|Mission: Impossible 2
review by KJ Doughton, 26 May 2000
Impossible 2 looks like a pained tug-of-war between one man’s art and a
The man is Hong Kong-cum-Hollywood superdirector John Woo, arguably the
most gifted action-helmer alive. The studio, which reportedly slipped an editor
into the cutting room for some last-minute surgery, is Paramount.
Throughout this schizophrenic action opera, the viewer is bored during
long expository passages full of dreary, uncreative dialogue (penned,
surprisingly, by legendary Chinatown
scripter Robert Towne, who’s strictly on autopilot here). But wait!
Like Luke Skywalker zeroing in on the Death Star, Woo jolts us awake with
some of the most creatively choreographed stunt work this side of a caffeinated
George Miller (who set the standard with The Road Warrior), before Towne can lull us back into a coma.
for instance, the completely ridiculous but lovingly shot bit where Top
Cruise’s neo-Bond superagent, Ethan Hunt, bolts full-blast on his motorcycle
towards nemesis Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott, the prettyboy Brit from Ever
After). Both men, riding atop their respective powerbikes, collide head on,
with the impact launching their bodies into the air like human cannon balls.
Air bound, the men grab each other and hit the ground while still trading
You bet. Dumb? Uh-huh.
But with Woo using these set pieces like putty in his graceful hands,
such sequences achieve a sleek beauty. We suspend the belief, sit back, and
enjoy these elegant fireworks. This is Disneyland for grownups.
Unfortunately, Woo’s bag of slick visual tricks is limited to the
film’s beginning and end, held at bay by the cookie-cutter script.
Mission: Impossible 2 opens
with the beefcake Hunt climbing cliffs in Monument Valley, Utah.
It’s rather exhilarating to watch the actual Cruise – and not some
stunt double – clinging onto the top of a multi-hundred-foot boulder, with
sweeping camera angles emphasizing the precipitous drop.
Seemingly, the whole scene is accomplished without the use of ropes or
nets, and it’s an awesome segue way into a far less daring mid-section.
search for a hero requires a villain,” narrates a wary scientist as he
shuffles nervously onto a plane with a suspicious black briefcase. “So,” he
continues, “we created a monster.” Soon,
the scientist is robbed of his cargo by secret agent-gone-bad Ambrose, who then
leaps to his escape via a Bond-style parachute jump. It’s soon revealed that
the stolen briefcase contains a sinister virus, capable of spreading to plague
proportions and killing millions. "After twenty hours of infection, “
explains one character, “nothing can save you.” In a unique new-millenium twist, Mission: Impossible 2’s villains aren’t content to merely
blackmail the government – Doctor Evil style – for a few billion dollars by
threatening to unleash the killer germ. Instead, they want stock options with
the corrupt biochemical company that has just produced an antidote for the
Ethan Hunt is sent to the scene by his “Q”-like mentor, played by an
unbilled Anthony Hopkins, where the hero will use Ambrose’s former girlfriend,
superthief Hyah Hall (an easy-on-the-eyes Thandie Newton, of Beloved
fame), to track the villain and virus, before eventually disposing of both.
When Hunt ridicules the idea, convinced that it’s too challenging, his
nameless superior shoots back with Hannibal Lecter-style sarcasm: “This is not
Mission Difficult, Mr. Hunt. It’s
Mission Impossible. This should be
a walk in the park for you.”
and Hall meet in Seville, Spain, where she’s trying to snatch a top-security
necklace: unfortunately, Hunt foils her efforts: he’s the hired security
coordinator for the very building Hall is trying to rob!
Woo combines photogenic glimpses of Cruise and Newton – the two are a
knockout pair – with the stomping feet of Spanish nightclub dancers and eerie
firelight, conjuring forth a sensual mood.
You can tell that they’ll soon be in the sack together, but there’s
the usual set of “hip” dialogue exchanged during a microscopically short
courtship. “Why should I help
you?” she asks, reluctant to help Hunt in his mission. “Let my conscience be
my guide, right? I don’t have a
conscience – I’m a bloody thief!”
a perverse coupling of rubber-burning car chases and heavy petting
(“fuel-injection foreplay,” anyone?), Cruise wins her over by nearly
running Hall’s sports car off of a cliff.
