Even though the original Mission Impossible was doubtlessly a hit, it faced criticism for being a touch too convoluted and confusing for it’s own good. After all, as much as audiences love their movie spies, they sometimes just want to see them leap into action and get to the business of killing people that they know best. People wanted more Tom Cruise being blown off of a helicopter by an explosion, and less tense conversations about bank accounts and biblical verses. “Well,” Tom Cruise thought, “who better to transition this into a straight up action franchise than shoot em’ up proprietor, Jon Woo?” It was a decent prospect, as Woo’s films generally ride the line of extreme insanity while giving their crowds a little something to grab onto as well. As such, Cruise packed on some muscle mass, grew out his hair a few inches, and jumped into action with Woo, hoping that by throwing everything at the wall, a little more would stick with the general audience this time around.
We find Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) scaling a massive canyon when we first reunite with him. He seems to be having a grand old time on his vacation when he receives yet another assignment through a pair of sunglasses (not kidding). His task, stop former IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) from distributing a deadly experimental virus to the masses, planning to make bank on the cure. In order to infiltrate Ambrose, Hunt tracks down Naya Hall (Thandie Newton), a thief who recently ended a relationship with the traitorous agent, and asks her to shack up with him once again to gain intel. However, Ethan almost instantly becomes enamored with Naya, harming both parties’ ability to get the job done as well as they’d like.
From the very first frame, Mission Impossible 2 almost completely throws out the intrigue and deliberate pacing of De Palma’s original. You see, this one is all about style. Style over substance, story, character, or just about anything that makes a movie worth watching. Woo, who in other efforts has let his actors breathe and create characters underneath his insane action sequences, goes completely off the rails here. There are hardly any scenes of dialogue here that aren’t essentially montages with talking spliced into them. It’s as if Woo is worried about losing the audience’s attention for even a second, often cutting to things like the salsa dancers in a club or the roaring ocean as opposed of focusing in on what the characters have to say. Between that, and Woo’s obsession with having characters perform tiny actions as slowly and lovingly as possible, the pacing in almost every scene just feels completely off, the movie never really gaining any true momentum until the very end.
The characters are so horribly composed by the screenplay, which was amazingly enough written by Robert Towne who penned Chinatown, that the actors suffer as a result. While Cruise as always gives it everything he has, the character of Ethan Hunt is so completely butchered here that he feels like an entirely different person. While Hunt certainly did have his fair share of emotional turmoil in the first movie, he never really let get in the way of him acting like an efficient spy. He was a human being who still knew exactly what he had to do to get the job done. Here, because for some reason he’s found himself in love with a woman who he’s known for all of five minutes, he spends the entire movie making some of the stupidest moves a spy could ever possibly make for her sake. With his long flowing hair and dark shades, he seems more like a model posing as a spy than anything else. While certainly looking beautiful, Newton also suffers from this slapdash relationship plot-line, her initially icy persona melted in almost a minute by this smoldering action hero. Dougray Scott also falls completely flat as a generic bad guy who is never given a chance to establish any personality traits besides, “I want to do bad things for money,” and never really finds any moments to establish any believable chemistry with Cruise. They’re just two mad dogs fighting over a girl.
As for the action set-pieces, they stand as the only reasonably entertaining aspect of the film, even if they are incredibly silly and over stylized. We’re talking shoot outs where people twirl on the ground, kung-fu fights between two injured men on the beech, and a motorcycle chase that goes on for so long that it’s a miracle the bikes don’t run out of gas. It’s all reasonably well filmed, with clear camera angles and practical effects bringing all the mayhem to live. However, it’s hard to really care about what’s going on since the rest of the story is so badly paced and written that almost all the action is just slapped into the last thirty minutes. It feels more like a ballet then anything, and while this has worked for Woo in the past, in the context of a spy story, it just feels out of place.
Mission: Impossible 2 is a classic case of “trying to please everybody.” It feels like a little kid who is desperately trying to prove to his parents how much cooler he is than his “boring” older brother. None of the humanity that made the first film so engaging is found here at all, instead settling for the same over the top action movie that has been made a million times, while not even particularly excelling in that department. If all of the ‘Mission’ sequels turned out to be like this one, something tells me that the franchise would have been dead a long time ago. All I can say is, thank heaven for JJ Abrams.