a critiQal film review Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Plot: Ethan Hunt (Cruise) leads his IMF team on a mission to capture a deadly German virus before it is released by terrorists. His mission is made impossible due to the fact that he is not the only person after samples of the disease. He must also contest with a gang of international terrorists headed by a former IMF agent turned bad (Scott) who has already managed to steal the cure.

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With the upcoming release of Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018), it seemed a good time to catch up on the films we had missed so far in the series. First up: the John Woo-directed Mission: Impossible II.

While this wasn’t as well received (by far) as Mission: Impossible (1996), Mission: Impossible II did set a trend for the series, with a different director taking the series in a new direction with their film. While Brian de Palma did a smart job updating the old television series for a hip adult audience, director John Woo looked to bring his signature “bullet ballet” style to the series with this film. But, would his style clash with the Cruise braggadocio, or would this second film outdo the first?

At this point, it’s hard to imagine anyone but Tom Cruise taking the reins of this series. Like Harrison Ford bringing Indiana Jones to brilliant life, Tom Cruise really seems to have gotten into making Ethan Hunt a household name. While clean-cut and manic in Mission: Impossible (1996), Mission: Impossible II sees him as more of a longer-haired fashionista with a penchant for killing. It’s a strange switch from the first film, but fits in with Ethan Hunt’s new daredevil style – and lets him spend lots of time soul gazing with his new co-star, Thandie Newton.

Thandie, as she showcased in The Truth About Charlie (2002) two years later, has quite an on-screen presence. She’s got the romantic attraction to Cruise down pat, and yet seems more than the typical damsel in distress. Unlike Cruise’s love interest in Mission: Impossible (1996), Thandie comes across as a lot more strong-willed in Mission: Impossible II. She obviously knows what she’s doing, and, despite the short shrift given to her character in the film, she makes the film worth watching even when Cruise isn’t around.

Dougray Scott, on the other hand, lets down the viewer a bit in Mission: Impossible II. While it’s not really his fault – the film doesn’t delve into his reasoning all that much – he’s nothing more than another generic bad guy most of the time. While he makes great use of the masks that made the first film so fresh and exciting, he’s not exactly the memorable villain that the viewers were hoping for.

The rest of the cast is decent, if rather bland, with Ving Rhames bringing some nostalgia of the first film with him, while the powerful presence of Anthony Hopkins is only given a couple of minutes of screen time. Still, it’s the basic lack of depth of Mission: Impossible II that brings the film down, not the actors.

This time around, it seems that John Woo’s signature style (with his extensive use of slow-mo and beautiful so-called “bullet ballets”) is being used so much to cover up the missing points of the film. Whether it’s the villain’s justifications being glossed over, or the crazy-bordering-on-ridiculous “love at 100 mph” sequence that brings Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and Thandie’s Nyah Hall together, the action sequences seem to be there to distract the viewer from the lack of substance behind the flash in Mission: Impossible II.

But oh, what a distraction. Woo’s style is captivating, and doesn’t let the viewer down in Mission: Impossible II. With beautiful shots and precision action sequences that are beautiful to watch, John Woo brings the expertise in action he showcased with The Killer to the forefront in this film. It definitely makes for entertaining sequences…and yet, doesn’t quite hide what’s missing underneath.

Sadly, unlike his films The Killer and Face/Off (1997), Mission: Impossible II, despite its beautiful sequences, doesn’t quite seem to deliver the film fans were waiting for. Instead, it just seems to lack depth and is, surprisingly, a bit disappointing overall. It’s not that it isn’t a decent film. After all, it’s a beautiful display of Woo’s “bullet ballet,” and Thandie Newton especially helps keep the viewer hanging on, but they won’t ever be able to escape the feeling it could have been so much better.

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