Should I Watch..? 'Mission: Impossible II'
What's the big deal?
Mission: Impossible II (often shortened to M:I 2) is an action thriller film released in 2000 and is the second film in the Mission: Impossible franchise. The film sees IMF agent Ethan Hunt on the trail of stolen biological weapons in Australia taken by a rogue IMF agent. Brian De Palma is replaced as director by Hong Kong's master of action John Woo and the film stars Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton and Ving Rhames. The film is also notable for its opening, depicting Cruise free-climbing in Utah without a safety net. The film received a mixed reaction from critics who lauded the film's action scenes and Cruise's performance but criticised the narrative, lack of substance and the lack of resemblance to the original TV show for which it's named. Nevertheless, the film was the biggest earning film in 2000 with global earnings of more than $546 million. It would be followed by a third film in the series in 2006.
What's it about?
The IMF is contacted by bio-chemical expert Dr Vladimir Nekhorvich who warns them that his employers Biocyte Pharmaceuticals have developed a biological weapon in order for them to profit by manufacturing the cure. With Ethan on holiday, the IMF instead send fellow agent Sean Ambrose disguised as Ethan to pick up the Chimera plague and the Bellerophon cure. Sadly, Ambrose takes things into his own hands when he meets Nekhorvich on a plane for the exchange as he kills Nekhorvich and makes off with the Bellerophon.
Realising that Ambrose has gone rogue, the IMF are forced to bring Ethan back into the fold in order to save the world. His first priority is to recruit professional thief and Ambrose's former lover Nyah Nordoff-Hall, which Ethan successfully does after they fall for each other in Spain. The next step is to travel to Australia with computer expert Luther Stickell and pilot Billy Baird and hopefully stop Ambrose from holding Biocyte hostage and prevent the Chimera virus from being released. But Ambrose is fully prepared to play dirty, knowing that the IMF won't be far behind him.
Dr Vladimir Nekhorvich
Release Date (UK)
7th July, 2000
Action, Adventure, Thriller
Razzie Award Nominations
Worst Supporting Actress (Newton), Worst Remake Or Sequel
What's to like?
Anyone who remembers the reviews of the first film will be delighted to see that Mission: Impossible II rectifies nearly all the mistakes. The confusing plot has been replaced with a more stripped-back affair reminiscent of Bond films from the Seventies and Eighties and the film feels much more contemporary than the first Mission: Impossible, ditching the Cold War atmosphere for a more modern aesthetic and Limp Bizkit soundtrack. Cruise also has a whole host of action scenes to blast his way through and with action veteran Woo behind the camera, you know these action scenes will be awesome.
The key to the film's success is Woo who knows instinctively what audiences want and how to get that onto screen. Whether it's a shoot-out between two speeding superbikes, slow-motion carnage where the set literally explodes around them or the jaw-dropping opening sequence with Cruise clinging to a near-vertical rockface like a leech, the film is flooded with such moments that hang around in the memory once the end credits have finished. If you're new to Woo then prepare yourself for what will seem like the greatest action movie ever. Mind you, if you have watched the likes of Face/Off before this then it might feel a bit familiar.
- Understandably, the studio were extremely nervous about the opening sequence with Cruise rock-climbing without any sort of safety net. He did, however, wear a harness but that didn't stop him tearing his shoulder when he performed the jump from one part of the cliff to another. Even Woo admitted to being scared but "Tom insisted on doing it".
- Woo's original cut of the film ran for three and a half hours so the studio told him to cut down to around two hours. After trimming down the action scenes and removing much of the violence, Woo had not only reduced the rating from R to PG-13 but also created many of the plot-holes and continuity errors that appear.
- Australian newspapers reported on Cruise's apparent diva behaviour by writing to all the extras telling them not to look him in the eye. This isn't strictly true. Extras during the scenes at the racetrack were told to not look at Cruise but only because star-struck extras kept ruining the shot by looking at Cruise and pointing.
What's not to like?
In fact, the overly familiar action scenes are a real problem if you've seen any other John Woo film because this film feels like a 'greatest hits' package of all of the director's most adrenaline-fuelled stunts and shots. The slow-motion shot of doves, for example, is lifted straight from Face/Off and doesn't add that much to the scene in general so why is it there? The film is a triumph of style over substance, especially considering the dumber narrative. It's so dumb that the Wikipedia page for this film is titled Mission: Impossible 2 instead of Mission: Impossible II as though it doesn't understand Roman numerals.
There are bigger problems though. The supporting cast are fairly bland and unmemorable - Scott looks every inch the slimy villain but lacks any real menace or threat while Newton looks completely lost in the chaos as the underwritten Nyah, another female character that can be filed under "underused eye-candy". It's a shame because both Scott and Newton are talented performers but they don't get much of a look-in thanks to Cruise's domination of the picture. Only Rhames gets any significant screen-time, possibly due to contract stipulations. The film's biggest issue though, weirdly, is the franchise it finds itself in. This is so different from Mission: Impossible (the TV series and the film) that it doesn't feel part of the same series and even Mission: Impossible III feels like a compromise between the first two films. As impressive as Ethan Hunt is on screen during his action scenes, he's a long way behind the likes of 007 or Jason Bourne in terms of atmosphere, narrative and character development.
Should I watch it?
It may have scored the same as the first film but frankly, I do prefer this because it's just far too entertaining to ignore. It went too far in the other direction from the confusing espionage of Mission: Impossible and instead settles for being one of the more impressive action films but nothing more. Its overly simplistic plot and lack of depth means that it won't ever be a classic but for Woo fans, this is a reminder of perhaps what his Hollywood career should have been like.
Great For: fans of Woo's style, Tom Cruise, people who just want action
Not So Great For: anybody who prefers a book, the supporting cast, insurance companies
What else should I watch?
Mission: Impossible III, as I mentioned above, felt like a compromise between the first two films. Helmed by another new director (reboot specialist J.J. Abrams), the film offers a mix of action sequences and espionage with a superb appearance from Philip Seymour Hoffman as villainous arms dealer Owen Davian. Trouble is, it also didn't set my world on fire - the moment Cruise uses the same rope-suspension trick seen in the first film (and this one, come to think of it), I lost all interest in the series. A shame because the fourth film Ghost Protocol really seemed to redefine the series which has been reaping positive reviews ever since.
The more old-fashioned of you will doubtless prefer one of the many classic Bond films from the Roger Moore era such as For Your Eyes Only or The Spy Who Loved Me, both of which are a great blend of actual spying and action scenes but crucially, aren't as light-hearted as other Moore efforts. Personally, my favourite spy film ever is The Bourne Identity which isn't technically a spy film but has a terrific old-school vibe to it thanks to a snowy European setting, a distinct lack of CG and one of the best car chases you'll ever see.
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© 2018 Benjamin Cox