MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2 was made at a time when the world just wasn’t ready for this particular MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. There needed to be more of a cooling off period after the first one. We needed some time to learn that MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE sequels weren’t gonna be the elegant balance of smart-people thriller and blockbuster spectacle that Brian DePalma introduced in the first one, and also that John Woo was not gonna ever seem like the exact same filmatist who made THE KILLER, or HARD BOILED, or even FACE/OFF, again. Returning to it now it’s even more evident that it’s best appreciated by watching it like we watch other post-Hong-Kong Woo pictures like HARD TARGET, or his TV ones like BLACKJACK or the Once a Thief series. You just try to enjoy it as some Hollywood bullshit that he tried to add some of his particular style to. Here he treats it as an expensive studio movie love story set against a rogue agent trying to get rich off of a man-made disease and its cure.
Tom Cruise (JACK REACHER) returns as Ethan Hunt, who has graduated from IMF support man to lone wolf and is now so awesome that he spends his vacation rock climbing out in the middle of nowhere with no equipment. He doesn’t have his phone on him (it was 2000) so the agency has to send a helicopter to fire a rocket at him containing douchey sunglasses that give him his mission briefing. This is a good idea because the ol’ “this message will self destruct” means he throws a pair of sunglasses at the camera and they explode into the title, and everybody wants to see that.
Like the first one the screenplay is credited to Robert Towne, this time with story by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga (writer/producers from Star Trek: The Next Generation). They came up with another complex web and what not, but this one has shootouts and motorcycle stunts (not at maximum Woo level, but better than some other PG-13 action movies). Hunt’s mission, which it turns out he does choose to accept, starts out charming and ONCE A THIEFy because he has to recruit the beautiful master thief Nyah (Thandie Newton) so he flirtatiously intrudes on her jewel heist at a mansion party. They first make eye contact on opposite sides of some flamenco dancers, a red dress twirling and floating up between them. Before long they’re in a high speed chase on a mountain highway, their convertibles spinning together as they stare into each other’s eyes and the music from the dancing scene comes back. People used to talk about Woo’s “bullet ballet,” and here he explicitly does automobile flamenco.
Nyah ends up dangling off a cliff, he jumps from car to car, pulls her up into his arms, and it cuts to them in bed post-sex. Man, he knocks her off a cliff then knocks her boots! Only Woo would do this kind of heightened action musical romance shit. I respect that.
But things get darker when we find out that the IMF doesn’t want Nyah for her skills, but because she was the rogue agent Ambrose (Dougray Scott)’s girlfriend until 6 months ago and he still has a thing for her. So she gets back with him as a mole in exchange for expunging her rap sheet. Not only is it dangerous, but she immediately has to fuck him. It’s like the agency forced her into prostitution.
Yeah, I’d say she gets treated the poorest of any female in a MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, but she arguably accomplishes the most of any of them until Ilsa Faust. I mean, Agent Emmanuelle Beart did some stuff for the team (dress up sexy and squirt poison in a guy’s drink) in the first one, Maggie Q got shit done in 3 and Paula Patton in GHOST PROTOCOL. Nyah gets pushed around and put in danger, but when the shit goes down she’s the one who comes up with a plan to stop the plague: inject the last sample into herself. That way they can’t kill her because they need to sell it. On the negative side she’s gonna have to jump off a cliff pretty soon to stop it from spreading.
Remember that gimmick of the Mission: Impossible pullover masks? This one opens seemingly with Ethan Hunt undercover as a Russian named Dmitri, but it turns out to be Ambrose wearing a mask to be Ethan Hunt as Dmitri (in other words it’s Tom Cruise playing Ambrose playing Hunt playing Dmitri). It’s part of a treacherous deception, not an actual IMF mission, but we also learn that the agency frequently uses the masks to mimic their own agents. According to IMF boss Anthony Hopkins, Ambrose has “doubled” Hunt two or three times. It makes sense – he kinda looks like Hunt. He’s the not-as-good Hunt. He got sent for the jobs Hunt couldn’t be bothered for, and now he loses his girlfriend to Hunt. In a moment that could only happen in a John Woo Mission: Impossible movie he verifies Nyah’s betrayal by meeting her disguised as Hunt – then when he takes the mask off he has tears rolling down his face.
The action goes not 100% into the real Woo Zone, but at least into the Hollywood backlot re-creation of it. There is an enjoyably ridiculous motorcycle chase between the doppelgangers that culminates in a game of chicken where both sides somehow sense that they’re supposed to jump off and tackle each other mid-air. Then it’s a knock down drag out on the beach with frequent cutting to close ups of the waves. Cruise looks small but the choreography makes him seem formidable. Lots of throws and hard slamming against the sand.
I suppose the go-to Woo scene would be the one that actually has pigeons flying in slow motion. A bunch of them. This has a great moment where the music revs up and a silhouette dramatically enters through smoke and you’re thinking “ah ha, Ethan Hunt is here to kick your–” but then you realize oh shit, that’s not Hunt, that’s the other guy dragging Hunt. Nice switcheroo.
And then a little later it’s revealed to be a trick where both of them are wearing masks of the other. Okay, that was Hunt getting the cool entrance there then. Good job.
Whatever you think of this movie, it will always be historically important for going over schedule and forcing Dougray Scott to drop out of X-MEN. We all know and totally agree that BLADE was the first and still best of the modern comic book era, but Americans will never give credit to a black man, let alone a Daywalker, let alone David S. Goyer, so they’ll skip to X-MEN for that honor. And X-MEN is more super hero oriented, so it’s fair to say that its success is what made it possible for Marvel to reposition themselves as a studio and eventually make IRON MAN and launch an empire with one more brilliant casting decision. But I truly believe that X-MEN would not have been a success without the charisma of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and he only got it because Dougray Scott couldn’t do it, because John Woo took so long. So if you liked THE AVENGERS or GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY or any of those, send John Woo some flowers.
I think maybe the fatal error that made the movie more cheesy than necessary was Hans Zimmer’s decision to put together a rock band to play alot of the score. It’s kind of a cool idea on paper but I think it makes it play almost as self-parody. The forced coolness levels of Tom Cruise in black leather and shades riding a motorcycle or running (sometimes through fire or doves) in super slow motion, his long hair blowing in the wind, pushes the needle to the absolute limit. Throwing electric guitars on top of that is asking for a meltdown. Note how much the feeling changes when it goes from the opera at the beginning of this clip to the rock ‘n roll:
I think if he went for “classy” instead of “awesome” it would’ve worked alot better, and this one might not even be the joke of the series. Then again, I cannot deny the HARD TARGET style ridiculous fun of all that. So I like this one. And I appreciate a series that’s willing to have different directors and let them transform it into different styles. There oughta be more of that in this world.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.