As most regular readers would be aware, I am Australian and often lament the fact that my country’s contribution to cinematic espionage is rather small. Then along comes a film like Mission: Impossible II, while not being an Australian film, a large portion of the film is set in Australia. Now you would think I would be jumping up and down for joy and pumping my fist in the air. But just to be contrary, I wasn’t! When I watch spy films, I like to be swept away to exotic locations, like the Bahamas, Istanbul or the Orient. But here is a film set in my own backyard. How is that exotic? The final kicker for me, was during a chase scene towards the end of the film, where our hero, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is trying to escape on motorbike from some bad guys, he is being chase by a mid nineties white Ford Falcon. Now I own one of those! Villains should drive cool cars – not as cool as the hero, mind you, but cool – what happened to the black Mercedes – or any other black European saloon – that suggests power and evil (ness). Despite my grumbles Mission: Impossible II is not a bad film, and I am guessing that people from other parts of the world may have even enjoyed the snapshot of Australia (particularly Sydney) that this film provides.
The film opens in Sydney, at the laboratories of Biocyte Pharmaceuticals, and a mad professor named Nekovich has just injected himself with a nasty virus called Chimera. He has the antidote though – it’s called Valleraphon – and he has to take it within twenty hours or he will die. Why has he injected himself with this disease? Would you believe it is to transport it into the United States. So Nekovich catches a plane to Boston with a friend, who he refers to as Dimitiri, but most viewers will recognize as IMF agent Ethan Hunt.
En route, the pilot, Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh) advises passengers that they are encountering a severe drop in cabin pressure and he releases the oxygen masks from the ceiling. The passengers put them on and pass out – even the co-pilots pass out. Two, who hadn’t pulled down the masks are Nekovich and Hunt, but Hunt takes of Nekovich with a hard elbow to the throat. Hunt then takes Nekovich’s suitcase which contains the Vallerophon. Much to everybody’s surprise, Hunt then rips his face off – it’s a latex mask like the ones used in the first Mission: Impossible movie. It isn’t Hunt at all, but another IMF operative named Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott). Ambrose and his small team of men who now control the plane parachute out, leaving the plane, now on auto pilot to fly into a mountain.
You maybe thinking, that killing hundreds of innocent people in a plane crash is not a really nice thing to do, and surely unbecoming of an IMF agent. And you’d be right. Ambrose has gone renegade. He sees Chimera and Vallerophon as his break break to make millions of dollars – but unfortunately he has made a small mistake. He didn’t realize that the Chimera virus wasn’t in Nekovich’s suitcase like the Vallerophon – it was in Nekovich himself. So Ambrose is stuck with an antidote to a disease that he does not possess.
Meanwhile in some rugged mountains in Utah, the real Ethan Hunt, who is on holiday, is doing a spot of mountain climbing. Once he reaches the top, a helicopter swings by and fires a rocket into the ground at Hunt’s feet. It is not an explosive rocket – it is just a canister containing a message – or more precisely, a set of sunglasses. Hunt retrieves the glasses from the casing and slips them on, and he receives a message from his boss, Mission Commander Swanbeck (Anthony Hopkins). His instructions are rather vague, but he is to recruit three operatives for his next mission (should he choose to accept it), but one of them must be Nyah Nordorf-Hall (Thandie Newton). Hunt is told she is currently in Seville.
Nyah is a professional thief, and when Hunt catches up with her, she is trying to steal a necklace from a wealthy Spaniard. Hunt intervenes and recruits her to work on the mission. Little does Hunt know that Nyah used to have a relationship with Ambrose. He believes that she has been recruited for her skills as a thief. When Swanbeck informs Hunt that his mission is to go after Ambrose, who is in Australia, preparing to steal Chimera, and that Nyah is simply the bait, Hunt isn’t too impressed. You see, he has formed an attachment to Nyah himself.
Hunt’s two other assistants on the mission are Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames). Strickell, who you may remember from the first MI movie, is the computer genius. Next, for a bit of local colour, there is Australian chopper pilot, Billy Blair (John Polson). Blair is also comic relief.
Tom Cruise plays Hunt as either a smirk or a scowl, and that’s fine. You’re either a Tom Cruise fan or your not – he appears to have lost a few fans in recent years due to some of his off screen antics – but he is still a fine actor and these days, Hunt is one of his signature roles.
I’ll be the first to admit that Thandie Newton is a glamorous lady, but I find her acting unconvincing. I realize her character is one that has been tricked into performing a task that she doesn’t want to do, and that may explain why she spends the whole film with a scowl on her face. At the same time, this does not endear her to the viewing public. Where we should be feeling for her character, instead we feel like staying out of her way because she’s angry.
Dougray Scott as Sean Ambrose is the best thing in this movie. He’s an amazing actor. I have seen him play roles where he is down to earth everyman, but here he is a full on menace to society – even his enunciation of words is right on for such a character. He can take a simple line of dialogue, and make it sound like a slew of profanity is coming your way, where in fact there are no swear words at all. Many a film falls or stands on the strength of the villain, and this film stands due to Dougray Scott.
An uncredited, Anthony Hopkins plays Hunt’s controller Swanbeck, which is okay. The role is little more than a cameo. One part of me likes the idea of Hunt receiving from a controller, almost like an ‘M’ character. After all it makes sense that Hunt should receive detailed mission briefings from a superior. But another part of me longs for the hokey disks or tapes (or whatever) than Jim Phelps used to receive – as voiced by Bob Johnson. There’s a hint of this in the sunglasses that Hunt receives at the beginning, but it is voiced by Hopkins.
At the time of the films release, much was made out of the fact that the film was directed by John Woo. Woo’s reputation as a master of stylized action scenes was intended to inject a new harder style into the Mission: Impossible series, but for me I found many of the action scenes contrived. The scenes I felt that were fantastic were the more introspective scenes, where Woo used slow motion to great effect. The flamenco scene when Hunt first sees Nyah is a show stopper, and the scenes at the end, as Nyah wanders aimlessly around Sydney are first rate. These contrast greatly with the cold sterile motorbike action scenes.
Mission: Impossible II, like all the films in the series (to date), was released with an enormous saturation advertising campaign, which to me has two effects. The first is that it puts bums on seats, which is great for the movies companies who are looking to make coin. The second effect, if a film is over hyped and doesn’t deliver to the levels that the saturation campaign claims, then viewers walk out of the cinema cheated, feeling that they haven’t got their money’s worth. I believe M:1 2 is like that. The film was so hyped, that upon release it couldn’t live up to the expectations and I believe that many people walked out of the cinema believing that the film was crap. It’s not. It’s quite a good little espionage tale, and now, all these years later, it is much easier to sit back, relax and enjoy the movie for what it is.