WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: When rogue agent Sean Ambrose kills a scientist for the deadly bio-weapons he’s carrying, Ethan Hunt is on his tail; but first Ethan must track down professional thief Nyah and get her into Ambrose’s good books, enabling her to act as a double agent and stop the ‘Chimera’ virus from falling into the hands of a ruthless industrialist. Although Hunt agrees to take on the mission, his relationship with Nyah threatens to compromise his ability to get the job done.
Although the idea of ickle Tom Cruise being an all-action superspy in 1996’s Mission:Impossible may have struck some as faintly preposterous, there was clearly enough merit in the idea to convince executive producers such as… er, Tom Cruise to green-light a sequel. And when choosing a director for preposterous action flicks, who better than John Woo, who had already brought face-swapping fun to the screen in Face/Off?
The plot, such as I can re-assemble it in my mind, is this: someone who looks like Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) stops protecting scientist Dr Nekhorvich and kills him instead, the killer ripping off a mask and revealing himself to be Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Ambrose steals the scientist’s deadly virus with the intention of selling it to the highest bidder and leaves the planeload of passengers to perish along with the doctor.
Meanwhile, the real Ethan is called away from his fantastically dangerous mountain-climbing holiday to go on boss Anthony Hopkins’ mission, namely to secure the services of beautiful thief Nyah Nurple-Purple* (Thandie Newton); Ethan catches up with Nyah in Seville and after some bathroom fun and an exciting car chase, the pair quickly fall in love. Unfortunately, Nyah is required for being Ambrose’s former squeeze rather than her thieving skills, and while both she and Ethan are distraught at the idea of sending her back to Ambrose and his haughty henchman Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh), back she goes with a microchip only traceable by one computer, belonging to Ving Rhames’ returning tech expert Luther.
The Impossible Mission Force team, complete with annoying Aussie sidekick Billy Baird (John Polson), track Nyah in Australia and discover that Ambrose is planning to sell the virus to bio-technologist John McCloy (Brendan Gleeson), who will do anything it takes to make money, including spreading deadly viruses and controlling the cure. However, they also discover that Ambrose has in fact only stolen ‘Bellerophon,’ the cure part of the equation, as Nekhorvich carried ‘Chimera’ within his bloodstream; both parties race to Sydney where Nekhorvich’s company Biocyte is storing the very last of the Chimera stocks. Even though Hunt manages to get into Biocyte, he cannot prevent Chimera from escaping, or Nyah from becoming involved in a desperate race against time.
Or something. The key thing about John Woo films (not that I’ve seen that many) is not so much what happens, but how it all looks; and in many respects Mission: Impossible 2 is highly favoured, with the camera looking longingly at Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton whether they’re lying in bed or spinning in endless circles in sports cars. In fact, the camera looks so longingly – read so long – at almost everything that even Woo’s trademark two-handed gunplay is brought to a virtual halt by slow-motion replays.
When the effect is used to highlight the balletic nature of the fighting it can be excused, but when Nyah takes about three minutes to walk off a boat the film becomes an exercise in narcissism. The problem is not so much that Woo’s style doesn’t fit in with the Mission:Impossible world, since both are completely unrealistic, but that there is such a disconnect between the show-off look of the film and the fact that it still has a story to tell; and this results in a fine actor like Scott being reduced to explaining all the bits of Ethan’s plan for him as he breaks into Biocyte, and having a little cry because Nyah prefers Ethan to him. Aaaww.
Style and substance clash again as the film builds to its climax, with Woo’s completely unnecessary slo-mo doves cluttering up Ethan’s search for Bellerophon. Here, however, story is most to blame: in a totally ridiculous plot twist, Stamp is sent out to find Hunt and returns with him, unable to speak. Ambrose kills Hunt, only to discover that he has actually killed Stamp, Hunt having put his own face over Stamp’s and come back wearing a Stamp face-mask. I am prepared to accept that convincing face-mask technology is all part of the Mission:Impossible experience, but it is something of a miracle that Hunt had the prescience to bring a Stamp face-mask plus one of himself, unless he just happened to find Ambrose’s copy of his face lying around; not to mention the quick-change of clothes, accent, height and so on.
If you are prepared to take all of this at face value, you will probably also love Ethan’s message being delivered by exploding sunglasses via a rocket launched from a helicopter at the start of the film, and to be absolutely fair the climactic bike chase and capoeira-style fighting at the end of the film is a blast. In terms of performances, Cruise and Newton are okay, Hopkins does his day’s work with effortless authority and the bad guys do their thing, Scott with the limitations already described. However, Mission: Impossible 2 is not an actor’s film, neither is it a thinker’s film, and frankly in too many places it is far too slow to be considered an all-out action-fest. All in all I think this is still something of a misfire for Cruise’s would-be superspy career, but at least the plot is original.
Right, what’s next to watch? Oh good, Hitchcock’s Notorious…
NOTES: Something like that.