Mission: Impossible 2 [DVD]
Screenplay : Robert Towne (story by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2000
Stars : Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Dougray Scott (Sean Ambrose), Thandie Newton (Nyah Hall), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Richard Roxburgh (Hugh Stamp), John Polson (Billy Baird), Brendan Gleeson (McCloy), Rade Serbedzija (Dr. Nekhorvich)
There is little doubt during any moment of "Mission: Impossible 2" that this is a John Woo film. Woo's signature visual ballistics and predilection for highly wrought melodrama of the kind Douglas Sirk might be proud are imprinted on virtually every frame, and it is no surprise that a running joke on the set was that the title should be "John Woo's Mission: Impossible."
The best thing producer/star Tom Cruise did was track down and convince the Hong Kong action auteur to helm the sequel to the first "Mission: Impossible," a 1996 blockbuster that was directed by Brian De Palma. De Palma took his own approach to the material, making a calculated and somewhat cold spy thriller. In the sequel, Woo takes the opposite approach, replacing De Palma's precision suspense with highly stylized gun fights and roaring motorcycle chases. Both approaches work in their own ways, and it would be interesting if the series continued with each new entry being helmed by a noted action director with a unique visual style.
If "M:I-2" is superior to the first film in any way, it is because it makes more sense. The original "Mission: Impossible" was a convoluted maze of betrayal and switching sides that, even in the denouement, couldn't make sense of the previous 120 minutes. The screenplay for "M:I-2" was penned by noted screenwriter Robert Towne ("Chinatown") from an original story by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. It has its share of twists and turns and the now-familiar moments of characters peeling off impossibly detailed latex masks to show that good guys were impersonating bad guys and vice versa (an aspect of the "M:I" series that must have appealed to Woo's taste for blurring good and evil). However, the basic narrative always remains followable, so that when the big action sequences arise, there is little question as to what is at stake.
Tom Cruise reprises his role as special agent Ethan Hunt, but this time his character is warmer and more humane. Much of this is due to the fact that this time he has a love interest, a professional thief named Nyah (Thandie Newton, who was so good in "Beloved"). Nyah is brought into Ethan's latest mission because she once had a relationship with Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a renegade special agent who has stolen a killer virus and plans to sell it to a pharmaceutical company for millions of dollars. Of course, for the pharmaceutical company to make money off the virus' antidote, lots of people need to be infected, and the film gives us some ghastly pictures of what the virus does to the human body in just over 20 hours.
Most of the film takes place in Sydney, Australia, which provides a nice backdrop for Woo's signature action sequences. There is a break-in scene that starts off as a lightweight version of the famous CIA break-in from the first film, but Woo's action sensibilities quickly take over, and the next thing you know, Cruise is running through a seemingly endless hail of slow-motion bullets, a gun blazing in each hand. (Of course, this is PG-13 John Woo, so one of his most notable trademarks, the artful slow-motion explosion of hundreds of blood squibs, is absent.) And once Limp Bizkit's thundering heavy metal rendition of Lalo Schifrin's memorable theme from the original TV show stars pounding on the soundtrack, you know you're in all-new territory.
While the movie starts off slow and jerky, lurching clumsily from scene to scene in an awkward attempt to establish the story and characters, it quickly finds its pace and rhythm. The last third of the movie is a nonstop action extravaganza, culminating in a delirious chase sequence on motorcycles that leads to a prolonged fight on the beach that is cross-cut with scenes of Nyah about to kill herself because she is infected with the last strain of the virus. Melodramatic, yes, but in Woo's capable hands it works.
If "Mission: Impossible 2" has a weak spot, it is the villain. Dougray Scott is a fine actor, and he glowers quite well, but he is never truly menacing or diabolical. In fact, he seems a pale shadow next to the striking figure Cruise cuts as Ethan Hunt. Cruise has such incredible screen presence that he absolutely demands someone with equal screen weight opposite him, and Scott just doesn't cut it. This is especially disappointing because one of Woo's most consistent themes is the squaring off of two desperate men who are good/evil mirrors of each other (see 1989's "The Killer" or 1997's "Face/Off").
