Some say this is the weakest entry in the Mission: Impossible series. And while these movies (unlike the TV show it’s based on) have always been more about Tom Cruise than about the team, M:I 2 probably focused more on Ethan Hunt—less on the team dynamics, less on teamwork—more than did the other movies. Of course, there’s Ving Rhames but here, the team does the TEAM, and Hunt does the WORK.
Some may have complained about the overly simple plot: ex-IMF agent in possession of a deadly virus; Ethan Hunt needs to stop him, retrieve it. Well, you don’t really go see M:I 2 for the plot. You see it for John Woo’s trademark action bits: the balletic execution, the glorious slow mo’s, the doves. Also, the simple plot’s a corrective to the lukewarm reception to the first film, its plot considered too complex, and probably, to some extent, Brian de Palma’s direction too archaic, maybe even boring for the MTV kids. (Personally, I find it to be even more old-fashioned than the TV series GMA-7 used to air. That’s not to say that it’s bad, de Palma’s filmmaking style.)
That is, M:I 2 is unmistakably a John Woo movie. Probably, in the same way that the first is unmistakably a Brian de Palma movie. (The last two movies, directed by Christopher McQuarrie, less so.) And John Woo’s style—balletic fight scenes, lots of slow mo’s, and cool motorcycle stunts—may not be for everyone. Wait, but isn’t de Palma’s stylish camera angles and compositions as well? Or J.J. Abrams lens flare and digital shaky cam? So, if we’re talking about the first three movies, it’s more like pick your poison. Me, I’ll pick John Woo and Les Borland’s gritty guitars (Jang! jang! jang, jang, jang!) over Tom Cruise’s super-fast running and J.J. Abrams’ shaky cam.
Still, this may not be among Woo’s best Hollywood movies—Hard Target, Face Off… Windtalkers maybe? (I might even add that The Big Hit, which Woo produced, is far more enjoyable (on its OWN terms) than this Tom Cruise vehicle.) For one, M:I 2 doesn’t have a Nicolas Cage (ten times more fun to watch than Cruise) or a Lance Henriksen playing the heavy. Instead, it has a James Bond villain and a predictable McGuffin chase for plot.
So, what’s left is John Woo’s over-the-top set pieces, Cruise trying hard to be Jean Claude Van Damme or Chow Yun Fat, and the aforementioned John Woo movie trademarks. Those motorcycle stunts though! They are so rad they made Tom Cruise a bona fide Hollywood action hero over night to the tune of “Now I know why you wanna hate me!” And any movie where the hero uses the side mirror of his motorcycle to shoot at the bad guys is definitely a ‘must-see’ for me.
While there are things in the movie that didn’t age well, the theme song by Limp Bizkit for instance, John Woo’s hyper stylized chase/gunfight sequence and kung fu-influenced fight scenes remains as potent as ever. (I’d still pick them over anything in that Vin Diesel/Paul Walker action franchise.) That reveal that it’s not Ethan Hunt under the mask and moments later he’s seen running away with the McGuffin? That’s definitely one of the most memorable unmasking scene in all Mission: Impossible movies. Just see the look on the villain’s face.