So ridiculous, it can only happen in a movie.
I wonder what it would be like to write action scenes in a screenplay. Not briefly, mind you, but over an extended period of time. We are so used to these action movies that contain nothing but wall-to-wall action, violence, exploding, shooting, stabbing, kicking, punching, and body-dropping all over the place. Few of those movies have worthwhile plot or dialogue to them, which are the main tools a screenwriter uses when writing their screenplay. I imagine writing an action movie for them would be a nightmare. There’s nothing interesting to write about except for who dies next.
I feel especially sorry, then, for screenwriter Robert Towne, who is normally known for his smart, driving plots found in movies like Chinatown, The Firm, indeed, even the first Mission Impossible, now stuck to writing about nothing but explosions, gunfire, broken bones, ribs, limbs, and jaws, with a little twinge of intrigue placed somewhere in this muck of explosions and action. Mission Impossible II is not the movie that the first Mission Impossible was. The first Mission Impossible had memorable characters, iconic situations, and an in-depth and mysterious plot that kept your interest for every second of that movie. Its sequel Mission Impossible II has nothing the first one had except for its action. The characters, while likable, are also disposable, and lack any emotional conviction to make me really care for anyone for a long period of time. The plot is utterly pointless. Like this movie, it exists only to provide reason for the action, rather than the other way around.
MI2 follows agent Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) pursuit of an ex-IMF agent named Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who is impersonating Hunt through the same face-masks from the first film. What is Ambrose after, and what does Hunt’s identity have to do with it? He is after a harmful chemical known as “Chimera”, a terrible virus that infects the host in a matter of hours, takes his cells, eats them, and kills the host as slowly and painfully as possible. The doctor who made this is named Vladmir Nekhorvich (Rade Serbegija), and he has been a close friend of Hunt’s for some unknown period of time now (Although he keeps calling him “Dimitri”, for some reason).
This film is directed by John Woo, who is mostly known for his ridiculous, overly-long, overly-explosive action scenes in his movies. His action scenes are so ridiculous, that he makes Michael Bay shrivel up in his seat. This movie is no exception. Mission Impossible II is just as explosive, outlandish, insane, exhilarating and visually stellar as any other John Woo movie is, and that includes movies such as Broken Arrow and Face/Off.
On one hand, this is a good thing, considering Woo makes some incredible action sequences at some moments in this movie. I remember one scene where Tom is fighting off countless professional assassins in a chemical building while trying to destroy a sample of “Chimera” in the process. That gunfight was insane. Cruise was fighting off countless assassins with grenades, Uzi-Subs, and M-104’s, and what does Tom have to fight off against them? A pistol. It is these impossible odds that stacks up the action scenes to incredible heights, and makes for very entertaining, exciting moments in this movie.
Unfortunately, Woo focuses too much on the action. The difference between this film and his earlier film Face/Off is that Face/Off had a smart, original, and fascinating plot, while Mission Impossible II just copies elements from other action films. Stop me if you’ve seen any of this before: A) A Bond-type action hero that beats bad guys to a pulp and always gets the girl, all while looking incredibly sexy to the female audience with his long hair flowing freely in the wind, B) The hero falling madly in love with a woman who is just as sexy to the male population as the hero is to the female, C) The hero eventually having to rescue the damsel from distress, D) The sinister villain is introduced and narrates a plan so ridiculous, it can only happen in movies, E) An excruciating length of a 40 minute action sequence takes place, F) The villain dies at the end of the movie, and G) The hero and his lover kiss at the end of the movie and walk into the sunset in a “Happily Ever After” kind of concluding tone.
Could that entire paragraph be technically considered a spoiler? No, it can’t, because we’ve all seen that movie before. Is it really so surprising that the villain dies, and the woman is saved from danger at the end of the movie? Is it really so shocking? You might enjoy seeing the same thing over and over again, but I can’t stand it. I can’t stand movies that have a method to it. I can’t stand movies that follow formulas. Granted, I don’t want a movie where the villain lives and the hero dies with his love next to him, but geez, throw something unpredictable in there. Action without point is no action at all. It is just headaches.
That’s not to say that the strong points still don’t hold up to what we expect them to be. I already said the action is amazing, and it is. The music has definitely improved from the last movie, and Hans Zimmer inserts a nice rock twist to the famous theme that made the series iconic by right. Cruise especially shines in this movie just as much as he did in the first movie. In the first sequence he’s introduced in, Cruise makes an impossible rock climb over a canyon in nothing but a sleeveless shirt and a waist pouch with gripping dust in it. Remember something here: that’s not CGI, and that’s not a stunt double. Cruise is doing his own stunts, meaning he actually free-climbed up this deathly-high slab of rock. I think he secretly has a death wish for pulling off stunts as stupidly risky as this, but I hold my respect to him for having the audacity to even think about pulling off a stunt like that. It is moments like that that really impresses the audience, and what I think, makes Cruise a very credible and successful actor. He’s willing to pull off whatever he can in order to impress the audience.
But the strong points of this film pales to the weaknesses. Mission Impossible II is all style, and no substance. It has plenty of action, explosions, and body counts to overwhelm you with, but it lacks interest and consistency in between the action scenes with its stupid dialogue, and its plot that is as incredulous and predictable as any other action film can be. I’ve said before that I don’t mind action films as long as they are good ones. This is an ambitious one, but it’s too similar to other action movies to say it’s a “good” one. In the end, this movie to me is like a magician trying to con you at the circus. He shows off its tricks to you, but when he’s done, he turns and says to you “Sorry kid, no refunds”.