Mission: Impossible II


Mission: Impossible II

Tom Cruise knows how to define cool instead of being defined by it.

(2000) Action (Paramount) Tom Cruise, Dougray Scott, Thandie Newton, Anthony Hopkins, Ving Rhames, Richard Roxburgh, John Polson, Brendan Gleeson, Rade Serbedzija, William Mapother, Dominic Purcell, Matthew Wilkinson, Alison Araya. Directed by John Woo

 

It sounds like an unbeatable combo: Tom Cruise, whose revival of the revered television franchise was a big hit; terrific gadgets; and John Woo, who with apologies to Jan de Bont, Michael Bay and John McTiernan, is the best action director on the planet. Should you decide to accept it? Heck, yeah!

The plot is a bit of a lulu. Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, who is evidently back in the IMF after the recent unpleasantness is called upon to recruit Nyah (Newton), a beautiful thief to go after Chimera,a creation of an ex-Soviet molecular biologist which has been ripped off by a renegade IMF agent (Scott) who, as it happens, has a previous relationship with the thief and a grudge against Hunt.

Sounds simple enough but let’s face it, this isn’t Mission Simple it’s Mission Impossible right?. Ambrose, the renegade agent, is at least nearly as competent as Hunt and he has no compunction about using deadly force as does Hunt in this iteration. Nyah is the wild card whose allegiance is clearly to herself and whose motivations are murky at best.

Few directors are able to capture the poetry of movement as well as Woo, and the action scenes reflect that aesthetic. Woo stages some incredible action scenes, beginning with a mountain-climbing scene and building to a climactic motorcycle chase and fight. They are marvelously staged and worth every penny that you paid to rent or buy whichever version of it you have in your grubby little hands.

Now, the down side. Much less energy is put into the non-action scenes, and therefore some of the expository scenes drag. Hunt falls in love with the thief too quickly and for no apparent reason other than to make a plot complication the audience could do without. The writers also rely too much on the hoary plot device of disguising the actors as other actors. It seems like every ten minutes, someone is pulling off latex to reveal Hunt’s face or Ambrose’s face. Yes, we get that not everything is as it seems, guys. This is just pure laziness on the writers’ part, a device meant to move the plot along without really putting too much thought into it.

Cruise is surrounded by a capable cast, which is a good thing because he spends most of the movie trying to be emotionless (which translates onscreen as “wooden”). Scott makes a first-rate villain and for my money at the time seemed poised for stardom which to this point has never arrived. Newton is lustrous as the bad girl gone good (more or less) but does little more than point smoldering looks in Cruise’s general direction. Rhames returns from the first movie, but outside of one scene is given little to do beyond monitoring the computer and warning Hunt to be careful. Hopkins has a cameo as the acerbic head of the IMF; we could have done with more of him and less of the latex.

Still, given all the faults of the movie, it’s still a satisfying summer action thriller, full of great stunts, terrific gadgets and things that go boom. Even if you’re at home on a cold winter’s night, there’s nothing better than a big summer movie to take your mind off of things for two hours. This isn’t the best movie in the franchise and it’s a bit disappointing that Woo couldn’t make a better film, but the action sequences alone are worth checking this bad boy out.

WHY RENT THIS: Terrific action sequences. Hopkins is a treasure and Scott not a bad villain at all.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cruise surprisingly wooden here. Too much latex. Newton not the ideal leading lady.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of sexuality and a whole lot of violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: This was the first movie Metallica ever agreed to write a song for.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a music video of the aforementioned Metallica song, a couple of tributes to Cruise which seem oddly out of place here and an interesting look at the stunts with the film’s stunt co-ordinator.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $546.4M on a $125M prodution budget; the movie was a big hit.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Quantum of Solace

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Big Year

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life


Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Get your motor running?

