By Marc S. Sanders
Mission: Impossible II is undoubtedly the weakest installment of Tom Cruise’s series, adapted from the classic tv show. Action Director John Woo is normally regarded as “ACTION DIRECTOR JOHN WOO” because he can only direct action. He hardly ever directs story. There’s no dimension to his characters and nothing intriguing. It’s all just glitz and neon colors in his cinematography. No weight at stake in Action Director John Woo’s action.
A third act fist fight between Cruise’s Ethan Hunt and a very, very uninteresting villain played by Dougray Scott gets very tiresome, very, very quickly. Punch, kick, tackle, twirl, take off your jacket, get up in very slowwwwww motion, throw off your sunglasses, and do it again and again and one more time.
The MacGuffin of the picture is a virus and the anti-virus. Hunt recruits a sexy thief played by Thandie Newton to infiltrate Dougray Scott, her ex-boyfriend seeking to cash in on the prize at hand. Somewhere, lost in Robert Towne’s script, Scott’s character gets wise to the fact that of all the “M:I” agents out there, Ethan Hunt is the one onto him even though they never come in contact with one another until the middle section of the film is complete. So, the bad guy, at times, disguises himself as Hunt. Screenwriter Robert Towne thought he’d get one over on the audience with the disguise twists that the M:I franchise is known for. Sadly, it’s not subtle enough in this picture. All twists can be foreshadowed as early as the opening credits actually.
Action Director John Woo really fails with this effort. He makes a terrible habit of amping up the gloss of his film with an abundance of slowwwwww motion actions and reactions to accompany a mostly mandolin soundtrack from Hans Zimmer. Beautiful set pieces of music. Though none of it belongs in this film. Zimmer’s work here is better suited for something more genuinely romantic and exotic, without the revving motorcycle rides and bare-knuckle brawls in the final act of the film.
In addition, Action Director John Woo is not given much action to “action direct.” There’s a lot of bland talking in Towne’s script. So much so that we finally arrive at what the film promises, only it’s very late in Act 2, and then drags on very slowwwwwwwly in Act 3.
For a brief stint early on, you get the impression that Cruise is adopting a flirtatious James Bond approach with Newton’s character. They hide away cuddled in an empty bathtub and quickly bed one another, but Towne writes no sexual innuendo to go with Cruise & Newton’s grins, or their shiny, moisturized complexions.
There’s no humor either. There’s really no reason to like Ethan Hunt here. He has nothing to say. All he does is walk in slowwwww motion in response to Action Director John Woo.
Cruise, again as producer, makes the mistake of only allowing his hand in the cookie jar. No one gets to do anything of great importance except him. A team is assembled to just watch Tom Cruise play and walk slowwwwwly. Cruise hired his own fan club for this film, including Anthony Hopkins. Now here’s a charming chap playing Hunt’s supervisor. You see him appear for the first time early on. He returns in the epilogue, and when the film has concluded you realize that Oscar winner Anthony Hopkins next to nothing to do, really. He doesn’t debate or joke with Cruise. He, like most of the cast of the first two M:I films, just tells Hunt who to meet next. What potential for a great character played by a marvelous character actor and it’s regrettably squandered away.
Fortunately, the approach of the subsequent M:I films went in different direction following Action Director John Woo’s contribution. All elements of this short-changed story were abandoned for better material from better directors to later come.