Review: “Mission: Impossible II”

I was one of the seemingly few who quite enjoyed the first “Mission: Impossible” film back in 1996. The plot was complex and twisted, the characters each had their own individuality and agendas, and the action was well spread out though it did get a bit silly by the end. Sure for one or two brief moments it got confusing, but as long as you actually paid attention you could follow what was happening. It wasn’t a classic, but its a far better film than Director Brian DePalma has done since (“Snake Eyes” and “Mission to Mars” anyone?). It was an enjoyable and solid Summer flick, one which you could probably even call one of the highlights of the season.

In comparison M:I-2 is just standard Summer fare, disappointing considering the team and money behind it. Gone is the intrigue, the strong supporting characters, and the twists – replaced by an all too simple and slow melodrama which almost forgets its supposed to have action in the first half, and seems to forget its supposed to have plot in the second. The storyline is bare bones at best, feeling like the filmmakers had 2-3 action scenes in mind and constructed a working plot around that – trouble is the action scenes aren’t all that great either, certainly none as memorable as the highwire dangling in the CIA vault in the original film.

The only sequence that even gets the heart pumping is an intense motorbike chase toward the end which is the only time that reminded me that Woo was filming this. I’ve been only a minor fan of Woo’s US films – “Broken Arrow” was just ok to good, “Face/Off” was a truly solid and engaging action thriller – but I didn’t find it the cinematic classic so many fanboys seem to think it is.

One of the reasons I like Woo though is that a regular gunfight in a movie these days is both cliche and boring because basically every flick has one. What he does is adjust them in some way to make them riveting to watch – whether it be a four-person stand off in a church or a major shoot ’em up plaid to the backing theme of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, he’s able to make something done numerous times before seem fresh and original. The few bits of action in the first half do feel like that (eg. rock climbing) and continue all the way up to a very cool ‘drop through a multi-storey vent’ scene which ruled.

From then on however its just very plain and indistinctive gunfights for the rest of the film up until the bike chase. This felt more like a Woo film clone than something by the master himself because there aren’t any tricks Woo hasn’t done countless times before – WAY too much use of slow motion, kids singing a nursery rhyme to add more depth (ring-a-ring-a-rosy refers back to a symptom of the Black Plague), the unneeded use of some animal to make a scene more visually stylish (Woo seems to love doves…no, I don’t mean THAT way), and the obligatory mythological reference (the names ‘Chimera’ and ‘Belleraphon’ were said about 30 times, 20 too many). “Face/Off” used all those tricks (eg. Castor & Pollux) but more subtlety and with better effect, but one hopes Woo would’ve tried something new.

Cruise is back in the formula which makes him famous and does his usual good job in it. Thandie Newton is a surprisingly stunning beauty and the physical chemistry between her and Cruise is good, but the way the love story is written is weak. The whole sub-plot involves the pair falling in love and her agreeing to be a part of the mission – and does all that within the film’s first 15-20 minutes, why chose such a rushed and unbelievable plot when blackmail, amnesty or money would’ve been a far more effective and credible motive (she is a thief after all).

Scott is a surprisingly good baddie, the actor gives that little more oomph to a totally one-dimensional villain whose never really explained or explored, especially his rivalry with Ethan. Ving Rhames and John Polson, two talented actors are stuck spending most of their time on laptops or in helicopters and are secondary characters at best, a waste of good talent as is Richard Roxbrough – one of the finest actors in the country stuck sprouting a handful of lines in a poor South African accent as Ambrose’s main henchman. Its no surprise then that Anthony Hopkins’ brief cameo easily becomes a highlight – trouble is his best lines are all used in the trailer.

As I live in Sydney I have a good perspective on one aspect – I can definitely say the film makes good use of the city with a lot of great flybys and brief flashes of some nice places in and around it (Darling Harbor, Martin Place, Randwick Racecourse, etc.), along with a great fight sequence set against the sea cliffs that line the outer harbour. On the other hand a lot of the longer sequences aren’t so impressive – mostly due to being interiors which could’ve been shot anywhere.

Why set a chase scene on some low-traffic country road when downtown Sydney would be so much more impressive. Why surveil Nadia from some shed way off in the Outback when a 4-star hotel room a block away would’ve been more logical. The plot holes are quite numerous, but at least it’s an American film which for once has a realistic look at Sydney rather than perpetuating the “kangaroos hopping down Main Street, koalas in every tree” crap which stuff like “Crocodile Dundee” seems to indulge in. The city hasn’t looked this good on film since “The Matrix”.

Kudos should also go the FX people on the movie, with the frequently used ‘fake mask’ trick used to almost flawless effect on numerous occasions. In any case as Summer films go this is very standard fare. Those expecting a popcorn no brainer action flick with a simple plot will probably find the first half a little slow but enjoy the rest.

Those hoping for a solid flick using the full talents of people like Woo, Cruise, Rhames, etc. will sadly be disappointed. Its no “Gladiator”, but certainly no “Battlefield: Earth” either. Makes one hope that with M:I-3 there’ll be a more solid script with a decent story and characters to use. For now though, its an enjoyable way to spend two hours.