While "M:I-2" works on its own terms, it won't be mistaken for one of Woo's best films. Still, it is certainly a cut above the majority of action shoot-em-up's released in theaters each year. It may not quite live up to the high expectations that await it, but there are just enough signature elements--slow-motion gunfights, flocking doves, religious imagery--to give true John Woo fans their fix until his next outing.
|Mission: Impossible 2 DVD|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround|
Dolby 2.0 Surround
|Languages||English (5.1), French (2.0)|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director John Woo |
"Behind the Mission" cast and crew interviews
"Mission Incredible" stunts featurette
"Impossible Shots" break-down of 11 stunt sequences
"I Disappear" Metallica music video
Alternate title sequence
"Mission Improbable" MTV Movie Awards parody
Agent dossiers (DVD-ROM)
Mission locations (DVD-ROM)
"Legend of Chimera" (DVD-ROM)
"M:I-2" Tech Tools (DVD-ROM)
"M:I-2" Online (DVD-ROM)
|The image quality on this DVD is excellent all around. The picture is razor sharp without betraying much edge enhancement, and the high level of detail makes the complex action scenes look great. With all the constant motion throughout the film, pixel break-up was a constant threat, but it never occurred. Colors are well-saturated without bleeding, and black levels are solid (the overall image did seem a tad darker than I was expecting, but it still looks good). Basically, it is exactly what you should expect a big-budget summer action movie to look like on a special edition DVD.|
|The soundtrack is where the "Mission: Impossible 2" DVD really earns its stripes. Incredibly aggressive without being obnoxious, it makes full use of all 5.1 channels throughout the majority of the running time, from the opening Paramount logo to the closing credits. Music and sound effects come from all directions, but it always feels natural and purposeful. Imaging and directionality are exceptionally and creatively rendered to great effect. The hard-pounding rock music (especially Limp Bizkit's rendition of the famous theme song) hits the highs with clarity and rumbles in the subwoofer without any distortion.|
|This is the most supplement-heavy release yet from Paramount Pictures, and most of the extras offered are worth perusing. |
Director John Woo's running audio commentary is enthusiastic and entertaining, although his heavy accent sometimes makes it difficult to understand exactly what he is saying. Nevertheless, he is well-spoken and obviously loves what he does.
The disc includes several featurettes. The first is the 14-minute "Behind the Mission" making-of featurette, which is filled mostly with interviews of stars Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, and Ving Rhames; director John Woo; screenwriter Robert Towne; and producer Paula Wagner. It's a fairly self-congratulatory piece of work that is devoid of any real substance. Fans of '70s American cinema might find themselves weeping at Robert Towne, at one time considered one of the greatest living screenwriters, talking happily about how he penned a script that essentially connected a bunch of action set-pieces that had already been designed. But, that's Hollywood for you.
Following that is the four-minute "Mission Incredible" stunts featurette, which goes by so quickly it barely registers. In-between recycling interview clips from the "Behind the Mission" featurette, this one does feature some nice behind-the-scenes footage of the various stunts in the film.
Much better is the "Impossible Shots" section of the disc, which features 11 separate featurettes, each of which is dedicated to a particular stunt sequence. Each of the featurettes is only a few minutes long, and while they are over-reliant on clips from the movie and talking-head interviews with Cruise, Woo, and stunt coordinator Brian Smrz, they do give a tantalizing glimpse at all the work that went into creating those virtuoso action sequences.
The disc also features Metallica's "I Disappear" music video, an alternate title sequence (which is not significantly different from the one that was used), as well as a hilarious "M:I-2" parody from the 2000 MTV Movie Awards, in which host Ben Stiller plays Tom Cruise's stunt double. The parody doesn't make fun of the movie so much as it does the back-slapping featurettes that are so common on DVDs (including this one). Both Cruise and Woo appear in the parody as themselves, discussing Stiller's obviously psycho stunt double and saying "nice" things about him like, "He's harmless, really."
The disc also has a nice set of DVD-ROM features, which thankfully are designed to work on both PCs and Apple Macintoshes (if you have Apple OS 9.0.4 and Apple DVD Player 2.2, that is). Unlike so many DVDs, Apple fans can enjoy additional extras like agent dossiers, mission locations, and the movie's entire web site. Bravo to Paramount for realizing that not everyone does their computer work on Windows.
Copyright © 2000 James Kendrick