Mr. Hunt, this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. “Difficult” should be a walk in the park for you.
Seven years can feel like a long time, especially if you’re an inmate, a college student, or in a coma. In internet terms? It’s an eternity. That’s how long ago (or nearly so) I first reviewed this movie. It’s so long ago that, reading it, it barely registers as something I would’ve written, like a letter to a girlfriend, never mailed, long stuck in the back of a book. I wonder if real writers feel that way, if Stephen King ever cracks the cover of The Shining and feels like he’s reading something that came out of another’s pen.
The movie? Feels like I watched it yesterday. (Well, I did watch it yesterday, point of fact. Gotta watch something to review it, you know. It’s just a very unclever simile that I now regret writing. Where’s my delete key?) All the movie’s little annoyances were terribly evident then, and seven years of filmmaking and couch-jumping have done nothing to erase them.
Despite their romantic entanglements, Alicia (Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca) agrees to help government agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant, North by Northwest) by becoming the girlfriend of a Nazi…
…oh, wait, wrong movie.
IMF super-agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise, Top Gun) recruits the alluring cat burglar Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton, Crash) to help their spying efforts. Seems ex-IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott, Desperate Housewives) is up to no good, which you can tell because he’s always smirking or trying to cut off his henchmen’s appendages. He’s stolen a deadly super-virus and is ready to sell it to the highest bidder. Seeing that Nyah and Sean used to be bed buddies, the IMF thinks she’d be the perfect mole. Sean is just paranoid enough to suspect something, and when push comes to shove, Nyah becomes infected with the deadly virus. For Ethan, it’s not only a race against time to save the world, but also the woman he loves.
Seven years. Long time, huh? Okay, so maybe not for a movie, an artform that is scarcely 100 years old, one where we routinely watch movies decades old. (And by “we,” I mean you and me, not the people who make Blades of Glory a bona fide blockbuster. I work with a bunch of 20-somethings, most of whom haven’t seen The Godfather, for Pete’s sake.) Yet, that seven years was nearly long enough for this entry in the MI franchise to be nearly forgotten, or at least it would be if there hadn’t been another sequel that incremented its Roman numeral by I. As I go back and read my original review, I marvel at how much — and how little — has changed.
Whither John Woo? Seven years ago, M:I-2 was destined to be his real, honest-to-God breakout directing gig in the United States. Sure, we all knew he was big in Hong Kong, what with Hard Boiled and The Killer and all, but we all knew he had what it took to be the second coming of John McTiernan on this side of the Pacific, even if Hard Target and Face/Off hadn’t managed to electrify the box office with his brand of stylized action. Alas, it was not to be. Woo has directed two movies since 2000: Windtalkers, a stillborn WWII flick, and Paycheck, which was both an apt title and the sole reason Ben Affleck, Uma Thurman, Paul Giamatti, et al even bothered to show up. It’s even taken him this long to get back into the Hong Kong scene — he has a movie in the works for 2008 release.
And what about Thandie Newton and Dougray Scott, both of whom I chatted up back in the day? One would’ve thought that their strong supporting work in a Tom Cruise film would’ve propelled them to…something. Thandie Newton, as gorgeous as she may be, hasn’t been able to parlay the best film roles. The sole part of interest has been getting felt up by Matt Dillon in the highly overrated Crash. Is there no room in Hollywood for ethnically diverse leading ladies? She’s just as talented as Halle Berry, and a damn sight better on the eyes. Dougray Scott’s scenery-chewing was delightful, but as if the movie gods were punishing him for being unable to take the Wolverine role in X-Men, he has not found much traction at the box office. When the best you can muster is working alongside master thespians like Teri Hatcher and Doug Savant on Desperate Housewives, you can see where your future as an actor is going.
