1 out of 5
Directed by: John Woo
What I can appreciate about M:I 2 is that, stylistically, they didn’t try to mimic the first one. Trading out the slick dynamics of Brian De Palma for the overblown big and badness of John Woo was inspired, and should have guaranteed a pretty muscular action flick. And the Woo stuff is undeniable there, in excess: many doves; much slowmotion; spinning around and guns a’shootin’. But while the surface affectation may have tried something “new”, the script follows all sequelness: it repeats a heist scenario with another drop from a ceiling; it doubles down on what I guess we thought was cool from the first M:I by doing the ol’ face switcheroo way too many goddamn times; and the Woo thing is in line with the generic “bigger and better” mentality: our sequel is sexed up, jacked up on testosterone – super spy Ethan Hunt smiles when someone gets shot, which seems far from the panicked rabbit look he had while navigating through the complexities of the preceding flick’s back-and-forths – and all of that might be cheeky fun, except M:I 2 is also dumb as hell and has one of the most wimpy, unconvincing action movie bad guys of all time.
So IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) goes rogue and steals one o’ them designer viruses that can destroy populations, planning to sell it to the highest bidder. While Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) freeclimbs a mountain on vacation – this is our introduction to his character in the movie, shot in Woo-y swirls of manliness and rock music – he gets a new mission: recruit Ambrose’s ex (Thandie Newton) to get back on his good side and steal the virus. Alas, a female in a movie whose script was probably written in text-shaped dongs has no real function except to be in a skimpy dress and make for sexual innuendo, and that’s her function here: Newton is game for the role, but she’s damseled as soon as she can be, and then there’s a lot of bullshit face-swapping and doves flying while Ambrose tries his best to look angry. But he never has a real “plan” – especially not one that can nearly compete with the byzantine plotting of the vastly superior first film – and his main sequence of mustache-twirling villainy, in which he susses out Ethan’s thought processes, just comes across as guess work. Cruise, of course, gets to be larger than life throughout this thing, face front in crazy stuntwork once again, but at least his Hunt in M:I 2 still comes across as a secret agent, albeit one much more in the James Bond mold in Woo’s vision and scripter Robert Townsend’s pitch than before; Ambrose seems like he would’ve failed out at the first test of writing your name on the application form.
Trying to separate this from what’s become a pretty fantastic franchise, M:I 2 still isn’t a great action movie. It’s got some well executed moments, but much of it either feels recycled from Woo’s visual catalogue, or from other, more involving genre films. Lacking any depth to its characters – had Hunt not been established before, giving Cruise some basis for his role, he’d be faceless here – and lacking any real sense of stakes, giving the toothless villain, it’s rather a slog of two hours.
Bluray notes: Whenever I see the amount of effort put in to and energy behind a film, it always makes me rethink a negative review. John Woo’s commentary proves him to be an interesting and thoughtful guy, composing the flick to be very “poetic” in his mind, and the stuntwork behind the scenes show that the stuff was a lot more impressive than it came across, as it was done practically and often with Cruise. Still, I don’t think it’s surprising that this cockrock ballad style wasn’t the tonal direction future sequels would take. As an inside joke with m’self about M:I 2 somewhat tediously remixing M:I 1, a couple of extras are actually repeated between the two bluray releases…