By James Brundage and Max Messier
James Brundage, the exuberant fan:
John Woo is back in the saddle again. After turning out useless Hollywood drivel from emigration up until Face/Off, enjoyable Hollywood drivel with Face/Off, and intelligent and enjoyable Canadian drivel in Once a Thief, John Woo has finally reestablished himself as a grandmaster of the romantic action movie.
I say this having just watched, for about the last 12 hours straight, every John Woo film since Hard Boiled, plus the first Mission: Impossible to boot. And, having just sat through 12 hours of John Woo material, I can say without a doubt that M:I-2 is not only proof that John Woo is back in the saddle, it is also the best English-language action movie he has churned out to date.
Mission: Impossible 2 (or M:I-2 for short), probably this summer's most-anticipated flick, is an entirely different animal from its predecessor. Mission: Impossible was your standard espionage flick (better directed and told in a slightly Hitchcockian style, but still your standard espionage flick) with a few nice capers and a very impressive action scene thrown in. Story-wise, everything was par for the course. We even had the obligatory "break into the unbreakable place" sequence. M:I-2, on the other hand, is a whole different animal.
In M:I-2, rogue agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) steals all of the cure to a superflu known as Chimera... as well as a sample of the virus. Like any modern-day bad guy, Ambrose is a capitalist... and is planning to sell the cure to the highest bidder... after he has unleashed Chimera upon the world. And, of course, it falls upon the IMF to stop him. Heading up the team is Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise); joining him are agents Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Billy Baird (John Polson) and, per the instructions given in a cameo by Anthony Hopkins, the final member of the team must be Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), a professional thief who Ethan must recruit.
Let the games begin.
M:I-2 is an action movie, an espionage flick, a terrorist flick, a kung fu movie, and a romance all rolled into one. But instead of botching it by doing too many things at once), M:I-2 juggles all of its balls in the air and never even gets close to dropping one. This might be because master craftsman screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) wrote the script. Then again, it might be because John Woo is such a damn good director.
The one thing M:I-2 is not, however, is a mystery. You may find the most impressive action sequences of 2000 in M:I-2, but you're not getting much in the way of plot twists. If you are in suspense, waiting for a particular blow-your-mind plot twist, it is because you expect M:I-2 to be even remotely like the original Mission: Impossible, which it is not. M:I-2 is a much more energetic film. It is strengthened by bringing a stylistically brilliant director as John Woo into the game. Woo uses slow motion, fire, birds (his perennial favorite), incredible backgrounds... everything in the book to suck an audience in and keep them holding their breath. Even when watching an otherwise dull conversation, Woo keeps us right on the edge of our seats, waiting for the next big bang. Hiring Woo over having Brian De Palma to direct is one of the smartest moves Cruise has ever made as a producer, if only because De Palma favors old style, more stagnant camerawork whereas Woo uses the camera to make all of the motion in the film fluid.
The acting may not win any Academy awards, but each actor does his job well enough. Hans Zimmer's impressive Latin score (a far cry from the normal percussion-laden and instantly recognizable action flick score that he uses on just about every Jerry Bruckheimer production) adds to the tension, and the Limp Bizkit take on the "Mission: Impossible" theme is more suited for the genre than the prior one. Robert Towne serves up snappy dialogue, a good plot, and imaginative sequences for us, and Jeffrey Kimball handles the cameras damn near perfectly.
So, you might ask, what is my gripe? Well, it would have to be the birds. Ever since the shootout in the bird teahouse at the beginning of Hard Boiled, Woo has loved things that fly and aren't made out of lead. Birds make many appearances here... way too many. There are a few moments when having birds present makes sense, but their presence in the number of scenes that they are there (about half of the suspense scenes) makes you feel like Woo is still grappling with his urge to be an experimental director.
But hey, if I go to an action movie that kicks this much ass with a PG-13 rating, keeps me glued to my chair through 2 hours, twenty minutes, and 32 ounces of coke, then he can put as many damn birds in as he pleases.
Max Messier, the flabbergasted critic:
I used to love the delicacies that are offered during the summer movie season. We would get generous portions of turkey action films fat with production budgets, sickly sweet comedy yams starring over-paid television stars, comic-book adaptations tasting like stuffing from Boston Market, and independent films that fill the belly like Momma's honey rolls you fight your grandfather and cousins over.
Those days are over. Since the launch of the 2000 summer movie season, everything that the studios have put on the dinner table since the beginning of May has stunk and made me sick to my stomach.
The biggest turkey so far has to be Mission: Impossible 2. (Mind you, I don't count the bloated corpse of Battlefield Earth -- that deserves its own section of hell.) A hodgepodge of misguided direction, pathetic acting, grade school visual effects, unbelievable action scenes, and Melrose Place-schooled scriptwriting, Mission: Impossible 2 would have been passable as an action movie, only there isn't any decent action in it.
I won't go into the pedestrian, stomach-turning plot, which James described above. The main problem with M:I-2 is that the writing team of Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, and Robert Towne have concocted such an unoriginal and trite piece of storytelling. It's a damn shame because both Moore and Braga wrote Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Generations and Robert Towne wrote Chinatown. Mission: Impossible was an incredible TV show that incorporated unique story lines, amazing character interactions, and some great villains. It ranks up there with The A-Team in my book. The first Mission: Impossible film was a decent effort that just lingered too long like a teenage boy on his first date.
But M:I-2 represents a blatant rip-off of the James Bond films. It completely removes the element of teamwork and cohesiveness needed to successfully complete the missions and replaces it with a loose cannon, a brooding ladies' man who beds the female lead within ten minutes of meeting her. It's also a shame that Ving Rhames is reduced to playing a monkey punching buttons on a laptop with the Mission: Impossible logo as wallpaper.
The main question I think everyone will want to ask is: What the hell has happened to John Woo!? Every since he started working in America, his films have been complete shit. Even the opening scene of Ethan Hunt climbing a rock face with sweeping helicopter camera shots makes me think, Am I watching Cliffhanger 2? Renny Harlin, get on the phone and call your lawyer.
That said, all of your traditional Woo-isms are here: The slow-motion shots, the children, the pigeons, religious figures, people flying around with guns firing. The only problem is that Woo is using the same stuff he has used since The Killer in 1989. Nothing seems original at all. He is starting to remind me of the late, great Sam Peckinpah: A good, solid director who lost his way and his ambition toward the end of his career. Mr. Woo, get out a piece of paper, write a good script, and give Chow Yun-Fat a call.
M:I-2 is an utter disappointment and a delusion of a film. Stay away -- far away.
RATING:  [LOWEST RATING]
Cruise acting cool.
Our average rating appears at right.
Box Office Worldwide: $565.4M
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures, Cruise/Wagner Productions
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Director: John Woo
Screenwriter: Robert Towne
Starring: Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, Dougray Scott as Sean Ambrose, Thandie Newton as Nyah Nordoff-Hall, Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell, Richard Roxburgh as Hugh Stamp, John Polson as Billy Baird, Brendan Gleeson as John C. McCloy, Rade Šerbedžija as Dr. Nekhorvich, William Mapother as Wallis, Dominic Purcell as Ulrich, Mathew Wilkinson as Michael, Nicholas Bell as Accountant, Cristina Brogeras as Flamenco Dancer, Kee Chan as Chemist, Kim Fleming as Larrabee, Anthony Hopkins as Mission Commander Swanbeck
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