Covert Ops: Tear Down the Wall

Gemini

Last week I talked briefly about a new project from Pro Se Productions called Covert Ops: Gemini, which is fashioned on the sixties and seventies TV series, Mission Impossible. The anthology contains three stories, The Havana Protocol, by J. Walt Layne – Romanoff and Juliet, by Tim Lasiuta – and “Tear Down This Wall!” by Wesley Smith.

Recently, I asked Smith about how he approached his contribution to the project.

CovertOpsGeminiIt’s difficult to explain why I approached this project in the way that I did. Coming up with ideas from scratch is difficult for me. There are infinite directions in which to go, and I can never choose just one. Throwing in random elements requires more creativity. Tell me to write any kind of story that I want and I’ll lock up. But if you tell me to write a western that includes the USS Constellation, Jefferson City, Missouri and the Monkees… Now that’s a challenge.

That’s how I started “Tear Down This Wall!” I pulled out 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and landed on the entry for The Brandenburg Gate. If my finger had fallen on The Blarney Stone or the Drakensberg Mountains, the story would be unrecognizably different.

Once I saw the picture of the Brandenburg Gate, I knew that the story I would write would be named “Tear Down This Wall!” (taken from Ronald Reagan’s speech in the shadow of the Berlin Wall itself) and that the climax would be on top of the gate itself. The basic plot came together from there.

Outside of the basic plot, what was eventually published beared almost no resemblance to the story I had intended to write. Since I had never attempted a 10,000 word story before, I grossly over-plotted it. My original vision could easily have been 50,000-60,000 words longer. It included a team twice the size of the one that saw publication, had subplots about human trafficking and blackmail. Like William Goldman’s / S. Morgenstern’s classic The Princess Bride, what you read in “Tear Down This Wall!” is truly the good parts version.

One of the things I enjoy most when writing is when the characters take the story in an unexpected direction. Furman Valero was like that. Before I started writing the scene where he was introduced, he was simply “Thug #1.” Again, I chose his name from a couple names list websites and was immediately had vision of who Valero would be: a brooding, somber, former Mexican wrestler who had fallen on hard times and was trapped in Germany with no easy way out. And instead of being a minor character, he suddenly became the emotional center of the story.

Things came quickly after that. I already had the climax of the story, but I wanted scenes worthy of an action movie. Since “Tear Down This Wall!” is set in Germany, a car chase on the Autobahn was required, and the fight in the meat packing plant was built around a couple specific images that came to me.

I am extremely proud of “Tear Down This Wall!” I always try to create something I’d enjoy reading. “Tear Down This Wall!” certainly succeeds on that level. This may sound corny, but if the readers enjoy “Tear Down This Wall” half as much as I enjoyed writing it, I’ll be happy.

Wesley Smith started creating stories when he was five,and hasn’t stopped since. He has lived in St. Louis, Omaha, California wine country and Memphis before settling in the central Ohio area, with each city bringing a new set of experiences to draw from. He and his beautiful wife/editor live in a 120-year-old farmhouse with three wonderful girls and a boy. When he’s not losing sleep over his next story, he’s losing sleep while taking care of his new baby girl.

Covert Ops: Gemini is available from Amazon.

Advertisements
Covert Ops: Tear Down the Wall

Covert Ops: Gemini

Last week, Pro Se Productions released their latest spy anthology, Covert Ops: Gemini, which is in the style of the Mission: Impossible television series – wherein a team of specialist agents take on a dangerous mission that nobody else could accomplish. I have started reading it, and so far it is pretty good. I couldn’t help but smile when I read that the team leader is named Steven Graves!

Expect a full review in a week or two, but until then, here’s the promo spiel.

CovertOpsGeminiIn a world where no one can be trusted and no one is safe, spies are everywhere. In the kitchen of the small house on the corner. High above a city at the top of a skyscraper under construction. In the checkout line at the local grocery. People with skills unheard of by most normal citizens living normal every day lives as accountants, teachers, plumbers, and more. Every day existence is their only battle…until a lone voice on the other end of the phone or in the static of a radio or even whispering in their ear from over their shoulder welcomes back to the war. Their own personal codename followed by one word – GEMINI. And then the housewife, the normal joe, Mr. and Mrs. America become the deadliest espionage agents this country has ever created, members of the top secret initiative known by very few as COVERT OPS: GEMINI!

