Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion) – Mission: Impossible 2

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)

The mission, which I have chosen to accept is to review the Mission: Impossible franchise. A sixth installment, Mission: Impossible- Fallout opens at the end of this month. With that in mind, I’ll examine this franchise that has spanned 22 years and six Missions. This time around, I look at the oddest entry in the franchise and the one that kicked it off. Let’s crack open the IMF file on Mission: Impossible 2!

As I mentioned in this column’s previous installment, I discovered the original Mission: Impossible (1996) when it came out on VHS. I rented it for my birthday and fell in love with the movie. I watched it twice in a row the night I initially watched it; which puts Mission: Impossible among a limited number of titles in my movie-watching history. Mere weeks later, my mom bought Mission for me when I “Won a bet,” which I’d wagered. That being that I could get a strike in bowling and indeed I did. Once I had the film on home video, I watched it repeatedly. Thus, by the time Mission: Impossible 2 finally came out in 2000, I was ecstatic.

At the time, four years seemed like an interminable amount of time off between movies. And no doubt, the sequel would have happened sooner had it not been for star Tom Cruise (American Made). After completing the original Mission, Cruise entered one of the interesting phases of his career. The actor and his wife at the time, actress Nicole Kidman (Big Little Lies) worked with Stanley Kubrick on the erotic-drama, Eyes Wide Shut. The film which went far over-schedule that still holds the record for the most extended production/shooting period in movie history at 400 days. During the production of Eyes Wide Shut, writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson (The Phantom Thread) visited the set and convinced Cruise to come headline his ensemble piece, Magnolia (2000).
Thus, the actor played in two dark dramas back-to-to-back. Neither of which audiences were very receptive to at the time. Though, it should be noted that Cruise was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Magnolia. As such one of the many creative trends of the Mission: Impossible would occur for the first time. That being, everytime Cruise needs a hit and furthermore needs to connect with the audience, he goes on another Impossible mission.
As is this franchise’s way, a new Mission means a new team. Although Paramount Pictures and Cruise were contractually obligated to offer M:i director Brian De Palma, who quickly turned down the opportunity. Once they were allowed to seek a new director, Oliver Stone, who had collaborated with Cruise on Born on the Fourth of July (1989) was brought on-board to helm the sequel. Alas, that deal was made while Cruise was still working on EWS; which as mentioned ran long in production. As a result, Stone left the project.
The third time was the charm however as Cruise then approached renowned action film director John Woo (Manhunt). The director had gained acclaim directing ultra-violent Hong-Kong action flicks such as A Better Tomorrow (1986); The Killer (1989); and Hard Boiled (1992). In making these pictures, Woo created a sort of artistic depiction of violence; mainly by utilizing slow-motion cinematography. As such, Woo’s style was dubbed “Bullet ballet” and “Gun-Fu.” By the mid-90s, the director had been recruited by major American movie studios to helm action pictures. Woo’s first American film was the cheesy Jean-Claude Van Damme cheese-fest Hard Target (1993) for Universal Pictures. Following that, Woo pulled double duty with Broken Arrow (1997) and Paramount’s Summer-tentpole Face/Off (1997). Cruise was looking to inject more action into M:i-2 than was present in its predecessor;  therefore, Woo was a logical choice.

