Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Mission: Impossible II (2000) **

PG-13, 123 min.
Director: John Woo
Writers: Robert Towne, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga, Bruce Geller (television series)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Radé Sherbedgia

If 1996’s “Mission: Impossible” is an undervalued but subtly brilliant reboot of the iconic television series. “Mission: Impossible II” is universally thought to be the worst of the film series. It is most certainly a misstep in the Cruise/Wagner plan to revitalize the series into an original film franchise and make it their own.

The choice of John Woo as director is the main factor in the film’s failure. Woo was coming off a hot streak, having directed some of the first Hong Kong action movies to successfully navigate east across the Pacific, and rolling that feat into a briefly successful Hollywood career. “M:I2” is the follow up to his most extravagant and successful film “Face/Off”. I suppose Cruise wanted “M:I2” to be something people had never seen from a spy movie before. That it was.

The problem is that “M:I2” isn’t really a spy film. I’m not sure Woo is capable of making a spy flick. He’s too interested in the emotions of his characters and not interested enough in plot. Woo’s highly stylized direction takes the approach of presenting a violent visualization of the emotional undertones of the story. But, emotion is rarely an important factor in a spy flick. It certainly wasn’t what people wanted to see from a “Mission: Impossible”.

Many, including myself, have stated that the problem with “M:I 2” is that it’s more like a Mission: Improbable. The plot is hardly the twister that is a signature of the “M:I” modus operandi. It’s really more of a heist flick than a spy flick. The stakes are high, but Woo’s focus on the emotions places the global threat in the background while we’re asked to care about these people who have no real lives.

I’ve flip flopped on my opinion of this film in the past. I like Woo’s balletic action. With the M:I budget he has a lot to work with here. But, when it comes down to it, his style just doesn’t mesh with the M:I blueprint. The clash is too much for the talent involved to overcome. Because we’re supposed to take the espionage seriously, it is impossible to take the emotional expression through slow motion explosions seriously. It would be back to the drawing board for “M:I3”.

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