Mission: Impossible 2 is easily the least liked installment in the Mission: Impossible series, yet it is where the series finally found confidence itself in what it wanted to be. Where the first installment was unsure if it wanted to be a high brow spy thriller, or action blockbuster; the sequel is happily content settling with being a overblown, over the top, and cheesy action blockbuster. Despite it general reception among film critics, and audiences; one thing that’s often overlooked about this movie is that it’s the only time in the entire franchise where Ethan Hunt isn’t disavowed from the Impossible Mission Force. Yes, making it the only time the Mission: Impossible franchise Ethan Hunt has ever been in IMF for the entire movie. It’s an ingredient in the formula that still gets used to this day in the ongoing franchise. Another thing that is forgotten about this sequel is that it’s the only time it became the highest grossing movie the year it came out. These accomplishments while superficial in the long term are things the other entries have yet to accomplish again. Instead of participating in any discussion if this entry is the best, or worst in the series I’ll simply continue on. As stated in my review for the original Mission: Impossible (1996) movie, I enjoy the fact each entry in this series try to feel different from one another, and here it’s no different.
Mission: Impossible 2 follows IMF Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) on a assignment in Sydney to find, and destroy a genetically modified disease called “Chimera” stolen by a rogue agent. I personally don’t consider the original movie to have a complicated story, although the storytelling has been significantly simplified in this installment. The writing is straightforward; you have good guy stopping bad guy with no twists in between. You won’t get the ambiguity of Ethan Hunt ally’s, or the situation he’s in. Everything is clear cut, even in the lame attempts when it tries to throw you off when characters take off their mask revealing their a different person. Gone are the mind games as well. Only once does Ethan Hunt has to quickly think his way out of a situation that went array, and only once does his enemy uses his intimate knowledge of how Ethan Hunt think to put him into a corner.
Right from the beginning this movie establishes clearly it’s taking an entirely different direction from the first one. When part of your opening sequence includes your main character climbing a cliff without any rock climbing equipment, the IMF delivering his mission briefing via rocket launcher missile which contains sunglasses, and exploding sunglasses into the title card you know movie is going to be difficult to take seriously. Wondering why a spy agency would create a tracking device that could only be monitor on one computer is only a small part of its silliness. Thankfully, the movie never tries to be serious since moments like these occasionally pop up in the movie. Surprisingly, trinkets of the dialogue is either on the nose, or so over the top you’ll laugh, and be baffled how such lines made it on screen. There’s a line of dialogue where a character literally states he’s evil to the audience. Some classic dialogue includes:
Ethan Hunt: We just rolled up a snowball and tossed it into hell. Now lets see what chance it has.
Ethan Hunt: No. She’s got no training for this kind of thing.
Swanbeck: What? To go to bed with a man, and lie to him? She’s a woman – she’s got all the training she needs.
Ethan Hunt is more skilled in combat, playful, and emotionally attached in the sequel. Changing from the detached rookie viewers first saw him as in the original film. Being driven to get payback for an old friend, and being more concerned about his teammates well being. Allowing the writers to show a more caring side of Ethan Hunt. However, he’s given new traits too that don’t align all the time with what was established in the previous movie. The obvious one being Ethan Hunt acts more suave as a lady killer, and more relaxed which pushes a natural transition into entirely rewriting an established character. Hardly showing any sign that he fears for his life during the mission. Almost as if he knows he’s going to make it out alive because he’s a newly enhanced Ethan Hunt. Making Ethan Hunt a one man army relying more on action than his quick wits to get out of a dangerous situation.
What holds the movie back is the “love triangle” that eats up two acts of the movie attention. There isn’t much to it even when the film attempts to give background to their characters past. All the characterization that is provided is simplistic, as well as the motivations tied to the characters. While the film establishes itself as a dumb movie it takes it too far from a character perspective at points. None of this is more obvious than the moment where Ethan Hunt detonate a bomb after his love interest injects herself with Chemeria instead of detonating the bomb before she infected herself. Also within the same sequence, providing details on Ethan Hunt original escape plan. If it went well, would Ethan still have blown up a hole in the wall, jumped out of it, and parachute to safety. Probably not, but since the movie skipped over that snippet when during the planning scene it makes that part of his plan baffling. More baffling than that is the how villain plan to spread the Chermia virus through a human subject in public area, yet having nothing in check to make sure the subject actually spreads the virus in a populated location.
One nice addition to the movie is the team is finally working together consistently towards a common goal. Unfortunately, Ethan Hunt does the most of the heavy lifting without much emphasis on the importance of teamwork. Sure, Ethan Hunt can’t hack, can’t get intel from a rogue agent, or fly a chopper. However, he’s the only one on field putting himself in danger while his team just partially participate from a distance a majority of the time. In context, it makes sense since Hunt is the best trained agent meant to do these kind of things. It’s more notable than in the first movie because here the team can trust each other, but the heavy lifting isn’t shared among the group. Although, Luther (Ving Rhames) actually helps out Ethan during an action sequence whereas in the first one he simply provided technical support without risk to his life. It’s odd how in one way it expands on the team work aspect to have it be a team operation for the whole thing, but on the other hand feeling unimportant with Ethan doing most of the dirty work.
