Mission: Impossible Fallout, the sixth movie in the franchise, comes out next week, and it’s getting rave reviews so far. Apparently it’s really good! It’s a perfect opportunity to reflect upon the second Mission: Impossible movie, which is special for being pretty much the only one in the franchise to be considered objectively, unquestionably awful.
That was when it came out in 2000, and I can tell you it hasn’t aged well.
(Welcome back to Jalopnik Movie Club, where we take a look at cars in movies and movies about cars, and you write in with all of your hot takes. This week, we’re reviewing John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2, a movie where every gunshot sounds like the birth of a new star, multiple people voluntarily endanger the lives of millions of people by injecting themselves with a virus, and two dudes joust on motorcycles.)
The first Mission: Impossible movie was a landmark in Tom Cruise’s acting career, as it was the first he made under his own Cruise Wagner production company. He wanted a serious action franchise to solidify his status as a movie star and to become even richer, or something, so he hired Scarface and The Untouchables director Brian DePalma to make a spy movie intentionally devoid of gunfights and car chases. Sure, there’s some good action at the end—and one very iconic theft scene—but the first Mission: Impossible is mostly about deception, double-crossing and betrayal.
I really like that movie. But many people hate it for its complex plot, or how it turns Jim Phelps, the beloved hero from the original TV series, into the main villain.
So when it came to making a sequel in a post-Matrix movie landscape, the answer was clear: kicking, kicking and more kicking. Also a soundtrack by Limp Bizkit and Metallica.
There’s a reason my editors at Jalopnik don’t like talking about the early 2000s.
Cruise brought in famed Hong Kong action director John Woo and made a movie with an even weirder plot, but this time it went super heavy on the fights, gunplay and car chases. It’s a wildly different movie from the first one. And people didn’t really seem to love that either!
Regardless of the mixed reviews, Mission: Impossible 2 was the highest grossing movie worldwide of 2000, so dreams do come true, I guess.
Anyway, MI:2 stars Cruise returning as Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt, who is tasked with running down a rogue IMF agent named Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), who got his hands on a biological weapon called the Chimera, named for the creature of Greek mythology.
He enlists the help of world-class thief and Ambrose’s ex Nyah, played by Thandie Newton (now of Westworld fame), who goes undercover but is quickly found out, held hostage and then rather dramatically thrown under the bus.
If the first Mission: Impossible was overcomplicated and boring, the second swung too far in the opposite direction to compensate. Its basic plot is the good guys trying to stop the bad guys with a bioweapon, and the only real twists and turns are either when someone rips off a mask or when someone injects themselves with the bad juice. But Woo brings the style and the heat with the action sequences, and it reduces the viewer down to their childhood instincts of entertainment. Also a lot of doves flying over explosions, because irony hadn’t been invented yet.
Just describing the action satisfies how over-the-top the movie gets. Ethan chases down Nyah in a car chase involving a Porsche 996 911 and an Audi TT, with the cars getting locked together in a “dancing” spin that leaves Nyah hanging on my an open door over a cliff face. Ethan saves her and they immediately fall in love, eventually developing into a gross and tired love triangle between good and bad.
Then, Ethan breaks into the facility where the bioweapon and its antivirus are stored, which is essentially entire made of glass. But the bad guy knows he’s going to be there, so Ambrose brings Nyah and there’s a big shootout, throughout which both Ambrose and Ethan take turns monologuing. The gunshots sound like masses of metal crashing into each other, and giant plumes of fire shoot from the gunbarrels while glass flies everywhere.
Then Nyah picks up the last remaining injection of the virus and shoots it into her arm, and Ethan jumps out of the side of the building in slow motion.
The final action scene has Ethan invading Ambrose’s island compound to interrupt the sale of the virus by fighting dudes while doves fly around in slow motion, then blowing up the door, then beating up Ambrose’s bodyguard and putting an Ethan Hunt mask on him so that Ambrose kills him while Ethan sneaks in and steals the virus. And then they all go outside and get in cars to chase Ethan down on a motorcycle.
After Ethan blows up every single car by shooting its gas tank, Ambrose shows up also on a motorcycle. They end up on a beach and Ethan and Ambrose play a game of chicken. They go flying into the air on their motorcycles and their bodies collide. AND THEN THEY DO A KARATE FIGHT TO THE DEATH IN SLOW MOTION.
It’s like a 12 year-old’s fever dream version of a spy movie, after eating half a cake and a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. I know this because I was that 12 year-old once.
But this movie was never supposed to be a high-brow intellectual thriller. You bring John Woo onto your movie because you want overstylized action, explosions big enough to distract from Tom Cruise’s misaligned teeth, stunt people doing flips for no apparent reason, car chases that end in motorcycle jousting on the beach, and doves.