Pro Se Productions, concept creator Tommy Hancock, and authors J. Walt Layne, Wesley Smith, and Tim Lasiuta proudly presents COVERT OPS: GEMINI.

In the tradition of Mission: Impossible, COVERT OPS: GEMINI delves into the world of international espionage and looks at the men and women who make up the deadliest team of spies ever. Led by Steven Graves, roguish and calculating agent, and overseen by the mysterious Officer James, members of Covert Ops; Gemini live regular lives, hold down normal jobs, build families and careers, until they are needed. Then they step away from their desks, their aprons, their very existences and put skills outside of their normal persona into use as they were trained to. What follows for them may be failure or even death. But, if they succeed, not only does the world go on, but they get the one thing back they value most- their covers.

Classic Spy Fiction at its best. COVERT OPS: GEMINI from Pro Se Productions!

Covert Ops: Gemini is available from Amazon and the usual affiliated outlets.

Covert Ops: Gemini

The Money Explosion

Author: Talmage Powell
Publisher: Whitman
Release Year: 1970

The Money Explosion is a children’s tie-in novel for the Mission: Impossible television series. Those familiar with the series will be familiar with the miraculous deeds that the IMF have performed in the past. Here they are explained as such:

From page 16.

But often the sudden surprises that boded well for the forces of freedom and democracy were neither unexplicable nor happy strokes of luck. Often these were indications that Jim’s Impossible Missions Force had been on the job. IMF went in where the knots were too tangled for any other agency or group to untie. IMF went in unseen, without official existence, and came out without plaudits – but with the knowledge of a worthwhile job well done.

The story opens in Tampa, Florida, in the Latin Quarter. Jim Phelps, in a rented car, pulls up and makes his way to a record store, and requests a tape from the store attendant. The attendant hands Phelps the recording, and Phelps takes in back to his car to listen to the tape/cartridge in private. The mission concerns the tiny Carribean island of Esperanza, which has suffered at the hands of tyrannical rulers for centuries. But their new President, Petro Martinez is a beacon of light and hope for the future. But the leader of the opposition, Diego Ochoa has a dastardly plan to upset the economy of the struggling nation. And through his manufactured economic crisis, he plans to seize power.

Ochoa’s plan concern’s a young intelligence officer named Alexie Darstov, who works for an un-named military power that is in direct opposition to America (Russia). Darstov has overseen the printing of millions of counterfeit pestas (Esperanza’s currency) which he plans to flood the country – literally a ‘money explosion’.

Jim’s mission, should he chose to accept it, is to stop the Ochoa – Darstov plan. To do this he needs a highly skilled team of operatives. These include Willy Armitage, Barney Collier, The Great Paris and Tracey Hale.

The Mission: Impossible television series was always beautifully written and edited. Each episode presented the viewer with a snippet of the briefing – not all of it. Just enough to make the viewer believe they knew what was going to happen. Then as the plot unfolded, the story would twist into another direction. Unfortunately, chopping up a story into deceptively small pieces is a lot harder to do in a novel. It would read rather clumsy to have the start of the briefing, and then the end, leaving out the middle. Editing in a television series makes the show seem pacey, however in a book, large missing segments can seem lazy or confusing, even if the scenes are mundane. A certain amount of exposition is required, and that what The Money Explosion does – serve up that extra descriptive content. Which in some ways, ruins the magic of Mission Impossible…so much more of the mission is laid out at the beginning. The downside of this is at the beginning the story is overloaded with setup and very little action. To illustrate the point, the IMF team only move off from their briefing on page 44 – which is almost a quarter of the way through the book.

To the novel’s credit (and author Talmage Powell), the story still manages to serve up one or two twists. While I can say I enjoyed The Money Explosion, rather than being a great book, it instead highlights the strengths of the television show and how the formula is very hard to transfer to a linear novel format – keeping the same style and pace intact.

The Money Explosion

The Dead Ringer

The Dead Ringer, Doppelganger, Impostor, Look-a-like, call it what you will is a commonly used device in espionage movies. The most famous stories about dead ringers in popular culture would be The Man In The Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas and The Prisoner Of Zenda by Anthony Hope. While both stories are hardly spy stories, they both contain elements of deception, quests for power, and manipulation of the masses; not dissimilar from the usual megalomaniacs we encounter in today’s modern spy stories.

Not surprisingly, with a heritage like that, the dead ringer is a staple of the espionage genre. And in spy films, the look-a-like can be substituted for anybody: heroes, or villains.