What does carry over from the original movie is Tom Cruise committed performance. Coming across more charismatic, more humorous, and more suave than he did before. In spite of how ridiculous the movie’s effort can be to make Tom Cruise look as cool as possible. Cruise performance is still enjoyable to see. He doesn’t phone in a single scene, even when working with ridiculous dialogue, and doing insane things during his action sequences. Cruise is no martial artist, but he puts it his all to make you think he can do back flip kicks, dodge bullets while riding on a motorcycle, and that he can still perform a fight after colliding with someone in midair after he crashes his motorcycle into another person. Is it over the top as it sounds, but it’s gloriously done, and enjoyable when Cruise believes can do this stuff as much as he does. Another change is Tom Cruise long hair which he probably only had for the many slow-mo shots which are plentiful in this sequel. It is silly looking, but in line with the already goofy movie. What is sadly lost in the sequel is Cruise dramatic acting since he plays a more of a James Bond knock off than a experienced Ethan Hunt. Loosing any sense of urgency his character had in the original, and missing on the opportunity to capitalize on his dramatic chops.
The weakest link in the acting this time around is Thandie Newton who plays Nyh, and she hardly change facial expression, or her tone of voice for the entirety of the movie. She’s simply incapable of coming off as seductive when she’s meant to be alluring. Her monotone voice, and robotic expression prevents her from coming as a human. While Cruise charisma makes you buy he’s in love with Thandie Newton, even he is unable to make it appear like him, and Newton have any sort of chemistry. Then there’s Dougray Scott who plays villain Sean Ambrose, and he chews up the scenery. His performance is far subtle as possible whenever he’s onscreen. Being just as a difficult to take seriously as the foil to Tom Cruise. However, while it’s easy to see why Newton character dumped Scott character. Scott acting is unable to get across any appeal that Newton might have found in him.
Ving Rhames returns for the sequel playing Luther. He’s likable again being mostly humorous, and his character remains in tact for the sequel. Getting more screen time than he did in the previous installment. John Polson plays Billy Bird, and he does nothing worthwhile in his performance. He’s just in the movie, and just blends into the background. Richard Roxburgh plays right hand henchman Hugh, and he’s okay. Roxburgh only has the serious expression in the movie to express. While Roxburgh eventually fights against Tom Cruise in the movie it doesn’t last long. Brendan Gleeson, and Anthony Hopkins whom both are fantastic actors have little screen time. Despite how little they appear in the movie they manage to make a good impression even with the cheesy dialogue.
When John Woo finally gets to into the action sequences two acts into the movie he’s able to keep the film entertaining. It’s sloppy that one half is purely focused on the love triangle, and the mission while the remaining half is more focused on action. Aspects of the movie are overly edited to its detriment at times. Like early on in the movie when Rade Serbedzija sees a group of children were black, and white color filter is applied while being played with overly dramatic music. In another scene, the music gets too loud drowning out the actors delivering their dialogue. Speaking of music, the soundtrack is more rock, and punk eccentric being vastly different from it predecessor. While it’s not as good as the previous movie soundtrack it fits well for this sequel. However, the film replaces Larry Mullen & Adam Clayton rendition of the Mission Impossible theme with Limp Bizkit of all bands. Easily making this the most dated aspect of the movie. It has some cool sounding guitar riffs, but it’s nowhere near as memorable, or as close to matching the original movie theme song. There’s also some dated effects. Although, the dated effects don’t last long, but when it comes to action John Woo knows his stuff.
Mission: Impossible 2 is loud, over the top, cheesy, and entertaining for those reasons. It’s unfortunate you have to endure a long time before the movie picks up with it action sequences, but once it does it’ll make the wait partially worth it. John Woo action sequences are the best part of the movie while offering his usual cliches. Plenty of slow-mo, a single dove flying across the screen, and of course the star dodging plenty of bullets. The best action sequence involves a mixture of a car chase, and gunfight. Always keeping the action moving, and trying to find ways up itself during the sequence. Offering plenty of explosions, and cars destruction during the sequence. Everything is filmed from a good range making the action clearly visible. Every action sequence in the movie is highly choreographed preventing the gunfights from being repetitive from the usual cover, and shooting gunfights. Typically having Cruise be on the move during these action set pieces. Even more impressive how all the action sequences were done through practical means making them even more impressive.
Mission: Impossible 2 is loud, stupid, over the top, and silly fun. It takes about 60% of the movie before the action comes in, but once it does the sight it is amazing, and a blast to watch. While it writing is clunky in places the establish over the top tone helps ease any shortcoming in the long term. A charismatic Tom Cruise is a joy to watch during the proceeding as usual. These are also the reasons many dislike it, and why it has the polarizing position it has among viewers. However, I would still recommend this outing for fans of the franchise since it’s (currently) the only time you’ll see Ethan Hunt working in the IMF for the entirety of the movie.