Mission: Impossible 2 is very much more in the vein of Tony Scott and Michael Bay movies; a genre of what I suppose you could call vanity violence. It cuts out all of the bullshit that gets in the way of looking cool and sounding badass.
I grew up loving this movie and I still love it, though I will readily admit it’s not, like, good. I believe that inside everyone there’s a part of them that wants to grow their hair out, wear cool plastic sunglasses and a leather jacket, and run around in slow motion through a shower of sparks and a flock of birds while saying something like, “I’m coming back for you” before jumping out of a building.
If you don’t fantasize about that, you’re the problem, not the movie.
That’s all from me, now let’s hear from those of you that emailed with your thoughts, opinions and hot takes about Mission: Impossible 2:
Loved MI2 on the big screen but insufferable to sit through today
Love makes us do all sorts of weird things but I just can’t get behind the whole premise of a spy movie’s tension being the undying and instant love Ethan Hunt has with doe-eyed thief turned good girl Nyah Nordoff-Hall. In retrospect, my opinion on MI2 (and I guess all movies in general) is a reflection on me, the viewer, so there’s that.
Real talk, my grade school crush looked a lot like Nyah. Naturally, I became Ethan Hunt the entire two hours. That’s probably why I have fond memories of MI2.
But looking back today, boy was this Ethan Hunt such a softie compared to the first Mission Impossible.
We have this super long and hilarious back and forth in a bathtub in the beginning than an equally as long love scene which I’m quite stumped why it’s taking so long. Oh, the director’s making us see the love happen. OK.
But my Hunt, influenced by the first MI, is a badass who can separate romance and work. Not the case in MI2 with multiple scenes of Hunt and Hall locking eyes in some sort of lovers connection. Barf.
I suppose the plot wouldn’t have played out the way it did if Hunt didn’t connect with Nyah like that and a love triangle of this nature is a movie trope as old as time but did they have to lay it on so thick?
In this movie we see the following: Flamenco dancing, horse racing, and some sheep.
Mission Impossible II, the 2 Fast 2 Furious of the MI saga. The boisterous cash in of the success of the original film with cheap twists, greater impossible missions, and a love triangle! What really got me was the amount of close up shots of facial expressions. I burst out laughing when it panned into Sean watching Nyah undress, and they continue throughout the film and in such odd segments it appears unnatural. This was the alternative to the Bronson Bond era and really only provided to the slump of silly spy movies of the late ’90 and early ‘00.
The vehicle scenes in this film suffer as a result. The vehicular battle between Nyah in the Audi TT and Ethan in the Porsche 996 starts out interestingly enough with a bash fest but why? WHY is the Cabriolet a Tiptronic? Come on, what super spy would have gone for that gearbox? And then there’s the tandem spin save… It just comes off as corny with this weird slow motion connection whilst in the spin.
However, the biggest goof comes with the motorcycle chase scene. The motorcycle in question is a Triumph Speed Triple with a 955cc engine. It’s a street fighter litre bike from around the turn of the millennium. The only way that sedan and SUV were able to even see that bike was the magic of movie because even here, 18 years later, that machine is no joke. Then there’s the issue of the bikes doing jumps, being off road and in the sand, it’s doable but certainly not on those tires and at that speed (and in a cut they switch to knobbies on the beach).
Pedantically, when Ethan backs it into [slides into] the abandoned car, they goof make it seem like he changes into first with his right foot (with click SFX). If you have never ridden a motorcycle: riders left appendages do the shifting (clutch is left hand lever, shifter set is left foot), riders’ right appendages do the stopping and going (front brake is right hand lever, rear brake is right foot lever, right grip is accelerator). The bike was already stopped, there’s no reason for him to stomp the rear brake. At least they had them shooting with the left hands.
Movie: C+ I remember this coming up on the local station movie night many many times. And there’s definitely a reason for that. It’s a rather generic spy action film of the Y2K.
Car Movie: C Really there aren’t too many car scenes as this focuses on going toe to toe with Bond. The ones that are emphasized play out to the tone of reverie.
And that wraps it up for this week’s Jalopnik Movie Club review! Thank you to everyone who wrote in with their takes, which I encourage you all to do for next week!
Speaking of next week, we’ll be reviewing 1976's The Gumball Rally, so be sure to get it watched and collect your thoughts, and write in with your opinions and hot takes to justin at jalopnik dot com.
In the meantime, sound off below about the good and bad of Mission: Impossible 2, and all of its post-Matrix, pre-9/11 carefree violence, and see you all next week!