Dangling off the precipice and waiting for this Rambo-hybrid Prince
Charming to lift her to safety, Newton offers a “come hither” look that’s
a hilarious sendoff of the whole damsel in distress image.
Alongside the kinky, crash ‘n shag rituals featured in David
Cronenberg’s Crash, human mating
behavior has never been staged in such a bizarre, goofy fashion.
the help of computer genius Luther Stikell (Ving Rhames, who could use a gig
that didn’t stereotype him as the techno-expert sidekick), Hunt spends the
next portion of Mission Impossible 2
spying on Hall as she reunites with the evil Ambrose. He’s disgusted to see
this beauty in the company of such a loathsome suitor.
Indeed, just to prove his authority to a hired hand, Ambrose uses a cigar
cutter to slice off the horrified henchman’s fingertip.
“We just rolled up a snowball and tossed it into hell,” comments the
lovestruck Hunt of his shapely new squeeze as she mingles with his nemesis.
Hunt tracks down the virus in Sydney, Australia, where it’s germinating in a
high-rise laboratory. To enter the
security-heavy skyscraper, he’s launched from a helicopter like a futuristic
spider, connected to a cable that regulates his speed of descent.
Navigating through a series of air ducts that open and close at select
moments, the movie brings to mind the original film’s brilliant centerpiece
scene, where Hunt dangles from wires to steal a high-security computer disc.
A droplet of forehead sweat – poised to fall and trigger the alarm –
generated Hitchcock-level suspense.
Mission: Impossible 2 doesn’t have anything to match that classic moment
(like most films spawned from the film’s director, Brian DePalma, the first Mission:
Impossible was a rather routine entertainment anchored by one redemptive
moment of pure genius), but it’s more kinetic and fun as its rousing finale
Hunt in possession of the final batch of virus, the final forty minutes of Mission
Impossible 2 surrender all plausibility, and act as a showcase for Woo’s
inventive action staging. It’s basically just a series of chases – on
motorcycle, helicopter, and foot – with Matrix-style
slo-mo intercut with brain-rattling explosions. And to those that might write
MI2’s stylistics off as a Matrix
ripoff, let it be known that Woo has been applying these editing techniques to
films like A Better Tomorrow, Hard-Boiled,
and The Killer before the Warchowski
Brothers ever conceived of putting Keanu Reeves in a black trenchcoat. While the
flying doves and two-handed pistol brandishing are fun to watch, there’s also
a sense that Woo is repeating himself. The final mano-a-mano fistfight between
Hunt and Ambrose seems lifted from Face-Off
, while the motorcycle chase echoes a similar moment from Hard-Boiled.
though, those earlier films carried more weight than Mission: Impossible 2. Woo’s best films couple the sensational
action scenes with an operatic, emotional weight built of strong
characterizations and high-stakes situations.
Face-Off , which wrung pathos
from the concept of a man’s identity being robbed by his son’s murderer, had
characters to match the fireworks. In
contrast, Hunt and Hall don’t have time to establish much of a relationship:
they’re newbie lovers with Baywatch
looks but no history. Compared to the completely believable chemistry between
John Travolta and Joan Allen, as a husband and wife dealing with grief and
distrust in Face-Off, these two
lovebirds are lightweights. And set
alongside Nicholas Cage’s diabolical Castor Troy, Dougray Scott’s villain is
more Jude Law than Goldfinger. There’s
really nothing scary about this guy, even when he’s hacking off fingers.
will almost certainly bring out the testosterone crowd long into the summer, but
it’s ultimately a second-string Woo outing, with A-list stunts tacked onto a
B-movie storyline. Like Woo’s
similarly lopsided near-misses, Hard
Target and Broken Arrow, this
Cruise-produced sequel is a good bet for DVD purchase, where you can skip past
the mundane filler and get right to the action. Meanwhile, let’s hope that
this gifted Hong Kong giant is finally given a chance to fulfill his dream of
directing a musical. He’s mastered the guns, doves, and explosives: let’s
put them into storage while he stakes out some new ground.
Ronald D. Moore