Mission: Impossible II ★★★★

Shit, y'all, I kinda loved MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2??

It's by far the most maligned of the series, and indeed, I remember hating it both when it came out, and when I revisited it years later. But it kinda rocks?!?

Like, it's deeply stupid. Deeply. The plot is astonishingly basic, so basic the screenplay lampshades this fact in dialogue:

HUNT
I think Nekhorovich created a monster virus in Chimera. And you need an antivirus to kill it called Bellerophon.

LUTHOR
That simple, huh?

ETHAN
Why not?

Story credit goes to Ronald D. Moore and Brandon Braga, best known for their work on STAR TREK and, for Moore, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. The screenplay is by Robert Towne, who also worked on the first MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film but is probably best known for writing CHINATOWN. Towne's suggested that he had to write his script around several action sequences which had already been designed when he came on board, which ... isn't that surprising. The film's not concerned with the usual MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE spy shit. It's concerned with being a vehicle for awesome John Woo action shit.

And it's very very good at that. The first half of the film is pretty light on action (unless you count Ethan and Nyah's car chase courtship or Tom Cruise's vanity mountain climb, shades of Shatner and STAR TREK V), but Cruise, Newton, and Scott are all charismatic enough, and Woo's staging imaginative enough, to carry us through. We get some typical villain monologuing from Scott, and even a shade of that ole MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE teamwork razzle dazzle in the sequence at the horse track.

The film really picks up in the second half, though, with action sequence after action sequence stacked atop one another, driving the film towards its insane motocycle joust and fistfight on the beach. Some of it is truly ludicrous (did Ethan BRING one of those face-mask printers with him to the bunker fight, or did he just think ahead and print a copy of his own face to bring along, just in case?), but it's incredibly well-staged and deftly entertaining the entire time. Woo's strengths really shine here.

The gender politics remain Not Great; Nyah is recruited not for her (badass) skills as a master theif, but for her role as the villain's ex-girfriend. And while Thandie Newton will never be a shrinking violet, and some of the film's most electrifying moments come courtesy her performance, this film badly misuses her. Plus, I'm not 100% sure we needed the line from Anthony Hopkins about how she's a woman, going to bed with a man and lying to him is what she's born for.

Oh yeah, Anthony Hopkins is in this! Along with Brendan Gleeson, which I was not expecting.

Is it a great MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE film? Eh. I like my M:I movies to be a little more complex, a little more cerebral, and a little more globe-trotting (M:I-2 spends most of its time in one city, Sydney). Is it a hell of a fun action film, though? Oh my, yes. If you've heard bad things, or (like me) you rejected it previously, give this one another chance. It might surprise you.