Attempting to steal a deadly virus, rogue agent Sean Ambrose (Scott) plans to make a fortune with the antidote. Tasked with stopping him, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is sent to recruit Ambrose’s ex, professional thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Newton), so that she can go undercover while Hunt assembles a team to destroy the virus…
Given that Brian De Palma’s knotty original was criticised due to its overly-plotted narrative, star-come-producer Tom Cruise faced a difficult challenge with the sequel. But then, as Anthony Hopkins’ bossman memorably puts it; “This isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park”. Recruiting stylish Hong Kong director John Woo to give his take on the seminal ’60s series, the result is everything the original wasn’t: a high-tempo action ride with straightforward plotting. This time, it’s an assault to the senses, not the mind.
Arguably, it’s the most ‘John Woo movie’ that John Woo has ever made. There’s the gun-in-each-hand shootouts. The doves flapping in the background as bullets are sprayed between opponents. The constant hair-swishing and billowing clothes (seriously, everything billows). The operatic martial arts played in slow-motion. Indeed, at one point, there’s a gun-in-each-hand shootout with doves in the background as hair swishes during slow-mo martial arts.
And yet, while the movie would probably only last about 45 minutes if everything was played in real-time, there’s no doubting that it frequently looks stunning and is stuffed with carefully-captured money shots. Of course, the action scenes are every bit as high-energy and adrenalin-raising as you’d expect from Woo, to the extent that they momentarily distract from some ludicrous logic holes (such as how an individual’s height and weight changes when they put on a rubber face mask) and drag you along for the ride. A breathtaking mountain-climb credits sequence (which Cruise actually filmed himself), the beautiful Hans Zimmer-infused parachute-jump escape (out a skyscraper, through an exploded hole in wall), one of the most testosterone-throbbing bike-chases in memory… it’s frequently pulse-pounding stuff.
Shame then that it all feels a bit empty. While undoubtedly succeeding in its aim of avoiding the same sense of confusion which haunted last time, there’s little substance to go with the style and the jarring change in tone from post-Cold War paranoia to by-the-numbers Bond feels like dumbing down (which it is). Far more stylised and action-packed, the taut cloak-and-dagger is replaced with the director’s familiar balletic, high-octane approach, removing us further and further from the original premise.
We do get a jazzed-up version of the catchy theme tune via Zimmer’s excellent score, but the fake face-masks - although perfectly realised as they’re pulled off – are overused, while show staples like gadgets, spying and teamwork are largely absent (with returning Ving Rhames and newcomer John Polson not given much to do).
Still, such an absence is hardly surprising given that we’re essentially watching the Tom Cruise show. All explosive shades, black gear and swishing, billowing-hair (told you), he’s arguably never been cooler. No question, the camera excessively affords him hero-shot after hero-shot, but it’s Tom at his chiseled and brooding action-hero best.
Whilst Dougray Scott chomps his lines with accenty-quotability (“I. Am. Gagging for it!”) and Thandie Newton looks good next to the Cruiser (despite going from heartless thief to infatuated girlfriend in a credibility-destroying amount of time), they’re basically here to play opposite him. Oh well, at least Tony Hopkins has fun with his small turn.
Highly stylish and gorgeous to look at, John Woo’s sequel will delight action fans, but goes too far trying to avoid the same ‘mistakes’ as Brian De Palma’s original by over-simplifying the plot. Whilst beautiful and occasionally exciting, it’s more garden variety Bond than vintage Mission Impossible.