By Dark Lord Xenu's hammer, Judge Ryan Keefer still enjoys this sequel many moons after it first came out!
Our reviews of Mission: Impossible II (published November 28th, 2000), Mission: Impossible 2 (HD DVD) (published May 22nd, 2007), and Mission: Impossible Trilogy (Blu-ray) (published December 15th, 2011) are also available.
"Mr. Hunt, this isn't mission difficult, it's mission impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park for you."
As part of the Mission: Impossible trilogy, 2000's sequel to the 1996 blockbuster hit was highly anticipated. That, combined with a director of Hong Kong action in John Woo, MI: 2 took in over $200 million, thus cementing a third film and propelling its star Tom Cruise further into the stratosphere. So in the world of next-generation audio and video, is it worth the upgrade?
Facts of the Case
From a story by Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), which was polished up by legendary writer Robert Towne (Chinatown) and directed by John Woo (Face/Off), the film picks up with the midair hijacking and destruction of an airplane. Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is summoned from his vacation to address who is responsible for the plane crash. It turns out the perpetrator of the crash in Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott, Ripley's Game), an exiled IMF agent who is attempting to acquire an airborne virus in order to set it loose on the people of Australia.
So Ethan gets the band back together again. Or more exactly, Luther (Ving Rhames, Pulp Fiction), an Aussie pilot named Billy (John Polson, Sirens) and Nyah (Thandie Newton, Crash), who may be a criminal herself, but she sidles up to Sean with the intention of finding out what he's doing and what he knows so far. And from there, let the explosions, gunfire and automobile stunts rip!
Personally, I don't remember that much about the year 2000, other than I cried a lot when Conan O'Brien did his "In the Year 2000" bit. And while I don't remember that much about Mission: Impossible II or if there was an expensive marketing tie-in with the movie, I was surprised to see it placed third for the year when it came to box office success (Cast Away and Jim Carrey's How the Grinch Stole Christmas were numbers two and one, respectively. I'm ashamed of you people!).
However, I do remember when I first saw this film in theaters; I really enjoyed it, and I still do now. It's not for Cruise and company's acting. It's that the film was, and remains, the best and purest American translation of Woo's directorial and creative skills. Slow motion stunts with tight shots on the characters? Check. Enya-like ambient music to accompany other stunt sequences? Check. White doves during hand-to-hand fighting scenes? Yep, got that too. But most important, as far as MI: 2 goes, is that you've got characters in an action film you actually care about.
And this film also lets the stunts and action take on a life of their own, dictating the pace and emotion of the film. That's why you find yourself caring for the characters a little bit more than usual—because quite frankly, the reciting of the wooden dialogue was a little disappointing and downright clichéd, even for an action film. The scenes between Ethan and Nyah are silly to a point from time to time as well. There's a scene where they are involved in a car chase with each other, and basically she crumbles into his arms in her car, which oh by the way, is dangling precipitously from a mountainside. Puh-lease.
From a technical point of view, I essentially wet my pants when talking about the next-generation version of Mission: Impossible III when it came out in October 2006, and was looking forward to similar high expectations now that Paramount has made the wise decision to break up the boxed set of all three films for individual sale. The 1080p MPEG-2 encoded transfer looks good, a definite difference in quality between this one and the third one, but there are times where the image looks a little bit dull. The levels of black in the film are excellent and the tight, close up shots have a lot of detail with the film grain present throughout, and worth the investment. The Dolby Digital soundtrack is the bigger disappointment. Where there might be a fair amount of low end fidelity (and there is), it's dominant in spots where it doesn't need to be. HD DVD buyers have the option of getting a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, which isn't available for Blu-ray purchasers.
The extras are all carried over from the standard definition of the version, save for some DVD-ROM material (and the Ben Stiller parody isn't on here, as far as I could find). Woo contributes a commentary to the film that is quite engaging. He discusses what he tried to do in this installment of the franchise, and he also talks about working with Cruise as the star and producer. He was involved quite a bit in the production, discussing the casting choices (Ian MacKellen was the first choice for Swanbeck until Anthony Hopkins stepped in), locations and other aspects of the shoot. He does manage to trail off about a quarter of the way in, but it's a nice track. "Behind the Mission" is composed of the usual making of interview footage with the cast and crew as they shared their thoughts on the film at the time of its theatrical release. "Mission Incredible" is five minutes that is really nothing more than an appreciation of Woo's work in the film, while "Impossible Shots" is a half hour breakdown of some of the stunt sequences in the film, with Woo's thoughts and recollections accompanied by the stunt crew's. The Metallica song "I Disappear" was a song from the film, and its video is here, along with an alternate title sequence that went unused for the film. "Excellence in Film" is a fairly recent highlight film of Cruise's work in which he was given some sort of Lifetime Achievement (or whatever achievement you can give someone in his 40s), while "Generation: Cruise" is a similar tribute that was done at the MTV Movie Awards, and both of these tribute films were done in 2005.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The suspension of disbelief continues when the rubber masks conceal the identity of Cruise in one crucial scene, not to mention another where Sean finds out the truth about Nyah's true loyalties. Never mind that Cruise is two or three feet shorter than anyone he's trying to impersonate, because that would make too much sense.
At the end of the day, I'm not entirely sure what to think about this next generation release. On one hand, most of the extras are recycled from the other films' material, but the audio and video quality are improved enough to pick it up, even if it doesn't sound quite like its successor. Since Paramount made the wise decision to break up the trilogy into standalone titles, the choice is yours.
The court finds for the sake of the next generation upgrade, with the caveat that Paramount pay more attention to their extra material for any future double dipping. This review will self destruct in five seconds.
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