I was not a fan of Mission Impossible II when it first came out almost 20 years ago.
I was about 15, give or take, and I remember hating how the movie had changed gears from clever espionage thriller to big, dumb action movie. Of course, I’ve since come to really appreciate the M:I series as an action franchise–not to mention developed a passionate love for the mighty sub-genre of Total Cheese.
Reflecting on this evolution of self, I had to wonder, was it possible that I might now actually enjoy Mission: Impossible II, AKA, The One Where Tom Cruise Rock Climbs Needlessly?
Director: John Woo
First Watch or Re-Watch: Re-Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
The answer is no, of course not. This movie is even worse than I remembered.
The thing about Ghost Protocol, Rogue Nation, and Fallout (M:I 4, 5 and 6) is that they’re not just any dumb action movies; they’re extremely well-executed action movies. Mission Impossible II, on the other hand, can’t even succeed at silly, dumb fun. Never mind the plot-hole-ridden script, the stupidly rushed romance, and all the random yelling by both our hero and our villain; just the action scenes alone are absolutely, laughably terrible. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a movie that’s relied this heavily on slow-mo; if you ever wanna use M:I-2 as a drinking movie, Drink at Slow-Mo is the only rule you’ll need. (Please no shots. You’ll be dead.) If you just gotta have a bonus rule, though, I’d suggest Chugging for Pigeons. Oh, yes, my friends. In one notable scene, there are pigeons to ratchet up the tension. I’m not even joking about this.
Unfortunately, the music choices in this movie do absolutely nothing to help, like, the soundtrack here actively makes an already terrible film even worse. What’s amusing about this is that while Mission: Impossible II got some seriously mixed reviews when it premiered, it appears that most critics praised not only this film’s score but also its actions sequences. (Mercifully, nobody seemed to love the pigeons.) I know the action genre has come a long way since 2000 and all, but . . . no. This is nonsense.
Of course, even awful movies usually come with some redeemable feature, and M:I-2 is no exception. John Woo may have axed the trademark opening credits sequence (obviously a mistake), but he did keep the trademark Ridiculous Face Mask Disguises, and a couple of the switch-a-roos here actually work pretty well. More importantly, Thandie Newton is a goddamn delight in this movie. This wasn’t the first film I saw her in (I believe that would be Interview with the Vampire), but it’s definitely the first movie I recognized her from, and despite some problems with Nyah’s storyline–more on that shortly–her performance here is pretty great. Honestly, we should all just take this movie as her audition for the role of Selina Kyle. I goddamn demand a movie with Thandie Newton as Catwoman.
What I find most striking about this movie, however, is how much better it would work if it was told from Nyah’s POV. My imagined reboot, not so different from the original film, goes like so:
Teaser: Nyah’s in the middle of some exciting heist when she has a semi-flirty interaction with some mystery thief. Intrigue abounds.
First Act: Nyah quickly discovers that her suave mystery thief is actually an American spy, recruiting her for a dangerous mission. At first, Nyah’s all “hard pass,” but then something–something that isn’t a ludicrous car chase sequence and/or a ridiculously rushed romance–changes her mind. This story doesn’t require a romance and, frankly, doesn’t have the time to do one justice.
Nyah and Spy go off to meet Spy’s Boss, who drops the bomb that Nyah hasn’t been recruited for her awesome thieving skills, after all. Instead, Spy Boss expects Nyah to start screwing her not-so-awesome ex-boyfriend again, who–besides being obsessive and creepy–also just murdered hundreds of people in a plane crash.
Nyah’s not thrilled about this for obvious reasons, although Spy Boss doesn’t see what the big deal is; after all, they aren’t asking her to do anything she hasn’t done before. (Spy Boss absolutely dies in my reboot, BTW, whether he’s played by Anthony Hopkins or not.) Spy is upset because he likes Nyah and feels bad about unintentionally lying to her, but he still asks her to do it. Ultimately, Nyah agrees because she wants to take Evil Ex down before he can hurt anyone else.
Second Act: Nyah engages in a bunch of undercover shenanigans: stealing shit, reporting intel, near misses, etc. If a sex scene with Evil Ex is deemed necessary, it’ll be entirely about Nyah’s feelings on the matter; no one gives a shit about Spy’s angst and/or jealousy here. And when the terrible bioweapon eventually comes into play, Nyah–despite continuously lying that she doesn’t have a conscience–will choose to inject herself with it, rather than hand it over to the bad guys.
Third Act: . . . okay, so this is where we’d have to rewrite the entire third act, but that’s okay because the third act seriously needs to be rewritten anyway. Like, that whole car chase scene that lasts 18 years? Yeah, that needs to go. Also, Nyah’s whole “I’ve supposedly been dropped off near Sydney so I could infect billions of people, but since no one was was guarding me for Super Dumb Plot Reasons, I just wandered through the countryside and found myself on this random cliff where I could almost nobly kill myself” thing? Let’s just go ahead and toss that, too. However this third act goes down, the only really important things to me are that a) Nyah lives, and b) she plays a vital part in taking Evil Ex down.
A few other random notes:
A. This might be the first thing I ever saw Brendan Gleeson in, but I wouldn’t recognize (or adore) him until I saw 28 Days Later. Meanwhile, Richard Roxburgh–best known as the Creepy Evil Duke in Moulin Rouge–is also in this. Here he plays Dougray Scott’s Creepy Evil Right-Hand Man. Poor typecast bastard.
B. Luther is back, which is fine, though in this movie, he’s mostly just notable for his mustache. Still, I generally enjoy Ving Rhames. Billy, OTOH, is deeply forgettable, so I’m not surprised that he gets replaced with Simon Pegg in the next film.
C. According to Spy Boss Anthony Hopkins, Evil Ex Dougray Scott is currently still an agent of the IMF? This seems . . . strange.
D. Aside from, like, a stewardess or something, Nyah is the only female character in this movie. I’d actually planned to keep it this way in my imaginary reboot . . . but I must admit, the idea of a gender-flipped Ethan Hunt does intrigue me.
E. Thandie Newton, easily the best actor in this whole movie, is also the only actor who got a Razzie nod for M:I-2, proving once again that, while occasionally funny, the Golden Raspberry Awards are mostly just bullshit.
The Current Ranking
- Mission: Impossible
- Mission: Impossible II