Treasure Of The
Mission Impossible II
Directed by John Woo
DVD Region 2
Okay, so on to the next review as I watch the Mission Impossible films for the first time, courtesy of my dad (see my review of the first one here).
So four years after DePalma’s first movie hit cinemas, famous Chinese action director John Woo was called in to direct the second in the ongoing series and, as you would expect, delivered a much different film to the first one. I actually remember the trailer which ran for this in cinemas at the time, of Tom Cruise getting all ‘Kirked up’ and climbing a mountain and a nice quote from Anthony Hopkins along the lines of “Mr. Hunt, this isn't mission difficult, it's mission impossible.” I must say, the trailer looked quite good but there was no way I would be going to the cinema to see it because I hadn’t seen the first one. 13 years later... I’ve now fixed that issue.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, I‘ve not seen that much Woo... but I know he makes some of the most respected ‘kinetic action ballet’ style of movies out there. I’d seen only four of his other films before this and I remember three of those - The Killer, Hard Boiled and Paycheck - being pretty good... unfortunately this man also made a terrible movie called Face Off which, to paraphrase a great writer once again, I only managed to survive the tedium of by gnawing one of my own legs off.
He seems to have a couple of trademark features to his films that I can make out... one is a white dove which always seems to get in there somewhere (a little like director John Glen’s pigeon obsession), this film being no exception and the other being that there’s usually a fair amount of slow motion footage during action sequences which, in all honesty, I do find kind of dull. Woo uses these to highlight certain details of a sequence he wants to stick in your mind... much like Eisenstein would take an isolated shot of an individual in close up, isolated away from the crowd he or she is in, to emphasise the emotion or detail of a scene... that is, if Eisenstein had been filming people driving high speed vehicles and shooting about a gazilllion rounds of ammunition a second at each other.
Well there’s plenty of his slow motion stuff in here too... especially in the end fist fight between Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt character and the main villain of the piece, played by Dougray Scott (who I previously saw in the Doctor Who episode Hide, reviewed here...). However, there is one use of slow motion right near the opening of the picture, which introduces Thandie Newton’s “lovable thief” romantic interest character and throws her into the mix of things as Tom Cruise first catches her eye while they are both observing some Spanish flamenco dancing... and the flamenco steps are slowed down. This "dance" of these characters’ opening encounter is something which does catch the imagination somewhat and it’s also something which the director takes great pains to emphasise as an echo within the body of the rest of the movie... and which I think is a good thing because I’m guessing that emphasis wouldn’t eccessarily have been something which was actually written into the script. It’s done almost subliminally during key moments, by the use of Hans Zimmer’s fairly interesting scoring, which every now and again will reference back to that flamenco music to remind us that Cruise and his new leading lady definitely have... “a thing” for each other. And this works really well.
I say it’s a different kind of film from the first one and certainly there’s a lot more sweeping elegance to the shooting style but, although John Woo had the script written around the action scenes he already wanted to include as set pieces (and not the other way around as most traditional directors would do), the film is not exactly an action fest in terms of content and I’m afraid to say that, while I prefer good writing over high speed action pieces any day, this second outing suffers from exactly the same problem tht the first film did. That is to say, the story and events depicted are really obvious and predictable all the way through.
It’s very obvious, given the parameters of the Mission Impossible branding, that various twist scenes are just not going to work. The whole plot being centred around a sample of a deadly virus called Chimera, for example, almost screams out for one of the Mission Impossible team to get infected, causing a 20 hour time limit to that person expiring unless the virus can be obtained. Of course, way before the time this actually happens in the movie, you will have figured out who, how and certainly why this happens... which is a shame because I suspect that could have been rewritten as a really strong and dynamic part of the plot.
Similarly, a good five minutes before we see the leading actor ostensibly shot by one of the bad guys (so “bad” he went on to play Dracula in Stephen Sommer’s Van Helsing), it’s pretty obvious by the way the scene is shot, even before either of the characters are through the door in a particular scene, that Cruise has switched their identity with the aid of the “not very convincing” face masks people use to steal each others personae with in these films.
But, as the first entry in the series, there is some good stuff going on here too, with a great "bath/robbery" scene between Cruise and Newton near the start of the movie and a truly poetic, wire work fist fight at the end which isn’t anything new (even for the time) but is certainly more than watchable, especially when pitched with Zimmer’s effective choral and percussion music which does a lot to elevate a fair few of the action scenes to a certain level of quality... much like Elfman’s did in the first movie although, to be fair to Mr. Elfman and in hindsight, having now heard the music as a stand alone experience, Elfman’s score did suffer a lot more in the mix than Zimmer’s does here, where it gets a fair amount of highlighting against the inevitable bullets, bikes and bangs.
A lot of people have said to me that the second and third movies in the four to date are a lot worse than the original. I don’t think the second movie, at any rate, is any worse than De Palma’s opening salvo... I just think it’s a similar film done differently. So, honestly, if you liked the first one and haven’t seen this one, I’m guessing this will be a far from intolerable experience for you. Check it out sometime.
Mission Impossible at NUTS4R2
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