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On May 24, 2000, Paramount unveiled John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II in theaters. The Tom Cruise spy franchise starrer went on to gross $546 million during its global run. The Hollywood Reporter‘s original review is below.
Call it M:I-2, Mission: Impossible II (as it appears in the opening credits) or “Mission: Unstoppable,” this long-awaited Paramount release is a commercial slam-dunk that should go the way of most successful sequels, pulling in almost as much money overall as the first Mission feature in 1996 and keeping headliner and producer Tom Cruise in the tentpole movie business.
Mission: Impossible 2 has tons of action, a lot of high-tech gadgetry and a convoluted plot that rivals the first film. It may not have much humor or heavy petting — and not much in general for mere mortals to relate to — but it does have English-accented Thandie Newton (Beloved) as Cruise’s movie-stealing love interest, and it does rank (in sections) as the most spectacular film John Woo (Face/Off) has ever directed.
All of which indicates a generally gung-ho marketplace reaction and a nonevent for critics, except for those who complain that the PG-13 rating is awfully generous and point out that everyone involved creatively with M:I-2 could have made a picture more worthy of their talents.
M:I-2 opens with a (not very) gasp-inducing sequence wherein an Australian scientist on a jetliner is killed and relieved of the deadly secrets he carries. Parachuting bad guys point the jet at a large mountain, and everyone left on board dies. The scene then shifts to Impossible Missions Force agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise), a rock-climbing vacationer in Utah who has no troubles with vertigo.
He does have a boss (Anthony Hopkins), however, who uses special sunglasses to brief Hunt about a new mission that entails finding out what happened in the first scene and why. It’s possible to get lost almost immediately trying to keep up with who knows what about whom, but uncritical genre fans and those who don’t mind checking their brains at the door might not have a problem with the anything-goes scenario. It appears the filmmakers’ guiding principle was to make everything — including the love story — a credibility-defying thrill ride.
The notion of a movie being two hours of forward momentum with periodic jolts, rushes, big bangs and cooling-off periods is nothing new, but Woo’s best films in Hong Kong were far less formulaic. Here, East meets West with a vengeance as Woo, screenwriter Robert Towne and Cruise dive into M:I-2‘s roller-coaster plunges and neck-wrenching twists. Still, there are the kind of intense, operatic action sequences for which Woo is famous; slow-motion shots are drawn out like individual notes of mayhem, and Cruise provides a perfect profile to dominate the foreground. But overall, the stylized filmmaking lacks the kind of soul that helps an audience forge a strong emotional bond with the hero.
Hunt’s mission entails his going to Seville, Spain, and recruiting sexy and talented thief Nyah (Newton), who used to date the film’s villain, Sean (Dougray Scott). An Impossible Missions Force traitor responsible for the opening jet crash, Sean and his small staff of thugs, including Hugh (Richard Roxburgh), are after a killer computer virus and its antidote.
After a dangerous and expensive mating ritual, involving a high-speed race in sports cars, Hunt and Nyah officially become an item, and he persuades her to go back to Sean. Then, we’re off to Sydney, where Nyah is cautiously welcomed by Sean and scanned for bugs by Hugh. She, in fact, is bugged with an undetectable transponder linked to a satellite that allows Hunt and right-hand computer guy Luther (Ving Rhames) to track her whereabouts.
Several sequences are successful, while others are boringly reliant on high-tech stuff — including a lengthy scene at the racetrack in which sly Nyah rips off a data card from Sean’s digital camera long enough to copy and transmit via one of Hunt’s wireless doohickeys the grisly footage of what Chimera (the nasty virus) does to its victims. Said footage is Sean’s pitch to an unhappy biotech mogul (Brendan Gleeson), as well as a roundabout way for Hunt to finally get a handle on what this mission is all about.
M:I-2 doesn’t hold up in terms of logic or believability. Along with all of the physical derring-do and gee-whiz technology used by Hunt and crew — there’s always the trusty bad-guy mask in a pinch — Hunt overcomes so many obstacles without mussing up his wavy hair (he even performs a swan dive off a skyscraper) that never do we expect him to meet defeat.
Woo masterfully stages fierce and memorably destructive cinematic sequences, but his use of slow motion becomes tiresome, and the motorcycles-and-kung-fu finale gets pretty hokey. Cruise comes off as fearless and virile, and his fans should not be disappointed in the slightest.
Newton is just about the best thing about M:I-2, playing a thinly written and cryptically motivated character with such charisma that one hangs on every lifting eyebrow and seductive smile.
Technical credits are “Mission: Accomplished,” with bravura cinematography by Jeffrey L. Kimball, excellent production design by Thomas E. Sanders and a thundering score by Hans Zimmer to go with the pedal-to-the-metal Limp-Bizkit-meets-Lalo-Schifrin M:I-2 theme song. — David Hunter, originally published on May 24, 2000
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