Guilty Pleasures: Mission Impossible 2

MI 2 2

Apart from a few familiar tropes of both the spy genre as influenced by the James Bond series (infiltrating glamorous Ferrero Roche-laden ambassador’s receptions with a slinkily dressed lovely in disguise) and obvious hangovers from its TV origins (the masks, tech, baffling diversions) the Mission Impossible series of films could not be more different from each other.

There is for instance the chilly post-cold war paranoia and betrayal of Brian De Palma’s opening installment, where the opening credits introducing the IMF team in action a la TV “here’s this week’s episode” style gives no clue as to their systematic slaughter that’s about to follow. Hero of the series, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) and de facto father figure to gauche leader in waiting Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is revealed to be (spoiler!) a mole and traitor. Apart from a few impressive stunts, such as Cruise’s ever memorable suspension from the ceiling of the sealed and alarmed Langley computer room, suspense is this film’s operating motor (suspense, literally and figuratively in the aforementioned scene).

From thereon, the stunts got bigger and wilder, from climbing the tallest building in the world in Dubai in part three, to clinging to the side of a transport plane through take-off and flight in the upcoming Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, all performed by Cruise himself. Each helmer also brought their own unique spin to the franchise. Even more so than James Bond, Ethan Hunt is an empty vessel, with no inner life. All we really know about him (despite attempts to humanise him in part three by giving him a fiancee, expanding his repartee with other IMF team members) is that he is a professional. Highly skilled, dedicated to the point of insanity. One suspects he gets a huge kick out of his job, and feels no-one else can do what he does. After all, as his boss in MI:2, Anthony Hopkins quips, “this isn’t mission difficult, it’s mission impossible. “Difficult” should be a walk in the park for you.”

Robert Towne (Chinatown) was retained from the original film on scripting duties. He worked around action set pieces pre-conceived by Hong Kong gun-fu specialist John Woo, directing. The plot basically takes the template of Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) – the hero in both films falls for the heroine, (in this case thief Nyah (Thandie Newton) who he is ordered by his superior to send back into the arms of a dangerous ex-lover to spy on his nefarious plans. There’s an interesting analysis /comparison at Rope Of Silicon. Woo and Cruise craft a mash-up of sensual romantic adventure with an extreme sports model – MI:2 is surely the fetishistic Top Gear of action movies.

From Cruise’s actual proper introduction (we first see the villain, Dougray Scott, the poor man’s Sean Bean, as Sean Ambrose, disguised as Hunt), the film seems to be saying to us, yes, this is ridiculous, but it’s exciting, jump aboard. Cruise is shown in giddily vertiginous wide shot, then slow glide helicopter close-up, apparently free climbing the desert cliffs of Utah’s Dead Horse Point. That’s really him, his only safety a single cable harness, removed in post production. The only stunt stand in is when Hunt slips and drops, clinging on with one hand.

When the vacationing Hunt receives his briefing via special sunglasses atop the cliff and they are about to destruct as per usual, he tosses them directly towards the camera, whereupon they fizzle into the opening fuse credits. This is the second time he breaks the fourth wall, looking straight at the camera (previously, when suspended between two points, cruciform style, a Woo trademark, apparently). You thought that was crazy? he seems to say. Wait’ll you see what’s coming up next.

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After Hunt scopes Nyah at a party in Seville (all slo-mo flamenco and whipping hair, swooshing sound, eyes locking across the floor, bathed in shades of burnt ochre and scarlet) Woo stages seduction as a full throttle dance. Spanish guitar and stamping feet are its soundtrack, their sports cars mashing atop a cliff top road, spinning in a circle of dust and, yes, more whipping hair, surely this film’s trademark. Eyes lock again, before Hunt saves Nyah from her rockily perched vessel, then they dissolve to post-coitus conversation. You might say they were car-nally satisfied.

Even the meat and potatoes action is sensually shot, Woo’s trademark slow motion and “one gun good, two guns better”. And doves. Lots of doves. Hunt’s combat style varies wildly from film to film. With Woo, how does he do? (sorry). A lot of jumping and kicking, spinning in the air, wrapping around villain’s heads, twisting and snapping. Why sneak up and punch out someone when you can run in fetishised wide-shot then straight past the camera, to drop kick to an avian accompaniment? Hunt even stages explosions to draw cronies away, whilst gliding past the smoking debris to smoulder, I mean glower at Ambrose (amazing they didn’t have a mano e mano fight with Ambrose wearing Hunt’s mask). Mind you, Cruise isn’t above poking fun at himself, even  if the camera makes as much love to him as any Hollywood starlet of the Golden age. “You know, that was the hardest part about having to portray you, grinning like an idiot every fifteen minutes,” Ambrose spits.

Woo and Cruise try to do their own Last Of The Mohicans moment when Nyah injects herself with the Chimera virus Hunt is trying to destroy, and Ambrose wants to recover, for financial gain. She has 20 hours before her insides are a puddle. Hunt has a chute, but at the height the lab is in the building, it’s never going to take them both. “Just stay alive,” he yells above the din of gunfire (Hawkeye had the sexier waterfall to contend with). “I’m not going to lose you.”

Then there is Ambrose and Hunts gladiatorial face-of from racing high powered motorbikes, to beach front tussle, overblown and ridiculous, sure, but I can’t help grinning .  The reveal of a handgun buried in sand that Hunt kicks up to grab, turn and fire?  And that’s really Cruise’s eyeball with a bloody great knife dangling millimetres above it.

When exactly was the point he insanely decided “I’m just going to go for it in action films”? It may be Woo’s foot on the throttle, but the film is in Cruise control all the way. No other star could do what he does, (and get away with it, walking back later from Sofagate to make fools of his critics). After all, it isn’t “Mission Difficult“. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to give MI:2, considered the runt of the litter, another chance.

 

 

 

 

 

Originally posted 2015-03-27 10:54:28. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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