The last several action movies this summer have been big disappointments.
I was beginning to think that I was becoming too demanding. But Mission: Impossible 2 convinced me that I was right to be disappointed by the other films, and it renewed my faith in the Hollywood action movie.
Actually, MI2 is as much a spy thriller as it is an action movie. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is called in to investigate the disappearance of a scientist and his mysterious concoctions called Chimera and Bellerophon. Fellow M:I agent Ambrose (Dougray Scott) has gone rogue and apparently kidnapped the scientist.
MI2 in Three Acts
Did You Notice?
- John Woo and Christian Slater: Woo and Slater shoot the breeze about Windtalkers
- Hard Boiled
- Last Hurrah for Chivalry
In the first act, the film borrows heavily from Hitchcock’s Notorious, as Ethan recruits a “civilian” thief named Nyah (Thandie Newton), with whom he falls in love. The Notorious homage continues into the second act, wherein Ethan and Nyah untangle the threads of Ambrose’s plot. The third act is a meticulously planned, carefully executed, 30-minute long action sequence.
Better than Bond
The plot is made of standard James Bond ingredients — secret formulas, secret agents, evil mega-villains, and beautiful women. But MI2 is better than recent Bond movies because it’s hipper and grittier — it doesn’t have to follow a 40-year old cinematic formula.
For example, in one recent Bond film, Bond playfully outraces a beautiful woman on a winding mountain road. The scene plays like a visual double-entendre, a dry, harmless, flirtatious innuendo.
The same scene in MI2 is played with more gusto. When Nyah bumps Ethan, he shows fear and buckles his seatbelt. Another bump, and Ethan’s car nearly flies off a steep embankment (some airborne camera work adds a dose of adrenaline to the scene). The two cars become entangled in terrifying, spinning dance, at which point director John Woo adds a spicy dash of Spanish music to the soundtrack, charging the Crash-like scene with honest, sweaty sexuality.
Killer Action Sequence
But the best reason to see MI2 is the killer action sequence at the end of the movie. The sequence starts with Ethan infiltrating the villain’s mutli-million dollar deal on an isolated island. In this stronghold Ethan picks off henchmen, one by one, using fists, feet, guns and explosives. (Woo manages to include slow-motion pigeons and doves, now a Woo trademark.)
From here, the action moves outside. Hunt snags a motorcycle from a henchman and outmaneuvers several cars, an SUV, and another motorcycle. The motorcycle stunts are well planned and well edited: you can easily follow what’s happening on screen. The chase segment ends as Hunt and Ambrose ride their cycles at each other in a fiery game of chicken.
Finally, Ambrose and Hunt duke it out on a sandy bluff over the bay in Sydney, Australia. In this final showdown, Cruise gets to show off what great shape he’s in as he flips, kicks, and flies trying to subdue the bad guy.
The planning that went into this long sequence is apparent. Instead of relying on close-ups, fast editing, and sound effects, Woo actually shows us what’s happening, as it’s happening. That’s like a breath of fresh air after movies like Gladiator and Shanghai Noon.
Already people have told me I’m crazy for liking MI2. They thought some of the plot devices were ridiculous and unbelievable. They thought the first two acts were too slow. They thought the love story wasn’t deep enough.
Notice that I didn’t refute any of these complaints. However, if you’re the type of person who is drawn to action movies and James Bond thrillers, then I hope you’re going mostly for the adrenaline, for the action, and for the