Mission: Impossible 2 (2000): Beachball Bingo

The Cruise-a-thon continues, with Mission Impossible 2, the John Woo-directed CinemaScope-explosion of action-idiocy.

I remember liking this film quite a lot when it first came out, but I spent the first half of this rewatch inwardly sneering at the ludicrousness of the story and the ridiculous, over the top melodrama of every scene. And then at about the midpoint, during the complicated lab break-in set-piece, I realised: oh yes, it’s SUPPOSED to be like this. That’s the whole idea. It’s a Hong Kong action film from top to toe.

Tom Cruise plays Chow Yun Fat, the greatest action hero of the 1990s. Thandie Newton plays a character called, I think, ‘Boobs’. And Dougray Scott plays a bad guy called Sean who ought to be called Scot Bad, as he is a bad guy and also he is a Scot. (Okay, perhaps ‘Scot Bad’ is a little too on the nose. But if you’d told me his name in the script was ‘Scot Badscott’ I would have believed you.) The plot about lab-made viruses and a pharmaceutical company’s plans to sell an antidote reads like the Facebook rant of an anti vax campaigner who ‘did their own research’. (In fact I suspect half-remembered fragments of Mission: Impossible 2 are responsible for more Covid conspiracy theories than Paramount would like to acknowledge…)

Bikes and explosions

But the stunts and set pieces are tremendously entertaining once you let yourself settle into the crazy stupidity of it all.  Absurd motorbike jousting, crazy back-flip-kick-box-fights, an evil lair full of bottles of inflammable liquid, it has them all. Get in. The film has made a conscious decision to tie up plausibility, gag it and throw it out of a helicopter over a waterfall. It’s murdered early on in the film and stays dead for the rest of the run time.

There are a few wrong notes, most notably the camera’s constant leering at Thandie Newton, staring at her chest or down her top at every opportunity. She’s largely treated as an object for the whole film, either a maguffin or a bargaining chip or a walking disease vector or just some boobs. Once again it’s a mild surprise to see what was considered perfectly acceptable just a few years ago.

And I was sure until this rewatch that there was a scene in the film that sees Tom take off a mask to reveal he is someone else, and then take off THAT mask to reveal he actually IS Tom after all. Disappointingly this scene never happens. No wonder I thought it did, though, as it would have fit the tone of the film perfectly. What a missed opportunity. I might pitch ‘Mission Impossible: Head Like a Beachball’ next time I get the chance…