The Mission: Impossible Collection #2

Mission Impossible 2

Mission Impossible 7 is slated to arrive this November and I’m counting down the months with a brief retrospective of the films in the franchise. Spoilers ahead.

The Director

In the 1990’s, John Woo, lauded action director from Hong Kong, made a handful of Hollywood blockbusters, which for many defined the era.  From Hard Target to Broken Arrow to Face/Off, Woo’s signature action style was a shot in the arm for action movies. Highly stylised imagery and choreography, a frenzy of blood and bullets, a ballet of slow motion and contrapuntal sound – who could forget the crazy shoot out in Face/Off all to the music “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”?  And let’s not forget the doves.  John Woo loved the slow-motion movement of doves.

This Time It’s Personal

A longer-haired Ethan Hunt is scaling a cliff in a nerve-jangling sequence when a message from his IMF superior calls him in.  The message, encoded in his shades, explodes after five seconds and we rush into the credits.

This time, the boss is Anthony Hopkins, who explains that an ex-colleague Ambrose (Dougray Scott) has stolen a toxin “Chimera” and is in Australia. Hunt assembles the team and with the help of Ambrose’s ex Nyah (Thandiwe Newton, then credited as Thandie) must infiltrate the gang to stop mass death and devastation.

That “Mission Impossible” Moment

The shootout in the lab is a great scene. Hunt plans to destroy all of the Chimera but Ambrose and his goons arrive and sparks fly.  The scene has many elements of Woo action: bullets flying, slow-motion, the protagonist firing two guns simultaneously. The Mexican stand-off in the lab is great. And the moment when Nyah injects herself with the last remaining sample of Chimera is a nice twist.

Hunt’s realisation of how this changes the plans, the setting of the ticking clock (the disease goes active 20 hours after injection) and the Spanish motif in the soundtrack establish this as a key scene that you must invest in.

Finally, Hunt detonates a charge which blows out a wall, providing his escape. The effects in the moment where Cruise runs through the lab, out of the wall and plummets down to the night-time streets many floors below, still look fantastic. And you have to wonder if Tom Cruise looked at that shot and thought – “maybe in the next film, I could do that kind of stunt for real?”

Tom Cruise Running Scene

Hunt runs away from the bunker with the antidote, ripping off his mask disguise.  (There are lot of mask rips in this film.)

Don’t Forget

The motorcycle chase and the macho punch up on the beach (with gravity-defying flying pistol).

Honourable Mention

I really like the committed performances of Newton, Dougray Scott and of Richard Roxburgh as Ambrose’s right-hand man. All three give their all in this bloated actioner and make it watchable. The rubber masks are overused but to be fair, the reveals are great every time. It’s also worth nothing the return of Ving Rhames as Luther, as he becomes a series regular.

Fuse rating = 2 out of 5 

The film was a box office smash in 2000, and while packed with more action, it sadly has less character development and story.  The slow-motion boy-meets-girl flamenco scene looks great, and the soundtrack is by the wonderful Hans Zimmer, but overall the excess of the movie makes it less engaging. There’s also barely any espionage, spies, or gadgets.

This is the film where Cruise really started to do his own stunts – that was really him motorcycling through flames – and his control over the franchise was cemented.  Woo’s original cut of the film was way too long, and he was locked out of the editing room while producer Cruise tried to get the film down to the 2-hour studio mandate.  Perhaps this makes the film’s weaker points more understandable. But I will never, ever get over the kicking-the-gun-in-the-sand-so-that-it-rises-up-vertically-into-Hunt’s-hand-as-he-does-a-somersault moment.

Next time

Mission Impossible 3 – with some narrative audacity, investment in character and a mystery box.

This article first appeared on Reel Anarchy.

Vogue interview with Thandiwe Newton.

Producer Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise
John Woo
Robert Towne (Story by Ronald D Moore and Brannon Braga)
Jeffrey K. Kimball
Christian Wagner, Steven Kemper
Hans Zimmer
US premiere May 2000
Tom Cruise Ethan Hunt
Ving Rhames Luther
Dougray Scott Ambrose
Thandie Newton Nyah
Richard Roxburgh Stamp
Brendan Gleeson McCloy
Anthony Hopkins Swanbeck

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