(2003) Action (Paramount) Angelina Jolie, Gerard Butler, Ciaran Hinds, Til Schweiger, Djimon Hounsou, Noah Taylor, Christopher Barrie, Simon Yam, Terence Yin, Daniel Caltagirone, Fabiano Martell, Jonathan Coyne. Directed by Jan de Bont

 

Video games have had a terrible time translating into movies. Maybe because they lack that interactive factor that hooks gamers so thoroughly, or maybe it is because Hollywood doesn’t understand the gamer market. I think the most important factor is that most of the movies based on video games have been pretty bad.

The second installment of the video game franchise turned movie adaptation is pretty basic. An earthquake on Santorini, the remains of the legendary Thera volcano in Greece, unearths a temple that brings all sorts of treasure hunters eager to check it out, including Lara Croft (Jolie). After Lara discovers a mysterious golden orb in the ruin, it is immediately stolen by Chen Lo (Yam), a high-ranking Chinese triad leader who is working for bioterror merchant Jonathan Reiss (Hinds) who believes it to be a map to the location of the legendary Pandora’s Box.

Except that the Pandora’s Box is actually a terrible weapon, one capable of destroying all life on earth, yadda yadda yadda. Lara is approached by MI-6 to enlist her aid in getting back the trinket, and to do so, she needs the help of someone who has worked for the bad guy. Conveniently, Terry Sheridan (Butler), a former lover of hers who is rotting in a jail in Kazakhstan fits the bill. The two travel to Asia to retrieve the orb, which Croft cronies Bryce (Taylor) and Hillary (Barrie) discover is activated by musical notes.

Lara and Terry must infiltrate the rural hideout of Chen Lo and retrieve the Orb – but when they do, they discover it’s not there. They then have to head to Shanghai where they are too late to interrupt the exchange between Chen Lo’s flunkies and Reiss. Lara must steal it from the heart of the dragon, so to speak and this leads her to a break-up with Terry, whom she doesn’t fully trust. It also leads her to Africa, where her friend Kosa (Hounsou) will lead her to an ancient tribe of guardians. They warn of shadow guardians, creatures who live in the darkness that will pluck out of existence the unwary and those who would enter the Cradle of Life, where the Box rests. Unfortunately, it is there that Reiss will catch up with her and the fight for the future of the world will truly begin.

To this point, Angelina Jolie had always left me flat. While I would come to appreciate her in later films, when I saw this I not a member of her fan club. Re-watching the movie recently didn’t change my opinion – you don’t get a sense that she really cared much about this film or this character. I felt this was more of a paycheck than a performance and maybe it’s a good thing that the film franchise died here, although a reboot of it is currently in the works.

Of course there are the special effects, which are considerable. The Shadow Guardians scene is particularly well-executed, and the Cradle of Life environment is vertigo-inducing in a good way. And, the rest of the cast is pretty nifty. Hinds makes an outstanding bad guy, and Butler is a riveting romantic lead, a bad guy with a heart of slightly tarnished gold. Hounsou is fine as an African guide, and holdovers ¬†Barrie and Taylor from the first film are woefully under-utilized as Lara’s violent butler and resident computer genius.

I want to like this movie more than I do. When I watched it I was suitably entertained, and will probably wind up purchasing it. There are flaws, but director Jan De Bont overcomes a lot of them by keeping the action non-stop, something the man who gave us Speed understands very well. Although I find Jolie not my personal cup of tea, I have to admit she looks the part and she handles her stunts rather well. However, there’s a difference between expressing self-confidence and smirking and the latter is very unattractive.

WHY RENT THIS: Nifty special effects and action sequences. Butler, in his first major role, is roguishly charming.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Jolie may look the part but lacks heart. The plot is a bit banal.

FAMILY MATTERS: There is a goodly amount of violence, a few mildly bad words here and there and some fairly intense making out.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Jolie is the only actor in the film who was American-born.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There are a couple of music videos and Gerard Butler’s screen test.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $156.5M on a $95 production budget; the film lost money during its theatrical run.

COMPARISON SHOPPING:King Solomon’s Mines

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Brave