Only John Woo could turn a movie that was restricted to its own complexity into an action-packed franchise. Mission: Impossible 2 is a prime example of Woo's work. The first Mission: Impossible was a decent film; it had some intense action scenes (the train), some ingenious scenes (the beginning and the CIA sequence), and a complicated plot. An overly complicated plot. So it was okay, but it wasn't exceptional in action nor did it lend itself to having a sequel, mainly for the reason that the story was so complicated that the sequel would either have to have an equally strange plot, or, as is the attempt in many sequels, and even more complicated plot.
The fact that Mission: Impossible 2 has a much more simplistic plot is neither good nor bad. On one end, I was expected a weird, twisted story, and I was carefully watching for clues. I was sort of disappointed. On the other end, the plot is much easier to follow and makes for better action. Also, there are enough little twists and turns to stay true to the original, while letting John Woo do his thing. His directing style is apparent from the first second to the last, much different than the more restrained style of the previous movie. There is a lot less talking and lot more expressions and artistic shots, and, best of all, more action.
Mission: Impossible 2 may seem to have a few slow parts here and there as the story is brought into focus, but the movie is never boring. And best of all, there are some awesome action scenes. John Woo is the man who brought us the killer Face/Off, and in Mission: Impossible 2 he does the same wonders for Tom Cruise that he did for Travolta and Cage, only with more of a The Matrix twist. Unlike the last movie, Cruise does full body twists, double kicks in the air, double-handed gunfire, and stuff like that. There is a cool "car chase" in the beginning, an exciting shootout in a laboratory, and, best of all, an ending that tops the original's ending. The ending has brutal man-to-man fighting, a motorcycle chase, gunfights, and so forth. One word: sweet.
Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, and Thandie Newton head the cast, along with an exemplary performance by villain Dougray Scott and a small appearance by Anthony Hopkins. All do great jobs, and Tom Cruise is especially cunning. Some of the girls I was with didn't appreciate the long hair, but I thought it fit the movie. John Woo likes a lot of slow motion shots, including flapping capes, pigeons, and even hair. Ving Rhames has more of a comedic role than a serious role, but it works. And then there's the beautiful Aussie Thandie Newton who is caught in a love triangle between Cruise and Scott.
My only pet peeves are that the movie is nowhere as complicated as the first one (although I would complain if that were so) and that the theme music isn't played very much. Otherwise, John Woo and Tom Cruise have combined a good story and great action, a feat that is obviously not impossible.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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