Mission: Impossible II review – fun, but weaker second act

Despite some crazy over the top action helmed as only John Woo can provide, Mission: Impossible II is a fun if weak entry in the series.

mission-impossible-2-tom-cruiseSean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), an Impossible Mission Force agent, goes rogue and prepares to unleash the bioweapon ‘Chimera’ in Sydney.

The only IMF agent Mission Commander Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins) can trust to stop Ambrose and recover Chimera is Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise). Swanbeck’s only condition is that Ethan include cat thief Nyah (Thandie Newton, Crash [Blu-ray]) as part of his team.

Joining Ethan is helicopter ace Billy Baird (John Polson) and returning team member, computer whiz Luther Stickwell (Ving Rhames).

mission-impossible-2-dougray-scott-and-thandie-newtonBilly’s expertise is limited to just making him a glorified chauffer while Luther is stuck behind a laptop for most of the film. This is the real B- team as far as Ethan’s fellow agents go as they’re strictly sideline team members when the action starts.

That of course forces Ethan, who never fired a shot in the first film, to becoming a supersized version of Rambo, John McClane and The Terminator. And with Ethan’s effectiveness at combat, it feels like he doesn’t need anyone at all — negating a key component of Mission: Impossible.

While fans of the TV series complained screenwriter Robert Towne made the first film too singularly focused on Ethan, that emphasis is ramped up so much that it doesn’t have any of the spirit of its source material.

Cruise was still settling into his second act as a blockbuster action hero and too often the film feels like it’s overcompensating to show he can be as big a shoot ‘em up star as 80s icons Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. He’s fine in the lead role, but the hard sell isn’t necessary.

mission-impossible-2-thandie-newton-and-ving-rhamesThe Ethan/Nyah subplot is a waste of time as it reduces Nyah to simply being the shiny object caught in the middle of a romantic tug of war between Ambrose and Ethan. It’s a disservice to Newton, a far more talented actress given little to do but provide the film’s eye candy.

Ironically, the weakest installment of the series boasts by far the best assemblage of villains. Ambrose’s crew including Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh, Van Helsing), Wallis (Cruise’s cousin William Mapother, Lost) and Ulrich (Dominic Purcell, The Flash) make for a formidable force that would have been better suited as the evil counterparts to a more capable IMF team.

Towne also gets too pre-occupied with the facial mask/voice changing gimmick, which starts off as clever spy tech, but becomes so overused by the final act it seems the only trick in the IM arsenal.

For all the numerous issues with the plot and character development — the film’s initial cut was reportedly three and a half hours — its major saving grace is Director John Woo, who brings his trademark slo-mo gunplay, doves and over the top action sequences to instill such much needed fun to the proceedings.

It’s a lot easier to ignore the film’s issues when Woo has Cruise dangling from a rooftop ventilation shaft, dodging bullets as debris is flying and zooming along in a high speed motorcycle chase.

mission-impossible-2-tom-cruise-ving-rhames-and-john-poulsonYes, some of the action sequences are ridiculous and the slow-motion at times becomes excessive, but you take the good and bad with Woo and more often than not, it works here. And of all the aspects of an action movie, it’s essential the action delivers and this one does that big time.

Despite its flaws, ‘Mission: Impossible II’ is still a fun movie even if it doesn’t match the high standards of the rest of the series.

Rating: 6 out of 10

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