In The Double Man, agent Dan Slater (Yul Brynner) is lured to Switzerland, so he can be kidnapped and replaced with a murderous double. Similarly, one entry in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie series, The Spy With My Face, has an evil T.H.R.U.S.H. double for Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) trying to infiltrate U.N.C.L.E. The fake Solo attempts to steal the combination to a powerful weapon. In one of the later episodes of The Avengers, They Keep Killing Steed, secret agent John Steed in kidnapped and an impostor is sent to a peace conference on his behalf to wreak havoc. To complicate matters, the real Steed, also has arranged for another three clones to be at conference. That’s a total of five look-a-like Steeds to confuse viewers. In The Prisoner episode, The Schizoid Man, as if No. 6 didn’t have enough to contend with, he had a villainous double messing with his mind.

The Bond movies have had their share of doubles as well. In Thunderball, a double is substituted for Nato Officer Francois Durvall by S.P.E.C.T.R.E. to assist in the hi-jacking of two nuclear weapons. And in Diamonds Are Forever we see arch-villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld creating a series of doubles of himself to throw James Bond off the scent.

The good guys can get into the act too. One of the better recent examples, was The Assignment. The story which borrowed heavily from Robert Ludlum’s novel The Bourne Identity, had Aidan Quinn as a family orientated naval officer substituting for Carlos the Jackal. In a slight variation, in the three Mission: Impossible movies starring Tom Cruise, Ethan Hunt had a selection of life like masks that made him appear as any one of a cadre of enemy agents.

And the girls aren’t immune from being cloned either. In the recent movie version of The Avengers we had an evil double of Mrs. Peel (Uma Thurman). Back in the sixties, we had the diabolical Doctor Goldfoot (Vincent Price) creating armies of sexy exploding clones.

Let’s not forget the children; in Spy Kids, evil robot versions of Carmen and Juni Cortez are created by evil-doer Fegan Floop.

A common comedic variation is where one twin brother is a secret agent, unbeknownst to his sibling. Of course, the brother agent is killed off, leaving the second inexperienced brother to finish off the mission on his brother’s behalf. It’s the ‘fish out of water’ scenario with a spy touch. Two recent examples of this are Bad Company with Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins, and the child friendly Double Agent with Michael McKean.

As you can see the genre is littered with as many dead ringers as dead bodies; some good, and some bad.

The Dead Ringer

Mission Impossible: Recovery (1967)

Country: United States
Director: Robert Totten
Starring: Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Bradford Dillman, Emile Genst, Peter Coe, Peter Hellmann
Theme: Lalo Schifrin
Music: Jerry Fielding

Recovery is the last episode from Season Two of Mission: Impossible and it features Bradford Dillman as a brilliant American scientist who has defected and is now working on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Even though the character is painfully underwritten, Dillman excels at characters like this…essentially slimy bureaucrats. My favourite performance by Dillman is as Sergeant McKay in the third Dirty Harry film The Enforcer (here’s a seven pointed suppository!), but he also appeared in other espionage related material like The Man From UNCLE movie, The Helicopter Spies.

The episode starts with Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) receiving his mission briefing, this time in a carpark attendant’s booth. Here he learns that a SAC B52 has crashed behind the Iron Curtain, but the fail-safe mechanism has failed to explode and destroy all the top-secret information on board. The wreckage is taken to a scientific institute for examination – and the possible extraction of the top-secret information. The man behind the extraction is an ex-US scientist named Shipherd (Bradford Dillman). Jim’s mission (should he choose to accept it) is to retrieve the Fail Safe mechanism and bring Shipherd back to the United States.

The first part of the scheme involves Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) and Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain), posing as man and wife – Charles and Janet Langley – at an Embassy party in the un-named Iron Curtain country. At the party, the Langley’s meet Shipherd briefly. The meeting seems short and particularly unremarkable – except Rollin has sewn some seeds about his employment history, which of course become more relevant as the story goes on.

Jim Phelps has multiple roles to play in this role. The first is as the pilot of the B52 that went down. As ‘Hayes’, with dark, dyed hair, Jim allows himself to be captured, knowing full well that Shipherd will interrogate him, hoping to learn some of the secrets of the Fail Safe system. Jim (as Hayes), under interrogation says that the only people who can disarm the Fail Safe mechanism are the boffins at Duluth, who created the device.

