn action. But for everyone else who might be wanting things like a steady plot and sympathetic characters on top of some eye-popping action, you've come to the wrong place.
There are several technical missteps in M:I II to justify the movie being the worst in the entire franchise (at least from a pure technical standpoint), but for myself, there's something deep within the soul of M:I II that is keeping me from declaring it worse than Mission: Impossible. M:I II knows what it is: a summer popcorn action flick that has the audacity to be as overblown as it wants, and not feel the least bit guilty about any of it. But Mission: Impossible on the other hand, bears the responsibility of getting the franchise off and running, a task that the movie doesn't have a whole lot of success with, largely due to that film's convoluted writing in its attempt to be a super smart spy flick. Writing, meanwhile, is one of the last things on John Woo's mind in M:I II, a movie that does not care at all how muddled that its story and characters may be. And for someone like myself who can easily give in to the tomfoolery of an over-the-top action movie, the shortcomings with writing and plot are ones I am likely willing to forgive if the action is strong enough.
The plot of M:I II revolves around the pursuit of a bioweapon called Chimera and its cure called Bellerophon. The film opens with bio-chemical expert Dr. Vladimir Nekhorvich (Rade Sherbedgia) boarding an airplane en route to the United States. Dr. Nekhorvich is carrying a briefcase that supposedly contains samples of the Chimera virus. The plane, however, is hijacked by a group of men led by rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Ambrose boards the plane posing as Ethan Hunt, kills Nekhorvich, and takes the briefcase. The team escapes as they let the plane crash into the side of a mountain.
Meanwhile, the real Ethan Hunt is on vacation, rock climbing in the mountains. He is alerted by the IMF about Ambrose using his identity and stealing the Chimera virus. Ethan is informed to recruit Ambrose's former love interest, Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton), in order to help track down Ambrose and recover the virus. Ethan successfully recruits Nyah, and he also brings in computer expert Luther (Ving Rhames) and pilot Billy Baird (John Polson), to assist in the mission.
There have been stories about Tom Cruise being something of a control freak behind the scenes of the Mission: Impossible films (well, a lot of his films, actually), with Cruise getting to have a say in things such as who will be the director as well as having a hand on all of the film's money-making mechanisms. One thing I will support Cruise on is his insistence for there to be a new director for every Mission: Impossible film (although according to IMDb, Cruise offered Brian De Palma the chance to return as director), because it's an effective way to ensure that each Mission: Impossible film feels entirely fresh and not at all like any of its predecessors. A major boost in action seemed like the right way to go for the second Mission: Impossible installment, with Cruise and Paula Wagner slightly upset by the fact that the first movie didn't have enough action. And what better choice for director than the guy who had already established himself as a profound intellectual in the area of wild action filmmaking?
- Zing! Pow! Ka-Blammy! M:I II's action sequences are entertainment gold, with John Woo utilizing several of his usual trademarks: frequent moments of slow-motion, doves, and a character dual-wielding pistols. The action does come with some baggage, however: messy editing and characters surviving infliction of pain in a way only characters from a slapstick comedy could survive. My favorite was a moment in which Ethan during a fight gets hit almost square in the face with a rock, and yet the rock left no trace of blood, let alone give Ethan a concussion or a migraine or something of the sort. It doesn't matter that much. The movie is fully committed to its action, knowing that its action is the main selling point, and maximizing the action the best that it can.
- Ethan Hunt is given a drastic change-up in character, and it's not for the better. Ethan Hunt in the first film was a charismatic guy who cared a lot for completing the mission and not putting other's in harm's way. The Ethan Hunt in the second film is basically James Bond, starting a movie out on vacation, bringing a beautiful woman to bed, while also sneaking into a villain's hideout in an attempt to foil said villain's plans once and for all. Cruise likes to spend a lot of the time grinning, as if he knows how everything is going to play out and that he can complete the mission without even breaking a sweat. The striking similarities to James Bond is a nasty spell of bad writing, though I suppose it'd be fair to say that the Mission: Impossible films were still a bit in the experimental stage, so who was to say after two films the world knew everything about Ethan Hunt? Still, it's not a good idea to have your famous spy be heavily compared to another famous spy.
- M:I II also has some awkward and confusing dialogue, and not necessarily for the sake of boosting the movie's cheese factor. There ARE some cheesy lines, such as Anthony Hopkins saying "it's not mission difficult, it's mission impossible." Characters occasionally speak to each other in a way and with a choice of wording that doesn't sound natural and at all like how people might speak to each other in a normal conversation. There are also times when characters seem to be conveying their emotions through their words, but it instead comes off as clumsy. Here's a small example with Ethan and Nyah:
Ethan: What did you think you were doing!
Nyah: I wasn't thinking! Just...trying to keep you from getting hurt, that's all.
Ethan: You who don't have a conscience.
Nyah: I guess I lied.
Not exactly the most fluent conversation I've ever heard.
Give the way it's constructed, M:I II would seemingly take the cake for most poorly crafted Mission: Impossible film, with editing, plot/writing, and dialogue all being right around subpar. But the movie finds the most success in the one area that it wants to excel in: the action, and you better believe it's John Woo in all his glory. Succeeding at what it wants to be is a luxury that the first Mission: Impossible film does not have, and that is the main reason as to why I can't think of more highly than M:I II. Ironically though, I have to give M:I II a lower grade, since, although I like it more than Mission: Impossible, it is, from a film-making standpoint, a fairly more troubled production.
Recommend? If you loved the first Mission: Impossible, then give this one a watch. Otherwise, I'd still recommend it for some dazzling action scenes.
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