Summer Movie Showdown: "Mission: Impossible II" Review

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Tom Cruise reprises his role in the sequel to the first Mission: Impossible film (1996) which follows as a secret agent is sent to Sydney to find and destroy a genetically modified disease called "Chimera".
3.5

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Summer Movie Showdown: "Mission: Impossible II" Review

-- Rating: PG-13 (some sensuality and scenes of intense violent action)
Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: May 24, 2000
Directed by: John Woo
Genre: Adventure/Action/Thriller

"Mission: Impossible II" is a fun, flashy movie that is a sharp contrast to Brian De Palma's 1996 "Mission: Impossible" film. Directed by John Woo, this film uses fast-paced action sequences and a few plot twists to keep the audience fully enthralled for all 123 minutes of running time.

"Mission: Impossible II" begins with the theft of a deadly virus, Chimera, by a criminal mastermind named Ambrose. Ambrose intends to release the virus, creating a demand for a cure that he can then sell for top dollar. Impossible Missions Force Agent Ethan Hunt is asked to recover Chimera before it can be used to infect the world. To keep tabs on Ambrose, Hunt enlists the help of Ambrose's former girlfriend. Nyah is an international thief who is reluctant to reunite with Ambrose, and instead she falls for Hunt. Hunt persuades her to reignite her relationship with Ambrose so that she can give valuable intelligence information to Hunt about Chimera's location. The whole operation is jeopardized, however, when Ambrose discovers Nyah's duplicity. Hunt is then forced to race against the clock to find the antidote and prevent a worldwide plague.

Tom Cruise is at the top of his game as spy Ethan Hunt. The screenwriters have made Hunt a more interesting character in this film, giving the character more depth and a few new habits. When we first see him, for example, he's climbing up a vertical rock face during his vacation time. Cruise has also infused Hunt with a certain charming cockiness that was mostly absent in the first film. Even when the stakes are high, it's clear that Hunt is enjoying himself. Cruise also completes most of his own stunts in the film, and Woo uses the camera to emphasize every daring leap he executes.

As Hunt's love interest, Nyah, Thandie Newton brings a certain melancholy and dreamy style to the role. While she does what she can with the material, the love story between Nyah and Hunt is never convincing. This problem is the fault of the screenwriters, who give the lovebirds less than twenty-four hours to become acquainted before Nyah is forced to infiltrate Ambrose's lair. Unfortunately, it makes both characters seem a bit silly, with both Cruise and Newton delivering heated looks and declarations of everlasting devotion. In the film's third act, Nyah seems to exist purely to be saved. This is a disappointing finish for a character who is supposed to be an expert international thief.

Dougray Scott, who plays Ambrose, is given a stock villain character, but he still manages to create a formidable opponent for Hunt. It's easy to believe that underneath Ambrose's handsome face, a true monster lurks. In one chilling scene, Ambrose retaliates against an unruly henchman by cutting off his finger with a cigar cutter. While there's nothing remarkable about the writing or direction in that particular scene, the malevolence in Scott infuses into Ambrose lets audiences know that he is a true threat to the safety of the world.

Woo lends his signature style to every frame of "Mission: Impossible II." Everything and everyone looks great, and stunts are completed with stylish aplomb. However, as the film progresses, the action sequences become almost too elaborate and border on being a bit silly. During one climatic fight scene, Hunt and Ambrose use motorcycles to face off and then abandon the vehicles to grab each other midair. There's no satisfying logical answer to this bit of action excess, but it's easy to overlook this bit of stylistic flair while watching.

The few faults of the film can mostly be attributed to the screenwriters, who delivered a generic script that is heavy on movie tropes. Many action films don't have particularly complicated plots, but it's clear that the screenwriters of "Mission Impossible: II" had little faith in the audience's ability to follow a more complex narrative. The screenwriters also overused the plot device of the futuristic masks that allow both villain and hero to impersonate other people. The first time these masks are used, there was a suitably dramatic reveal. By the third time these masks make their appearance, they seem like a cheap trick. Despite the screenwriters' paint-by-number approach, they did infuse the script with the fun that the screenplay for the 1996 "Mission: Impossible" film was missing.

Fans of action films and Woo will get exactly what they expect: a stylish action film that will leave audiences feeling invigorated after watching. Movie lovers who are only marginally interested in the action genre may have more difficulty engrossing themselves in the film. However, for audience members willing to silence their inner critic, Woo delivers a near-perfect summer blockbuster.