Other new blood was brought in with TV writers Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica) and Brannon Braga (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 24) were brought in to break a story for the sequel. A new story with one objective in mind;  make the narrative less-complex and more action-oriented. Following that co-screenwriter of Mission: Impossible, Robert Towne expanded the following story into a screenplay:
It’s spy versus spy when Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) goes on a mission to stop rogue IMF agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) from spreading an epidemic. Having impersonated our hero, Ambrose is now in possession of a virus called Chimera. This virus, developed by a pharmaceutical company is capable of infecting and killing an individual within 20 hours of exposure. Now, Ethan must recruit Ambrose’s former flame and professional thief, Nyah Nordhoff-Hall (Thandie Newton) to infiltrate his criminal organization under false pretenses to get a lead on Chimera and its antidote, Boulariphone. With his team (which includes again includes Luther Strickell, played by Ving Rhames) assembled, Ethan Hunt is in a race against the clock to stop a 21st-century plague.
While this storyline is entirely serviceable; it utterly lacks in suspense. Frankly, espionage and the uncertainty that can be derived from it are primarily put aside here. As was the objective Mission: Impossible 2 those genre elements are replaced with those an action film, featuring spies; as opposed to the inverse with its predecessor. Of course, there are a couple of significant action set pieces in this film as well. Except this time around, they don’t stand out as with the previous entry. Instead there squeezed into the barrage of gun-fights and motorcycle chases, and martial-arts fights that drive this picture. And all of the action is expertly directed by Woo; albeit, in an overly dramatic fashion.

Sadly though, I find Woo’s direction is exceptionally lacking in other areas. Sure, Woo knows how to deliver a narrative competently; but has always fallen short in his direction of actors. Tom Cruise and Thandie Newton, who had co-starred in Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles (1994), provide decent enough performances. Alas, even some of their line deliveries are bad. On the other hand, Dougray Scott’s turn as Ambrose, while fun to watch is entirely over-the-top. To the point where it’s so bad, it’s almost good. The only star to come out of this Mission unscathed is Ving Rhames (Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2). But again, I feel that the problematic acting here is mainly a result of John Woo’s direction.

Despite Woo being a talented technical director, production on M:i-2 went over budget and over-schedule. As a result, Dougray Scott who was signed to play Wolverine in X-Men (2000) had to bow-out the comic book adaptation. Thereby, allowing Hugh Jackman (Logan) to go berserker as Wolvie for the 17 years that followed. So whatever my gripes with the film in review, I’d like to thank Woo for causing this change in the tide of comic book movie history. For if Scott’s work on this picture is any indication, he could not have adequately served as the focal point of the long-running X-Men franchise. On a related note, M:i-2 also caused casting changes to the big-screen adaptation of Charlie’s Angels (2000). You see, Thandie Newton (Solo: A Star Wars Story) had initially been cast as one of the titular Angels. However, as with her co-star, she had to back out of the film due to Impossible 2’s long shoot.
When Mission: Impossible 2 came out, it was my favorite movie of 2000. Heck, even looking back on it, the flick is probably still my favorite of that yesteryear above. General audiences took to as well as it went on to be the highest grossing release of 00’. And, all these years later, M:i-2 is still a highly entertaining and well-made picture. Not to mention, a nice, little time capsule of blockbuster movies in the early aughts.
However, while I think it’s a pretty good film; M:i-2 falls into the category of a borderline guilty pleasure. The film possesses the problems I mentioned early, as well as just having some inherent story issues. Put simply; this flick is an action film that has a romantic subplot running through it. All the while, the fact that M:i-2 is also a spy film, merely gets pushed to the background. Such is a result this sequel ultimately being a piece reactionary cinema. In other words, Cruise and the producers took all of the audience’s complaints about the first film lacking in action and being overly-complex and attempted to rectify them. While there’s nothing wrong that impulse, I feel it caused this film to lose focus on what it is, an espionage film with action, not vice-versa.
As I said, I ultimately do like M:i-2. However, for this column, I have to look at how this installment fits into the rest of the franchise of which it is a part. For that reason, as much as it hurts me to say so, I declare Mission: Impossible 2 to be a Franchise Implosion! This sequel is a prime example of a franchise trying to build upon its original foundation and stumbling. I almost gave the movie an Expansion because it attempted to be different than its predecessor as opposed to an imitation. In the end, though, I just could not. If this entry is your favorite, don’t be mad; I get that! In truth, I still have a soft-spot for M:i-2, it just may be the weakest part of a whole regarding the franchise itself.

Will the next Mission do the seemingly Impossible of getting this franchise back in the spy game? Join me shortly when I review MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE III!

%d bloggers like this: