Mission: Impossible made a lot of money so it was only inevitable that a sequel was going to happen. Tom Cruise seemed to genuinely enjoy his starring role as Ethan Hunt, an agent working for a top-secret agency, and the first film certainly left a lot of opportunity for a sequel. So, here we have Mission: Impossible II, which brings with it, in its first few scenes, more character depth than the entirety of the first film had. That’s not a theme that will linger, but at least the initial attempt was made.
The second scene of the film has Ethan Hunt rock climbing, and it seems so real that you almost believe that Cruise did it without a harness or safety net. This is how the character vacations, which is almost as entertaining as the precarious situations that he gets himself into later on. He learns of a heist, which happened in the opening, involving the theft of a deadly virus and anti-virus that had been manufactured. It was, apparently, stolen by Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), posing as Hunt, establishing for ourselves a villain.
The last film had a plot so convoluted that I’m not even sure the filmmakers behind it knew what was happening by the end. The villain changed forms and characters, twists and turns happened, and it was tough to keep track. In this one, Sean is the villain from start to finish, and that’s a certainty. We know this time around that this is the case, and I’m quite glad that this is the case. You can follow along this time around, and while the film as a whole isn’t quite as enjoyable, at least you know what’s going on the whole time.
A love interest is also introduced right away, this time in the form of a “professional thief” — I guess someone hires her to steal for them, but that’s never stated — named Nyah (Thandie Newton). There’s even a lovemaking scene in which the characters act out their love while in separate vehicles driving down the road. It’s a fabulous scene simply because of how well-made it is, and it’s a clever way of getting the MPAA’s rating system.
The plot essentially has Hunt, Nyah, a computer hacker named Luther (Ving Rhames’ character from the first film returns and a pilot, Billy (John Polson) attempting to retrieve or destroy the virus so that it won’t fall into the wrong hands. Nyah was, coincidentally, a former partner of Sean’s, so you can see how she fits into this. A lot of misdirection occurs, mostly in the form of latex masks which disguise identities so effectively, but the plot isn’t terribly complex. You know where it’s going from the start.
John Woo has made a career out of making action movies, and here, like De Palma — the director of the first film — before him, he brings a sense of style to the film. There’s a lot of slow motion and some wire-fu, which sometimes doesn’t work, but does in this case. It’s kind of funny seeing Tom Cruise do a bunch of backflips and somersaults, but it winds up working here. If nothing else, Mission: Impossible II is a more action-oriented film, and whenever that’s the focus, it works just fine.
The problem comes from whenever Dougray Scott’s character attempts to do anything. He’s a villain, sure, but he’s not a very good or memorable one. The only memorable scene he has is when he’s threatening to cut off another character’s finger. After that, there’s nothing interesting about him. It doesn’t help that Scott has very little going for him as an actor in this role, showing absolutely nothing in the way of range. He doesn’t come across as a bad guy who could do real damage or even one who has much of a plan. He’s just there and needs to be stopped for whatever reason.
I mean, I get it: There’s a virus that could kill everyone on earth, and there’s a scene showing — in great detail, I might add — exactly what it does to someone over the 37 hour period after exposure and prior to death. It’s gross, and quite frankly, if the virus was handled by someone who really wanted to cause harm, perhaps the film might have felt more important. But the villain here is just dull, and doesn’t seem genuinely nefarious. He just wants money, and doesn’t seem to care about anything but that.
Tom Cruise still makes for a charismatic leading man, and seeing him grin his way through action scene after action scene is fun. The supporting cast, with the exception of Scott, is also quite enjoyable, although, like the first film, Cruise is spotlighted for the film’s entirety. Hey, Brendan Gleeson and Anthony Hopkins are both in this film, and if that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is — I am disregarding a spotty filmography, I’ll admit, but both actors are generally worth watching regardless.
Mission: Impossible II is a fun movie that doesn’t have any standout moments like its predecessor, but it makes a lot more sense and actually establishes a set villain from the start. Now, if that villain was played by a better actor or was written in a move compelling way, we’d have ourselves a movie. The action, however, is fun, in large part because John Woo was directing, and he knows a thing or two about action scenes. Cruise is enjoyable to watch, and gets some fantastic stunts, and the movie is, on the whole, worth seeing.