Mission: Impossible II

Director: John Woo
Screenplay: Robert Towne (story by Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga)
Stars: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Dougray Scott (Sean Ambrose), Thandie Newton (Nyah Hall), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Richard Roxburgh (Hugh Stamp), John Polson (Billy Baird), Brendan Gleeson (McCloy), Rade Serbedzija (Dr. Nekhorvich)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2000
Country: U.S.
Mission: Impossible II 4K UHD
Mission: Impossible II

There is no doubt during any given moment of Mission: Impossible II that it is a John Woo film. Woo’s signature visual ballistics and predilection for highly wrought melodrama of the kind Douglas Sirk might be proud are imprinted on virtually every frame, and it is no surprise that a running joke on the set was that the title should have been John Woo’s Mission: Impossible.

The best thing producer/star Tom Cruise did was track down and convince the Hong Kong action auteur to helm the sequel to Mission: Impossible (1996), the first entry in the now long-running blockbuster series. The first film was directedd by Brian De Palma, who took his own signature approach to the material, making a calculated and somewhat cold spy thriller. In the sequel, Woo took the opposite approach, replacing De Palma's precision suspense with highly stylized gun fights and roaring motorcycle chases.

The screenplay for M:I-2 was penned by noted screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown) from an original story by Star Trek: The Next Generation veterans Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. It has its share of twists and turns and the now-familiar moments of characters peeling off impossibly detailed latex masks to show that good guys were impersonating bad guys and vice versa (an aspect of the M:I series that must have appealed to Woo’s taste for blurring good and evil). However, the basic narrative always remains followable, so that when the big action sequences arise, there is little question as to what is at stake.

Tom Cruise reprises his role as IMF agent Ethan Hunt, but this time his character is warmer and more humane, largely because this time he has a love interest, a professional thief named Nyah (Thandie Newton, then best known for her tortured role in Jonathan Demme’s Beloved). Nyah is brought into Ethan’s latest mission because she once had a relationship with Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), a renegade special agent who has stolen a killer virus and plans to sell it to a pharmaceutical company for millions of dollars. Of course, for the pharmaceutical company to make money off the virus’ antidote, lots of people need to be infected, and the film gives us some ghastly pictures of what the virus does to the human body in just over 20 hours.

Most of the film takes place in Sydney, Australia, which provides a nice backdrop for Woo’s signature action sequences. There is a break-in scene that starts off as a lightweight version of the famous CIA break-in from the first film, but Woo’s action sensibilities quickly take over, and the next thing you know, Cruise is running through a seemingly endless hail of slow-motion bullets, a gun blazing in each hand. (Of course, this is PG-13 John Woo, so one of his most notable trademarks, the artful slow-motion explosion of hundreds of blood squibs, is absent.) And once Limp Bizkit’s thundering heavy metal rendition of Lalo Schifrin’s memorable theme from the original TV show stars pounding on the soundtrack, you know you’re in new territory.

While the movie starts off slow and jerky, lurching clumsily from scene to scene in an awkward attempt to establish the story and characters, it quickly finds its pace and rhythm. The last third of the movie is a nonstop action extravaganza, culminating in a delirious chase sequence on motorcycles that leads to a prolonged fight on the beach that is cross-cut with scenes of Nyah about to kill herself because she is infected with the last strain of the virus. Melodramatic, yes, but in Woo’s capable hands it works.

If M:I-2 has a weak spot, it is the villain, which is ironic given that the film repeats a line of dialogue about how “Every search for a hero must begin with something that every hero requires: A villain” at least three times. Dougray Scott is a fine actor, and he glowers quite well, but he is never truly menacing or diabolical. In fact, he seems a pale shadow next to the striking figure Cruise cuts as Ethan Hunt. Cruise has such indelible, natural screen presence that he absolutely demands someone with equal screen weight opposite him, and Scott just doesn’t cut it. This is especially disappointing because one of Woo's most consistent themes is the squaring off of two desperate men who are good/evil mirrors of each other (see 1989’s The Killer or 1997’s Face/Off).