Oh, and let’s not forget about Tom Cruise. Despite coming off a couple indie-type films that weren’t moneymakers, back in 2000 he was box office gold. If you look at sheer numbers, he still is — every film he’s made since M:I-2 has grossed over $100 million. But in the rarefied air of Hollywood’s increased expectations, he’s not the performer (in a business sense) that he once was, and his off-screen antics — Scientology proselytizing, curious marriage to Katie Holmes, couch-jumping — soured his relationship with Paramount to the point that they dropped his contract. In seven years, he’s become a laughingstock, which is a shame, because he’s a solid (if predictable) actor and really does light up the screen.
Okay, enough side issues. What about the movie? It’s exactly how I remember — overblown, downright silly, and takes itself way too seriously. It’s a beautiful film, to be sure, with lush visuals and artistically filmed fight sequences. Every John Woo film cliché is on full display, from slo-mo to flying doves to double-fisting guns. It’s the things like an overuse of latex masks (about six such uses) and the ridiculous motorcycle chase at the end (nice concept, but ironically much more believable when done in a virtual world in The Matrix Reloaded) that prevent it from being a classic of the action genre. Its faults are even more apparent when comparing it to the vast improvement that was Mission: Impossible III. That film was much more grounded in reality and played up the stealth and subterfuge that was supposed to be part of the IMF, and JJ Abrams still managed to make a gorgeous, exciting movie. M:I-3 kept you on the edge of your seat for the right reasons; M:I-2 put you there to find a better movie.
As for the disc, it’s presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in 1080p. The image is truly gorgeous. Flesh tones are accurate, and the colorful locales pop from the screen. The only imperfections I noted were film-related — some grain here and there, and a camera problem with a helicopter shot very early in the movie (watch for a momentary color shift along the left-hand side of the screen). Audio is Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 in English, French, and Spanish. Every gunshot, every motorcycle whine, every implausibly located dove flying away will surround you. Low end will rock your socks.
The extras are the same as the SD release, so I’m going to be lazy and paste my previous comments (with some updates): “You get: a commentary track from John Woo, two behind-the-scenes featurettes, cast and crew interviews, a Metallica music video, a brief alternate title sequence, and a short aptly titled ‘Mission Improbable.’ The featurettes give a nice view behind the scenes without seeming like promotional fluff. The Metallica video, ‘I Disappear,’ is presented in 1:33:1. I like Metallica, but I’m not a huge fan. The song is not nearly at the level of just about anything else they’ve ever done. It is the very definition of droning generic metal head-banging music. It’s rather disappointing. I would’ve much rather seen a video for Limp Bizkit’s TRL-friendly rendition of the classic ‘Mission: Impossible’ theme…which I suppose will sound just as passé as Metallica in about five years. (Edit: Who’s Limp Bizkit? Metallica’s sound is timeless. Throw the goat and join me in yelling Metallica Rules!) I didn’t notice any difference between the theatrical credits and the ‘alternate’ title sequence. Maybe a few different pictures in the background, but there’s very little difference. ‘Mission Improbable,’ on the other hand, is an extra worthy of special mention. It was produced for the 2000 MTV Movie Awards, and thanks to the wonders of corporate synergy, they were able to include it on the disc. It’s basically a one-joke skit — Ben Stiller as Tom Cruise’s stunt double-but the joke is funny so it works.”
It’s easy to praise great action films (Die Hard), and nearly as easy to champion the cheesy bad ones (Road House). But what about the mediocre ones? Unfortunately, Mission: Impossible 2 falls on that white striped line in the middle of the blacktop. The action could be exciting if the packaging wasn’t so garish and absurd. Seven years later, I’m still waiting for the movie that can bring the Hong Kong sensibility to the masses…even if The Matrix and The Departed came really damn close. If it weren’t for its A-list star and pedigree as the silver screen adaptation of a beloved TV series, it would be the next Passenger 57.
As for the HD DVD, you could do worse for a disc to put in to show your buddies why you dropped all those benjamins for your home theater rig…but you could also do a lot better. It sure ain’t worth buying for the movie itself.