Mission: Impossible 2

USA/Australia, 2000. Rated PG-13. 123 minutes.

Cast: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Serbedzija, Anthony Hopkins (uncredited)
Writers: Robert Towne (screenplay), Ronald D. Moore (story) & Brannon Braga (story), based on the television series by Bruce Geller
Music: Hans Zimmer
Cinematographer: Jeffrey L. Kimball
Producers: Terence Chang, Tom Cruise, Paul Hitchcock, Paula Wagner
Director: John Woo

Grade: B- Review by Glenn Sheridan

Note: The facts about the extremely long and troubled Australian shoot and post-production period in which the film was reduced from an R rating to a PG-13 have been largely ignored in drafting this review. It is an assessment of the finished product.

Often, the very things that turn critics off are the same things the public will pay to see when dealing with the work of a filmmaker like John Woo or an actor as popular as Tom Cruise. When it comes to the popcorn crunch, the average Tom Cruise fan is pretty hard to disappoint because his track record eclipses his bad press. The same goes for John Woo and his fans. When those weaned on watching badly sub-titled videocassette versions of the Master's highly stylized Hong Kong epics like A Better Tomorrow 2 or The Killer pick up a new Woo on their radar, the hype automatically generated inside their heads is far greater than anything the Hollywood marketing merchants can dream up.

Writer Robert Towne makes this script more understandable than the first (Mission Incomprehensible to many) by taking out all but the barest threads of a plot. The dialogue is unremarkable and fairly innocuous–think The Phantom Menace with only half the meaningful chatter–and even the exchanges between Cruise and love interest Thandie Newton lack any kind of spark. What suffers most in the script, though, is the development of both main characters and incidental ones. While Ethan Hunt's betrayal gave the first Mission Impossible all the impetus it needed for the ensuing action, a friend's death is as close as we get to his motivation this time. He's a spy; does he actually expect to have any friends left alive?

Which leads to the actual story: in developing the ultimate super cure Bellerophon, Ethan's friend Dr. Nekhorvich, Radé Sherbedgia (Eyes Wide Shut, The Saint) accidentally creates the ultimate super-virus Chimera. Realizing the devastating importance of his find, he tries to get it to Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise), but former IMF agent turned greedy terrorist Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) has other ideas. Ambrose wants to use both virus and cure to extort millions from Biocyte Pharmaceuticals owner McCloy (Brendan Gleeson, from The General) who developed them in the first place for his own dubious purposes. Cruise and Newton

IMF boss Swanbeck (an uncredited Anthony Hopkins) instructs Hunt to recruit Ambrose's former girlfriend, super-thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall (played perfectly by Newton), and reclaim Chimera–without fully realizing what it is. The team also includes Ving Rhames (returning as agent Luther Stickell) and a local Aussie operative. A little tracking device is implanted into Nyah, and she is ready to slink back into Ambrose's confidence and help new love Ethan save the world from a modern plague. With the boys playing "Thandie in the Middle," it's up to Agent Stickell and the excellent Hugh Stamp, as Ambrose's loyal pitbull Richard Roxborough, to keep an eye on what's actually happening in the Swiss cheesy plot–which is not much of anything.

It's actually quite hard to believe this film is connected to the first Mission Impossible. In other words, don't expect too much cloak and dagger stuff. Apart from one scene at a racetrack featuring the whole team at work, there is very little actual espionage going on at all. There is also precious little to "ooh and aah" over in the nifty gadget department, as there was in the first Mission Impossible big screen outing. Instead of loving descriptions of computer gadgetry from Luther, we get a lot of whining about his Gucci shoes and Versace clothes getting ruffled on the mission–and the removal of latex masks every twenty minutes doesn't really constitute plot twists unless you're a twelve year old. As for the music, Hans Zimmer's treatment of the catchy main theme is very stirring and certainly enhances the action, but it's all just icing on a tasty but average cake.

It's a shame there's not more of a powerful yin/yang relationship between protagonist Hunt and antagonist Ambrose. Scott plays Ambrose as snarkey and vicious, with obviously enough of a way with the ladies to have stolen the heart of Nyah in the first place, but Scott's rogue with brogue persona is certainly no match for Cruise's on-screen charisma (what is?), and besides, didn't James Bond just teach those Scottish bad guys a lesson in The World is Not Enough? Like the bad guys in Bond's world, villains like this are usually played as audacious and larger than life, so that the audience wants them to halfway succeed before being shot down in flames. There is no rationale given here for Ambrose going off the deep end, and consequently the audience doesn't get nearly enough to connect with before the predictable end. Woo's films (especially the Hong Kong ones) usually imbue the hero with moral ambiguity and the main villain with some degree of legitimacy–it's what stands them apart from the usual Hollywood fare–but here he has pulled back from the darkness and created something far too straightforward.

Woo's camera brings out the beauty, charm and inner grace in pretty much any man, and since the camera already loves Cruise (a feeling obviously not unrequited), MI2 just makes Cruise that much more beautiful. We first see Cruise doing his thing climbing a cliff-face while on vacation in what looks like Utah, and after finishing a heart stopping leap from one bit of red rock to another he turns to the camera in a part meditative, part menacing Jesus Christ pose. It's as if Tom (the producer) is letting John (the director) know just how he wants Tom (the actor) to look in his new blockbuster.

Most of the usual Woo trademarks are here: whooshing fabric, mid-air gun snatching, white doves as divine messengers (all in slo-mo of course), whiplash editing, identity switches, religious symbolism, plenty of explosions and ballistic ballets, and, of course, the ultimate battle between good and evil. The jousting motorcycles sequence, complete with red knight and black knight imagery, is spectacular. For Cruise fans and action fans in general, MI2 should be well worth the ticket price. But Woo fans should not expect anything on par with Face/Off or even Hard Boiled. With the cross-country action and its madman vs. good-guy-plus-a-demurring-gal scenario, this film has a lot more in common both thematically and visually with Broken Arrow. However, there are plenty of eye-popping vehicle chases and flying henchmen to stop the feeling of déjà vu from fully kicking in. This may be Germ Woo-Fare, and it definitely scores high on the thrill-o-meter, but don't kid yourself, this movie belongs to Tom Cruise, and he is the reason it's as entertaining as it is.

Review © May 2000 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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