Mission: Impossible 2

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As a result of the critical success of Mission Impossible-Fallout, which I have yet to see, I thought about reviewing my favorite installment of the series. 

Tom Cruise was not yet the action star he is today. He had shown potential in the first Mission Impossible film from 1996. But at the time, it didn’t suggest the kind of action hero that he would become. Mission Impossible 2 was therefore a sudden shift. It didn’t have a smooth transition in style from the original. By switching directors, the Hitchcockian angles of Brian De Palma are replaced by the dramatic slow motions of John Woo, the renowned Hong Kong Action film director.  As expected, this led to mixed opinions that can probably be sourced from two groups: Those who prefer a spy thriller with a twisty story and the action junky crowd. But Mi:-2 does not rely purely on action. Its story is driven with clear and even subtle motivations. In this Mission, Ethan Hunt(Cruise) must work with a jewel thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall(Thandie Newton) to stop an antagonist from releasing a deadly virus into the globe. But Hunt is in love with Nyah  and the mission requires that she have an affair with the villain Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) to spy on him. It turns out that Sean also had a past relationship with her. These romantic histories are never probed but adds intrigue to the escalating conflict between the two men. And with these strong drives, Woo is able to unleash his dramatic style for the action.

The first half of the film isn’t really action packed. In that time, Nyah resumes her relationship with Ambrose while Hunt’s team spies on his plans for the virus. But in the latter half, the narrative changes gears and it becomes a fully formed Hong Kong actioner. It also turns Tom Cruise into a bigger star because unlike anything he has done before, he engages heavily in martial arts, acrobatics, and motorcycle stunts. Woo handles the action with a control for slow motion and real time shots, and these are accompanied by melancholy rhythms and hard rock music. It’s all done gracefully. Some are even exhilarating such as the motorcycle chase.  But one scene is amazing- early at the beginning, a rock climbing moment is filmed from multiple angles at an actual location. It demonstrates the high-risk-taking, action star that Tom Cruise will eventually become today. To be fair, Mission Impossible 2 is far from perfect. Ving Rhames as Hunt’s computer genius Luther isn’t given much to do compared with his part in the previous film. Plus it may take some time for viewers to adjust to Woo’s preference of style over reality. But Mi:-2 is directed with an admiration for grace in physical movement. It embraces the action. And when ones expectations are adjusted, plus when considering the love triangle motivation, you might not be disappointed at all.

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