Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Directed by John Woo
Cast: Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Rade Sherbedgia, Ving Rhames, John Polson, Richard Roxburgh, Brendan Gleeson, Anthony Hopkins.
2000 127 minutes
Rated: (for violence, profanity, and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, May 27, 2000.
Four years after Tom Cruise toplined Brian De Palma's "Mission: Impossible," a $400-million worldwide box-office hit that, nonetheless, left audiences scratching their heads over the nearly incomprehensibly intricate story, comes "Mission: Impossible II," from acclaimed action filmmaker John Woo. While De Palma has a more old-fashioned, sophisticated helming style, Woo is more modern and energized, carrying his go-for-broke attitude over into this exciting first sequel.
Following an attention-grabbing prologue set upon an ill-fated airplane, and then switching to international spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on a rock-climbing vacation until he is given his latest mission, the picture wastes little time in setting up its plot. It seems an old comrade-gone-bad of Ethan's, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), is out to steal a bio-engineered virus in Sydney, Australia that has the power to wipe out the whole country, if not the world. Seeking the help of spunkily alluring and sexy thief Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), she eventually accepts after being saved from a near-disastrous car accident, and falling into bed with Ethan. Conveniently an old flame of Sean's, Nyah is injected in her ankle with a locating device that tracks where she is at all times, and must travel to his headquarters and "rekindle" a relationship with him, all the while attempting to uncover Sean's entire dastardly plan. The problem is, Ethan has promised Nyah that she will be safe, and with himself beginning to care so much for her at the moment when she is knee-deep in potential danger, this mission is especially vital to Ethan.
A rare sequel that improves notably from its predecessor, "Mission: Impossible II" is a rousing, wondrously filmed and edited action-romance (reminiscent in many ways of 1999's "Entrapment," starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones) that works well in both said genres. From the startling opener aboard the plane, to the surprisingly sexy car chase in which the cars being driven by Ethan and Nyah do a sort of lyrical dance together, to the nerve-racking motorcycle/beach battle that everything leads up to in the finale, director John Woo (previously a Hong Kong filmmaker) knows perhaps better than anyone else how to successfully set up an invigorating, edge-of-your-seat action setpiece. While constantly far-fetched, Woo's films are created primarily for their ability to entertain, which this one does, some of the time.
When Woo isn't pulling off an extravagant stunt and the camera has stopped moving, he still knows how to film pretty pictures (and pretty people), but the exposition scenes do occasionally drag, particularly in the half-hour before the sparkling 30-minute climax (so, on estimation, the problems mostly spring from the uninteresting 70-100 minute mark). Although "Mission: Impossible II" attempts to be nothing more than a fun summer action movie, another setback is that, when all is said and done, it has style to spare and not enough character substance. Little is ever discovered about Ethan, Nyah, or Sean (or Ethan and Sean's previous kinship), and so they remain merely figures in a big, flashy movie.
Thankfully, the one element that does have more heart than expected in a film of this genre is the warm romance that evolves between Ethan and Nyah. Ethan's fling in the original with Emmanuelle Beart was nothing more than a fleeting afterthought, whereas the romantic relationship here is full of compassion and eroticism. It would be overtly obvious to have Nyah turn out to be a femme fatale, and it is much more effective that she remain who she says she is throughout, and even grows feelings for another, something she wasn't sure she could do. As played by British beauty Thandie Newton (1998's "Beloved"), Nyah is the most memorable character, and Newton gives her an added dimension that otherwise might not have appeared, judging from the slight screenplay, by Robert Towne. Newton not only holds the screen, but she single-handedly grabs it away from everyone else when she is present.
After four years in which Tom Cruise released the likes of the big-budget art film "Eyes Wide Shut," and the unconventional, Oscar-nominated "Magnolia," he has once again returned to mainstream Hollywood, and proves that he still hasn't lost that special touch that has made him such a box-office draw all these years. Mostly known for his dramatic roles and romances, Cruise has shown with his blossoming "Mission: Impossible" franchise that he is a bona fide action star, one of the best there currently is. If that wasn't enough, performing his own stunts here, Cruise contributes some amazing physical work, including extreme motorcycle riding and mountain climbing (with no net below to catch him).
Best of all about "Mission: Impossible II" is that its story is actually easy to follow, and therefore what happens means more to the viewer. In adapting a second film in a big screen series based on a 1966 television drama, Woo has neither borrowed nor paid tribute to De Palma's previous working, and, instead, has made his own individual vision of what the series should be like. And while De Palma is an undeniable major talent (particularly in his early work, such as "Carrie," "Blow Out," and "Dressed to Kill"), Woo more fittingly connects to the genre, and with "Mission: Impossible II," he has made one of the most electrifying action yarns since 1994's "Speed." It may not be a masterpiece, but it sure does pack a wallop.
©2000 by Dustin Putman