Mission: Impossible 2

"I'd have to say April 25th."

I’m the first to admit that I was baffled by Mission: Impossible. I’m usually adept at untangling convoluted plots, especially in action movies, but the Brian De Palma update of the classic tv series really got me. By the end, I had absolutely no idea what was going on and I resented the film for it. Sure, it had some exciting scenes — it was a Brian De Palma movie, after all — but what good are they if a viewer can’t connect them to a plot?

I was more than a little skeptical, then, going into the inevitable Mission: Impossible 2. With the miserable failure of the latest James Bond flicks still fresh in my mind, and director John Woo, master of the convoluted actioner (see Face/Off), at the helm, it wasn’t hard to sense my reluctance. Far more surprising than my understandable trepidation is how good the movie actually is. Unlike in the aforementioned Face/Off, Woo really knows what he’s doing here, staging action scenes with enthusiasm and originality. Not to mention the fact that the story was actually comprehendable. In a movie like this, what more could you want?

Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, the British secret agent who routinely takes on missions that are deemed impossible. His task this time: stop Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), an evil renegade agent who plans to unleash a deadly virus called Chimera on the unsuspecting world. Ethan must enlist the help of Nyah (Thandie Newton), a sexy jewel thief and former lover of Ambrose. Only Nyah can penetrate his defenses and find out his true evil schemes.

Or, more specifically, Woo is off. The famous Hong Kong action director who made his Hollywood crossover in 1993 doesn’t need much of a plot to stage exciting action scenes. In M: I 2, the shootouts, fight sequences and motorcycles resemble a balet in their almost perverse lyricism. Woo supplements his brilliant choreography with all kinds of tricks: slow motion, operatic arias and, most chillingly, silence. The result is a big, loud action movie, yes, but a tremendously exciting one. It’s a work of art, though not in the way most people think of “art.”

Being some nine years younger and far more agile, Cruise absolutely embarasses Pierce Brosnan as a secret agent for the 21st century. Though I praised Brosnan in my review of The World is Not Enough, compared with Cruise’s strong, courageous, daring Hunt, his Bond is almost senile.

Another characteristic of the Mission: Impossible franchise, one that might be a virtue or a flaw depending on your point of view, is that all the action is played 100% straight. The film is almost completely humorless. Hunt doesn’t spout cheesy double entendres nor does he have promiscuous sex with every remotely attractive woman who comes along. It’s a spy film attribute I might have missed, but not after remembering just how lame and out of place the puns were in The World is Not Enough. There’s a no-nonsense approach to all the proceedings which will fail every time if the action is dull. But this is a John Woo film.

That said, Mission: Impossible 2 isn’t particularly clever or inventive. But with Woo’s stylizations it’s a resounding success. Rather than a groundbreaking piece of new gadgetry, this thriller is like an old, well-oiled machine.

-- Eugene Novikov

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