Coincidentally, earlier, Rollin (as Langley) suggested to Shipherd that he worked on top-secret projects in Duluth. Shipherd makes the connection and invites Langley, as a guest, to visit the Institute.

Jim’s second role in this episode is as a service technician – with trademark silver hair this time – who is called in the repair a paper shredder at the Institute – a paper shredder that has been disabled by Barney Collier (Greg Morris). Meanwhile Shipherd has kidnapped Cinnamon (posing as Langley’s wife) and uses her to blackmail Rollin into opening the safe.

The character of Shipherd is somewhat clumsily written. He claims to have defected because he is sick of his scientific research being used for militaristic ends, but yet his new employers seem to be utilising his talents for the same purpose. Furthermore, he proves to be a rather unscrupulous character when he is prepared to ‘blow-up’ Cinnamon in order to crack the Fail-Safe. So any political posturing by the character is quickly made redundant by the plot contrivances. It’s here, where Dillman’s almost patented ‘slimy bureaucrat’ schtick actually works for the story. As it stands, Recovery is not one of the great Mission: Impossible episodes, but it is serviceable and very enjoyable – and this is primarily to do with Dillman who proves to be an entertaining foe for the IMF team.

Mission Impossible: Recovery (1967)

Mission Impossible: The Council (1967)

Country: United States
Director: Paul Stanley
Starring: Peter Graves, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Paul Stevens, Vincent Gardenia, Nick Colasanta, Paul Lambert, Vic Perrin, Joan Staley, Stuart Nisbet, Robert Phillips, Eduardo Cianelli
Mission Impossible Theme: Lalo Schifrin
Music: Jerry Fielding

The poster above is a bit of a jib. It is a poster from the 1969 Mission Impossible movie, Mission Impossible versus the Mob. It just so happens that the two-part episode The Council made up a portion of the film and the images are appropriate to the story. But before we get to the review, I have some sad business to attend to. Obviously I have written this review to commemorate the passing of Peter Graves. With the refurbishment of the PtK website I have fallen a little behind in my writing, but many of the COBRAS have posted then own moving obituaries to Peter Graves, so I don’t feel that that moment has passed without the attention it warranted. Like most spy fans I am terribly saddened by the passing of Peter Graves. Graves was a charismatic actor with a resonant voice (and a great sense of humour which is borne out by his role in Flying High/Airplane – ‘do you like Gladiator movies Johnny?’). He brought authority and conviction to his roles – which made him the perfect actor to play authority figures or team leaders. His most popular character was Jim Phelps, team leader of the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) on the classic television show Mission: Impossible.

Over the three years that Permission to Kill has been running I haven’t written up too many episodes of Mission: Impossible (three, I think). The show is routinely difficult to write up. But therein lies the beauty of the show. The structure is one, which deliberately keeps a few parts of the IMF team’s plan hidden, so there are a few twists at the end. A linear deconstruction of the plot is almost superfluous; short of noting every occurrence in sequential order, which would subsequently spoil the show for potential viewers.

Therefore my reviews are stripped down to a brief overview of the mission and a look at some of the exploits that the team get up to. The Council, parts 1 and 2, were the eleventh and twelfth episodes of the second season of Mission: Impossible – the second season was the first to feature Peter Graves as IMF Team Leader Jim Phelps (the first season featured Steven Hill as team leader Dan Briggs).

As the episode begins, Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) pulls up outside a recording studio in his blue convertible. He goes inside, up the stairs to a deserted recording studio, wherein he finds a newly pressed vinyl record. Jim drops the needle and the familiar voice of Bob Johnson rings out: “Good Morning, Mr. Phelps!”

The target is a mobster named Frank Wayne (Paul Stevens), who is described as the Number One man in the Syndicate (even as Number One, it appears that Wayne has superiors). But Wayne is responsible for handling the Mob’s finances and has managed to arrange for ten-billion dollars to be shipped off shore into Swiss bank accounts.

Jim’s mission — should he choose to accept it — is to retrieve Wayne’s financial records and hand them over to the appropriate authorities. And of course, bring Wayne’s whole organisation down.

Back at his apartment, Jim goes through his regular routine of sifting through the photos of IMF agents and then from this group, selecting the best agents for the mission. The astute viewer may note that the general rule is that Jim discards the black and white operatives and chooses the ones in colour. The ones with colour photos happen to be Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), Cinnamon Cater (Barbara Bain), Barny Collier (Greg Morris) and Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus). Newcomer to the team is Dr. Emerson Reese (Stuart Nisbet) who is a plastic surgeon.

