The Ethan Hunt Files – Mission: Impossible II

Over two years ago on this here blog, when it was in its infancy, I did the 007 Files where I wrote individualized blog posts on all 23 Bond flicks. That got me thinking about other series I could do the same with and in January 2013, I started The Ethan Hunt Files and wrote about the first Mission: Impossible pic from 1996.

I had every intention of writing about the other three in short order. For whatever reason I did not follow up. With the fifth M:I picture Rogue Nation debuting in July, I decided it was time to resume this series of posts and we continue with Mission: Impossible II from the summer of 2000…

And what an interesting film it is, especially considering the franchise entries that preceded it and followed it. M:I II stands out as the strangest pic in the series and the one that fits in least with the rest. Two words explain the main reason for this: John Woo. The acclaimed action director took over directing duties from Brian De Palma for the second picture and didn’t have an ounce of hesitation about turning it into a bonafide Woo affair with all the slow motion shots, quick cuts, and (yes) doves that come along with it. There are certainly some similarities to the original – foremost of which is the continuation and multiplication of those fancy face masks.

Unlike Mission 1, here we have Tom Cruise’s Ethan in a romantic relationship with the gorgeous Nyah (Thandie Newton), a jewel thief who is the ex of Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), an IMF agent gone bad who Ethan is after. Ambrose has stolen a nasty virus called Chimera, as well as its antidote, in an effort to make billions on the pharmaceutical market. Nyah is enlisted to get back in the good graces of her evil ex to get information, but not before she falls in love with Ethan first. They do so during a car chase in which Ethan nearly kills her, then kisses her. It happens.

Ethan is given his mission by the new head of IMF, played by Anthony Hopkins in what is essentially a glorified cameo. Our hero is conflicted by sending Nyah into such a dangerous mission. This all might’ve worked a bit better if the chemistry between Cruise and Newton felt authentic. We simply have zero investment in their romance and by the time Nyah bravely infects herself with the virus, you don’t really mind if Chimera wins. And a lot of the film could have been improved if Scott’s performance as our head villain wasn’t so utterly unremarkable. Some may know that M:I II’s production went into overtime and it forced Dougray Scott to be dropped from playing Wolverine in that same summer’s X-Men. An unknown actor named Hugh Jackman stepped in at the last minute. This is a good thing and Scott went from the next potential Wolverine to that dull M:I II villain that kinda looks like Ewan McGregor.

Ving Rhames returns as Luther, Ethan’s fellow agent who excels in counting down the clock as Hunt performs those impossible stunts. Rade Serbedvija gives a somewhat delightfully off kilter performance as the doctor who created Chimera and Brendan Gleeson is the nefarious owner of the corporation exploiting the virus for financial gain.

The De Palma Mission was a rock solid spy thriller anchored by three first rate action centerpieces: the aquarium sequence, the Langley infiltration and the train finale. In part two, there’s the bio chem lab sequence and the motorcycle chase finale that are front and center.

Neither are as memorable as anything from the previous effort. There’s also the Cruise rock climbing business in the beginning which basically exists so its stunt loving star can look cool rock climbing.

In hindsight, M:I II is easily the weakest link of this franchise. It doesn’t much feel like a Mission feature anymore as much as a John Woo movie with Ethan Hunt in it. Acclaimed screenwriter Robert Towne (who cowrote the first) has sole credit here and a hefty portion of the dialogue, particularly Newton’s, is a bit cringe worthy. Mission: Impossible II has enough fairly cool action to satisfy your average teenage boy, but it pales next to the rest of the Missions. And there’s no excuse for Limp Bizkit reworking that classic TV series theme either.

So while its reputation has deservedly soured in recent times, that didn’t stop part two from becoming a huge global success and earning over half a billion worldwide. It also was the highest domestic grosser of summer 2000 and virtually guaranteed a third go round for Hunt and his IMF team.

Here are the facts:

Film: Mission: Impossible II

U.S. Release Date: May 24, 2000

Director: John Woo

Screenplay: Robert Towne

Budget: $125 million

Worldwide Box Office: $546.3 million

The Ethan Hunt files will return with Mission: Impossible III