Tom Pheby tackles a sequel.
Sequels are notoriously difficult to get right. Often they are little more than pale imitations of the original film, some succeed with this approach and some don't, but occasionally you'll find one that offers something almost the same but also quite, quite different.
If you grab a Mission: Impossible box set and make your way through the movies, you'll find that after watching the 1996 opening installment directed by Brian De Palma, from the outset of 2000's M:I-2 something doesn't feel quite right. That's probably because incumbent director John Woo wanted to make a statement. This is not a Tom Cruise film, this is a John Woo film.
With the associated whiz, bang, wallop approach that Woo brings, M:I-2 is such a departure from the original, but if you've seen any other films from China's favourite son, like 1993's Hard Target or 1997's Face/Off, then you sort of know what you are signing up for. Still, it comes as quite a shock.
M:I-2 is, of course, a very visual, high impact affair that doesn't hold back. It's loud, bold and full on. The fight scenes are very slick and highly choreographed, incorporating
smidgens of gymnastics, ballet and of course martial arts which are
predictably filmed in slow-mo from every angle apart from Tom Cruise's
armpit. The story itself isn't overly taxing, so anyone wanting an absorbing cerebral yarn may need to find something more stimulating.
The set-up sees Ethan Hunt (Cruise) recalled from vacation for a dangerous mission which is almost impossible but not quite. Lets face it, impossible is just a word that in Hollywood means incredibly difficult yet ultimately doable, because otherwise there wouldn't have even been a sequel.
So what lies ahead in this impossible task? Well, there's a dodgy scientist, a deadly virus on sale to the highest bidder (because we've not seen that before), a rogue former IMF agent (Sean Ambrose played by Dougray Scott) and the stunning Thandie Newton dangling off Mr Cruise's rippled bod.
The scientist injects himself with the deadly virus, known as Chimera, and flies off to meet his contact. Here's where it gets very weird. The contact is Ethan Hunt, except he's now known as Demetri. But Demetri/Hunt/Cruise is really Sean Ambrose/Dougray Scott wearing one of Mission: Impossible's trademark masks. Still with me?
Anyway, Hunt has been instructed to snuggle up to Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Newton), and it turns out that she used to be Ambrose's former girlfriend. IMF head honcho Anthony Hopkins (appearing here in an expensive cameo. Maybe he needed a new holiday home?) tells the smitten Hunt that his conquest is to be used as bait to apprehend Ambrose and the Chimera. Tom's not exactly chuffed at the prospect of another spy dipping his doughnuts in the sugar bowl, so you begin to wonder, will he will comply?
Hell, of course he does!
Ambrose and Hunt collide towards the end of the film in a lengthy showdown on a beach. Hunt the hero also has to contemplate the plight of the wackily named Nordoff-Hall, who has injected herself with Chimera to prevent Ambrose's flogging it on Ebay. This means that Hunt only has to find the lair, kill all the bad guys, get the Chimera and find an antidote for the girl before the sweat on his brow disappears. Mission: Incredibly Difficult Yet Ultimately Doable.
Cruise, as ever, is engaging and full of beans, working flat out to make the whole thing a success. He fails, but it's not down to anything he does or doesn't do, the failure is in its direction and as a concept. Now I'm not saying that this film is dreadful, it has many plus points including its pace and energy, but it's not desperately original and tends to stick a toe into the cliche pond too often.
Sure there are bikes, cars, copters, flying kicks and high kicks, we get to see Hunt diving through security vents and all the usual hi-tech wizardry, but it's all crammed in to an already busy sandwich, leaving it feeling overstuffed.
Despite my complaints, I'm happy to occasionally view M:I-2 as part of the franchise but I do tend to drift off for the odd cuppa and choc-chip cookie, something that I don't tend to do with the others, especially M:I-3 which I really, really love, mainly due to the incredible presence and performance of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
As a sequel, M:I-2 is the epitome of the difficult second movie.
Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half
English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting
on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film
abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town
of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter