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 2," 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 2" 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 2" 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 2" 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 2," 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.
Copyright © 2000 Dustin Putman