In this episode, Jim takes on the role of Carl Daley, who is the Senate Committee’s new Chief Investigator, and as such, is a man who is dedicated to bring down the mob. When we first meet Jim (as Daley), he gatecrashes Wayne’s country estate, armed with a search warrant. With Barney tagging along as a state Marshall, they begin to tear Wayne’s house apart looking for incriminating evidence. Jim’s charade gets right under Wayne’s skin – – but he stops short of violence. After all, he is well connected. Within minutes, Wayne’s attorney,  arrives with a court order overturning the warrant. The judge who signed it happens to be in Wayne’s pocket. Jim and Barney are forced to leave empty handed.

Although Jim and Barney’s incursion has been disruptive it doesn’t stop Wayne from getting down to business. A small time mobster named Jimmy Bibo (Nick Colasanta) wants a council with Wayne and several other heads of the Syndicate. The task that Bibo is frequently assigned by the Mob, is to travel to Switzerland with their monthly payments and deposit them in the bank. But over the last year the payments have been short by around one-quarter of a million dollars. Bibo isn’t too bright and has been skimming a little money off the top for himself. Of course this doesn’t sit well with Wayne and the other bosses, and Bibo is sentenced to death.

The mob’s method of disposing of traitors is pretty cold-blooded. Wayne’s number one henchamn, Johnny (Robert Phillips) walks Bibo out to a secluded corner of Wayne’s estate. Johnny throws Bibo a shovel and tells him to start digging. Bibo goes to work digging his own grave. Once it is deep enough, Johnny knocks Bibo down into the ditch and then starts shovelling the sand back in, even though Bibo is still alive. One Johnny is done, Bibo is left to suffocate.

Luckily for Bibo, Jim, Barney, Willy and Dr. Emerson are all on hand, hiding behind the trees. Once Johnny has departed, the IMF team rush over and dig Bibo up, and with the Dr. Emerson’s help, manage to revive him.

Alive again it doesn’t take much to convince Bibo that he should help the IMF team to bring Wayne down. After all this chicanery, we haven’t even got to the IMF’s main ruse yet — and the reason that they need Jimmy Bibo. It appears the Bib has been a life-long friend of Wayne’s — they grew up on the same street together. Bibo knows everything about the way Wayne moves and talks. He is the perfect man to teach Rollin how to impersonate the mob boss — and you know what that means folks? Yep, Some of those life-like rubber masks that the show has become so famous for.

The first part ends with an elaborate scheme where Rollin slips into the shoes of Wayne. In the process, and into the second part, Barney is shot, Willy is slugged, and Jim is tailpiped and blown to smithereens. The only one who comes off relatively unscathed is Cinnamon, but even she has a hairy moment where the mob want her silenced. As you’d expect, over the length of part 2, all the disparate elements come together, with a swag of deviations and plot twists, which cause the viewer to ask, ‘is this part of the plan or has it all gone horribly wrong?’ And that’s the beauty of Mission: Impossible – you never know until the end!

Over the past year or so, fans of spy cinema and television have lost quite a few shining lights – Patrick McGoohan, Joseph Wiseman, Tony Kendall (of Kommissar X fame), Richard Whyler, Ken Clark and I sure a few I haven’t mentioned. Each of these actors have affected me in some way. But Peter Graves wasn’t just an actor for a spy geek like me. Mission: Impossible was such a huge show, that the terms used in it, have passed into our cultural vernacular. The other day, I was playing a golf video game with my son – the commentator said ‘your mission, should you choose to accept it’. I know, it’s completely un-related, but that’s the strength of the show – the phrases, the music, and even the style have permeated popular culture so much, that sometimes I am sure younger people do not even know where it originated. And the reason that the show has become so ingrained with popular culture is down to one man, Peter Graves. And I for one, will miss him. Goodbye Mr. Phelps.

Remembrances of Peter Graves:
• Double O Section
• Una Plagia De Espias
• Spy-Fi Channel
• Mister 8
• Bish’s Beat
• Spy Vibe
• Quantum of Bond

Mission Impossible: The Council (1967)

Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Country: United States / Germany
Director: John Woo
Starring: Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Anthony Hopkins
Music: Hans Zimmer

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.

Mission: Impossible II (2000)