Mission: Impossible 2 (15)
SINCE every other major movie star in Hollywood appears to have his or her own franchise, it was only a matter of time before Tom Cruise staked his claim.
After the two-year slog of making Eyes Wide Shut for the late and legendarily slow-moving auteur Stanley Kubrick, Cruise desperately needed a bright and brash showcase for his talents.
He also needed to claw back some of his lost box office potential. So what better way to do it than to resurrect the one character which could conceivably give birth to a money-spinning franchise?
Ethan Hunt, Cruise’s action man hero in M:I-2, is from the same stable as Die Hard‘s John McClane, Lethal Weapon‘s Martin Riggs and, to a lesser extent, Alien‘s Ellen Ripley.
All boast almost superhuman qualities, all bounce back from the brink of death and all live to fight another day in another high-concept, budget-busting extravaganza. Cruise’s take is no different, yet the film suffers for it.
Mission: Impossible, released three years ago, pitted a team of highly-trained ‘spooks’ – secret agents to you and me – against a similar band of bad guys. The plot, seemingly lifted from the Seventies TV series which gave the movie its name, was labyrinthine and complex.
Yet it was intelligent drama with Cruise leading a stellar ensemble cast which included Jon Voight, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames and Emilio Estevez.
Alas, only Rhames returns here, since Cruise has chosen to reinvent this particular movie series in his own image and transform what might have been one of the few genuinely bright spots in modern Hollywood into a bastard shadow of itself.
The plot, if such it can be described, shifts the action from America and Europe to Australia, as Hunt seeks out rogue agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) and attempts to prevent him releasing a deadly plague virus on an unsuspecting world.
En-route he teams up with classy jewel thief Naya (the svelte, stunning Thandie Newton), Ambrose’s former lover, and between them they try to nail their quarry before he can complete his plans.
In truth, the whole anorexic tale is merely a prop for Cruise to indulge in James Bondian heroics and some breath-taking action sequences and stunts courtesy of famed Hong Kong action master John Woo.
Consequently, the stunts and action are on a par with Woo’s past efforts, notably American stuff like Broken Arrow and Face/Off. It’s fair to say he’s never really matched the kinetic glory of Asian movies like The Killer or Hard Boiled, even with the millions of Hollywood dollars at his disposal.
Yet there are moments here which Woo, and star Cruise, can be proud of. Cruise adopts the two-gun stance which has become a Woo trademark, and slips easily into the tightly-choreographed blend of gunplay and balletic action which Woo has made his own.
There is also a fabulous duel between Cruise, on a motorcycle, and various villains in high-speed cars.
The storyline fares not so well. The presence of Rhames, Newton (definitely the Next Big Thing – assured, effortless and beautiful) and a cameo from Anthony Hopkins as Hunt’s boss cannot lift the lacklustre plot. Amazingly, the screenplay is by Robert (Chinatown) Towne.
While it is much more accessible than its predecessor, M:I-2 cannot survive on spectacle alone. Cruise holds most of the action and carries the story, but when superb supporting actors like Brendan Gleeson (as a scientist) get short shrift, one wonders whether its all worth it. Additionally, Scott has little to work on with his paper-thin villain.
There are, however, occasional flashes of brilliance. As the scientist is infected with his own bacteria, the scene cuts to children playing and singing ‘Ring-a-ring of roses’ – a song from the Great Plague of 1665.
Ultimately though, like a fast food burger, M:I-2 leaves a nagging pang of hunger which only a real movie meal will sate.