IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) can do it all – he’s athletic, a thrill seeker, has superior intelligence and an infinite amount of charm and charisma at his disposal. The perfect Swiss army man for the top-secret agency he works for, completing impossible missions one after the other. Hunt is this generations James Bond, often mirroring Bond’s best qualities but given key differences to make Hunt stand out rather than fall victim to the same tropes that has followed Bond throughout the decades. For one, I cannot picture James, whichever actor that portrays the legendary character going for a casual free solo mountain climb somewhere in a desert with no harnesses attached to break a fall without so much as breaking a sweat or needing a martini afterward.
How some people spend their vacations.
That’s how Mission: Impossible 2 reintroduces us to Ethan Hunt after a 4-year gap. In a spy thriller that features several explosions, a barrage of bullets and near-death experiences, it’s in a reacquaintance with Hunt that all the adrenaline is built up. Nothing in the former comes quite close in building a pulse to Ethan defying death in his free time.
Opening on an introductory monologue about a hero needing a villain to oppose them and the macguffin of the film that sets the events in motion, Cruise is once again in the driver’s seat of this film as he was in the first of this franchise. And much like the first film, nearly everything outside of Hunt and his small, contained team is forgotten once the story wraps up and the day is saved from certain obliteration from the cheaply written megalomaniac villain.
Said villain this time around seeks to take control of a biological virus known as Chimera which takes effect after a 20-hour period of being introduced in the body. His name is Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), another IMF agent who goes rogue to steal both the weapon and the cure known as Bellerophon and sell both to the highest bidder. Just like the first film, the motivations of the villain get lost in translation – he’s just a bad person doing a bad thing for whatever reason that must be stopped at all costs.
Been there, done that. But even with the fate of the world in Ethan’s hands, M:I 2 misses the mark needed in telling an even decent spy film.
Cruise’s portrayal of Ethan has a mixture of Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton while the writing from Robert Towne, who co-wrote the first M:I film gives his script the DNA of a Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore led film. Both eras favoring style over substance and so far both M:I films following in those misguided footsteps.
What M:I 2 lacks in plot is instantly made up elsewhere, most notably where the action is concerned – some of which overstays its welcome and more of it with no purpose to the paper-thin plot, keeping the story stagnant. Action for actions sake. Behind the dazzling action sequences is director John Woo who steps in and squeezes the most out of each spectacle sized death-defying fight. What doves add to the action is something to be theorized for generations, but they’re there, distracting Ambrose’s right-hand man Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh) so Hunt can get a slight leg up to save the world in glorious slow-motion. Every single time.
Ethan Hunt and his team should count their blessings; these bad guys have the same aim as stormtroopers.
Where M:I 2 misses the target, there are several redeeming qualities outside of Tom Cruise and John Woo’s highly stylized action. Returning from the previous film is expert hacker Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), bringing a needed consistency in a supporting role to the blossoming franchise. Luther and Ethan’s relationship is given more weight to it compounded by the chemistry between the two and their now lived in performances.
In addition to Luther being a shining example of what M:I 2 gets right is Thandiwe Newton as Nyah and Ethan’s love interest. Nyah just happens to also be a professional thief yet that’s not her purpose in regard to the convoluted plot. Though the character is written to be one dimensional, a damsel in distress and used as a trojan horse above all else, Thandiwe does what she can to salvage the role. M:I 2 adds 14 more minutes in runtime from the first film, much of that amounting to fatty tissue that should have been trimmed off the bone.
One of the essential components to any spy film is the high-tech futuristic gadgets that make us all wish we got our hands on what these spies get to play with throughout their day. Gadgets are sorely missing from this film except for one. Remember in the first film that Ethan and his team used to disguise their true identity to complete their impossible mission? Well, Robert Towne uses this face swap disguise at nauseam, running the functionality into the ground. 1 use of it is quite clever, 2 uses and the façade begins to fade and by the 5th use, you can see it coming from a mile away, losing all credibility and need to continue using this method of espionage.
At its core, M:I 2 still boasts a franchise appeal with the good qualities that the film has going for it. Set in a more modern, realistic world, IMF and Ethan Hunt have the potential to truly rival James Bond. With a theme that’s easily recognizable that packs a punch when played, the ambition of the franchise is beginning to take shape. Tom Cruise gives Ethan an edge to him that can be softened up when the time calls for it. But beyond the commitment to go for it with these stunts and the continued inclusion of Ving Rhames, M:I 2 is a sequel that takes a step in the wrong direction.
Screenplay By: Robert Towne
Story By: Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga
Directed By: John Woo
Music By: Hans Zimmer
Cinematography: Jeffrey L. Kimball
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandiwe Newton, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Šerbedžija, Ving Rhames
Where to Watch: Paramount Plus
Edited By: Christian Wagner & Steven Kemper
Release Date: May 24, 2000
Running Time: 2 Hours 3 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 56%