Tom Cruise’s massive franchise goes through its difficult second album phase in part two of my semi-regular series of retrospectives.

Given the huge success of the first Mission Impossible film, it’s perhaps quite a surprise that it took so long for a sequel to appear – four years is quite the gap in Hollywood Sequel years. However, Tom Cruise has always been a star who’s massively in demand and, with him also pulling double duty as the co-producer of the Mission Impossible franchise, I guess there was also further pressure on him to deliver.

Though still a satisfying experience with some very tense, brilliantly directed scenes, there were some issues with the first Mission Impossible – though I personally thought it worked well from a story point of view, many people were upset with how much the first one became The Tom Cruise Show, thanks to his character, Ethan Hunt, being left as the last of his team alive by the end of Act 1; I’m not even going to go there with the Phelps reveal (another twist I thought worked brilliantly to blindside audiences – but audiences in general definitely did not warm to this betrayal). So surely, given the extra production time – and Tom Cruise’s notorious need for creative control – we’d get a much more warmly received experience this time around?

Spoiler: nope. Mission Impossible 2 is by far the weakest movie in the franchise, a John Woo-directed misfire filled with unintentionally hilarious Woo-isms. There’s also a very Scooby Doo-esque overuse of the trademark Mission Impossible facemask reveals (Scooby Woo?). It’s a laughably dumb film that focuses far too much on Tom Cruise’s insistence on Tom Cruise doing impressive looking stunts while rocking a new, slo-mo friendly hairstyle.

The opening sequence sees Rade Serbedzija – Hollywood’s seemingly omnipresent Eastern European actor in the 90s – as a scientist giving an exposition heavy voiceover, seemingly talking to someone named ‘Dimitri’, while injecting himself with a deadly virus that he’s supposed to be giving to Tom Cruise on a plane, for some reason. There’s a hugely heavy handed moment here within the first moments of the film, as the scientist leaves the lab with his virus – only to see some school children singing ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses’ right in front of the building.  

On the plane, the scientist is sat next to Cruise, but is calling him Dimitri. This goes well for a few minutes until Cruise/Hunt/Dimitri suddenly becomes baffled about being called Dimitri and, in the first of the film’s many mask reveals, becomes Dougray Scott before our very eyes. It’s a nicely done moment and the reveal is pretty impressively shot. We see also how someone with a mask is able to perfectly imitate someone else’s voice (it’s some sort of high-tech looking neck sticker, obvs) as well as the fact that one of the pilots is a bad guy – and other villains on Scott’s team are dotted throughout the plane, masquerading as passengers. With Ethan Hunt on holiday (LOL WTF IMF), turns out the IMF had sent Dougray Scott instead – and he goes rogue. Oops.

The scientist – and various others, including the plane’s pilot – dead and the virus stolen, we then head at breakneck speed towards a mountain in Australia – on which Tom Cruise is being Tom Cruise and climbing very high, apparently without any harness of safety equipment. It’s well shot and, frankly, pretty impressive – but if there was any doubt about whether or not we were going to see this turn into The Tom Cruise Show, it’s immediately dispelled here. There’s little point to this sequence except for Cruise to show off and as spurious set-up in receiving his new mission in a very overwrought, suitably daft way: his mission instructions are on a pair of Oakley sunglasses, delivered by a rocket that’s fired from a helicopter. Yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds. It does look pretty cool though.

Especially when Hunt discards the Oakleys, directly at the camera – and they explode, leading us into Limp Bizkit’s hard, crunchy take on the Mission Impossible theme. It’s very of its time, but there’s no denying how cool the Mission Impossible theme sounds when it’s turned up to 11; to be fair, it’s so iconic that I think it’s pretty much scientifically impossible to make it sound anything less than amazing. Surely the fact that even Limp Bizkit don’t mess it up is testament to that (and it definitely outclasses Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr’s boringly vanilla version from the original to shame).

So here we go, the titles promise us. Strap in for the most impossible mission yet!

Except, none of the following scenes really feel like a particularly impossible set of circumstances. The stakes don’t feel that high – despite the almost apocalyptic nature of the virus strain stolen from the scientist at the beginning – and the pacing, particularly in the opening half, is shockingly slow. Ving Rhames makes a welcome return as the only character to feature in every single movie so far (aside from Cruise himself of course), but doesn’t have a great deal to do. There’s a comic relief Aussie IMF agent, who is frankly wince-inducing. It does make you wonder what the recruitment process at the IMF is like. Anthony Hopkins makes a cameo as Hunt’s superior and delivers some hilariously sexist dialogue with a smirk, but also gives us a rather impressive piece of dialogue that may well be unmatched in the history of cinema:

“This is not mission difficult, Mr Hunt – it’s mission impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you.”

Along the way, we take in the aforementioned John Woo-isms. Dual wielding in slow motion. Doves in slow motion. Impressive looking kicks in slow motion. Explosions in…slow…motion.

There’s a lot of slow motion.

There’s also a motorbike fight which is somehow even more stupid than the helicopter/train bit at the end of the first film. The bad guy ends up wanting little else other than to game the stock market, which adds to the somewhat low stakes, not-very-impossible feel of this mission.

It’s not all bad. Despite the ridiculousness of, well, everything, many of the stunts are genuinely impressive. Cruise’s hair looks lovely. It’s all beautifully shot.

It just feels nothing like a Mission Impossible film.

One thing I have to point out is that the DVD release has what I consider one of the best DVD extras of all time. Now, I must also point out that – unlike my comment about Anthony Hopkins and his ‘mission difficult’ line – I’m deadly serious. The disc contains ‘Mission Improbable’, a short especially created for the MTV Movie Awards in which Ben Stiller is cast as Tom Crooze, supposedly a stunt double for Tom Cruise who just keeps showing up on the sets of new Cruise films. It’s hilarious; even John Woo gets in on the fun here with some really funny moments.

So it’s a far from essential entry to the franchise, that one hilariously brilliant extra aside (that isn’t part of the main event anyway, of course – so it’s not like you’d have that included if you were to watch the film digitally). Nothing here is carried on to MI:III or beyond; it can be skipped entirely without missing out on any story beats or character introductions, given that both Hunt and Stickell (Rhames’ character) are both introduced and set up well in the first film.

As an action movie, it’s dumb fun for about half of the running time. As a Mission Impossible film, it falls woefully short.

It must be noted, however, that audiences – or at least the wallets of audiences – disagreed with this viewpoint, as Mission Impossible 2 was the highest-grossing film of the year 2000.

Next up, though I can’t promise when, will be the film that rescued the franchise from itself – the JJ Abrams-directed MI:III.

Though I made this exact same ‘joke’ last time, this post won’t – I regret to inform you – self-destruct in five seconds.

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