While M:I-2 works on its own terms, it won’t be mistaken for one of Woo’s best films. Still, it is certainly a cut above the majority of action extravaganzas released in theaters each year. It didn’t quite live up to the high expectations that awaited it, but there are just enough signature elements—slow-motion gunfights, flocking doves, religious imagery—to give true John Woo fans a much needed fix.

Mission: Impossible II 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio
  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese
    Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director John Woo
  • “Behind the Mission" cast and crew interviews
  • “Mission Incredible" stunts featurette
  • “Impossible Shots" break-down of 11 stunt sequences
  • “I Disappear” Metallica music video
  • “Excellence in Film: Cruise” ”
  • “Generation: Cruise”
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    SRP$31.99
    Release DateJune 26, 2018

    COMMENTS
    The 4K UHD presentation of Mission: Impossible II is excellent all around.The picture is razor sharp, and the increased level of detail makes the complex action scenes look even better than they did on Blu-ray, especially with all the constant motion throughout the film. Colors are well-saturated and effectively intense, and black levels are solid (the overall image did seem a tad darker than I was expecting, but it still looks good). The soundtrack, though, is where the Mission: Impossible II disc really earns its stripes. Incredibly aggressive without being obnoxious, it makes full use of all 5.1 channels throughout the majority of the running time, from the opening Paramount logo, to the closing credits. Music and sound effects come from all directions, but it always feels natural and purposeful. Imaging and directionality are exceptionally and creatively rendered to great effect. The hard-pounding rock music (especially Limp Bizkit’s rendition of the famous theme song) hits the highs with clarity and rumbles in the subwoofer without any distortion.

    All of the supplements previously appeared on the Blu-ray edition. Director John Woo's running audio commentary is enthusiastic and entertaining, although his heavy accent sometimes makes it difficult to understand exactly what he is saying (of course, he speaks significantly better English than I speak Chinese, so there’s that …). Nevertheless, he is well-spoken and obviously loves what he does. The disc includes several featurettes. The first is the 14-minute “Behind the Mission” making-of featurette, which is filled mostly with interviews of stars Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, and Ving Rhames; director John Woo; screenwriter Robert Towne; and producer Paula Wagner. It is a fairly self-congratulatory piece of work that is largely devoid of any real substance. Fans of ’70s American cinema might find themselves weeping at Robert Towne, at one time considered one of the greatest living screenwriters, talking happily about how he penned a script that essentially connected a bunch of action set-pieces that had already been designed. But, that’s Hollywood for you. Following that is the 4-minute “Mission Incredible” stunts featurette, which goes by so quickly it barely registers. In-between recycling interview clips from the “Behind the Mission” featurette, this one does feature some nice behind-the-scenes footage of the various stunts in the film. Much better is the “Impossible Shots” section of the disc, which features 11 separate featurettes, each of which is dedicated to a particular stunt sequence. Each of the featurettes is only a few minutes long, and while they are over-reliant on clips from the movie and talking-head interviews with Cruise, Woo, and stunt coordinator Brian Smrz, they do give a tantalizing glimpse at all the work that went into creating those virtuoso action sequences. The disc also features Metallica’s “I Disappear” music video, an alternate title sequence (which is not significantly different from the one that was used), as well as two tribute videos to Tom Cruise’s career: one that was assembled in 2005 by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts when they honored Cruise with the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film (the earlier DVD edition included Cruise’s acceptance speech, but that is not include here), as well as one created for the 2005 MTV Movie Awards when Cruise was given the first-ever “Generation Award” (again, the DVD edition had video of Katie Holmes presenting the award to Cruise, but that has been nixed on this disc). Unfortunately, the hilarious M:I-2 parody from the 2000 MTV Movie Awards, in which host Ben Stiller plays Tom Cruise’s stunt double, that was included on the Special Edition DVD, is not included.

    Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)



    James Kendrick

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