Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Mission: Impossible 2 - Special Edition (2000)
Studio Line: Paramount Pictures - Expect the impossible again

The world's greatest spy returns in the movie event of the year, M:I-2. Top action director John Woo brings his own brand of excitement to the mission that finds Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) partnering up with the beautiful Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton) to stop renegade agent Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) from releasing a new kind of terror on an unsuspecting world. But before the mission is complete, they'll traverse the globe and have to choose between everything they love and everything they believe in.

Director: John Woo
Cast: Tom Cruise, Thandie Newton, Dougray Scott, Ving Rhames, William R. Mapother, Brendan Gleeson, Anthony Hopkins, John Polson, Rade Serbedzija
Box Office: Budget: $125 million. Opening Weekend: $70.816 million (3653 screens). Gross: $215.397 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround; subtitles English; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 17 chapters; rated PG-13; 123 min.; $29.99; street date 11/7/00.
Supplements: Audio Commentary from Director John Woo; 14-minute featurette "Behind the Mission"; 5-minute "Mission Incredible" Stunts Featurette; 34-minute "Impossible Shots" Feature; "I Disappear" Metallica Music Video; Alternate Title Sequence; "Mission Improbable" MTV Movie Awards Parody; DVD-ROM Features; Booklet.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists | Score soundtrack - Hans Zimmer | Poster

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A-/B-

My heart told me "yes", but the buzz said "no". That was the way things went prior to the May 2000 release of Mission: Impossible 2, Paramount's main entry in the summer box office sweepstakes. For months prior to that date, the advance word indicated the movie would be a joke. Rumors ran rampant that the film simply wouldn't be very coherent or exciting and that it would be a disaster.

Personally, I found that hard to believe, if just because of my faith in John Woo. Honestly, I'm not totally sure why I put so much stock in the guy, since I've found most of his movies (the ones I've seen, of course) pretty mediocre. Despite their great reputations, both Hard Boiled and The Killer did little for me, and Woo's first two American films, 1994's Hard Target and 1996's Broken Arrow were decent but inconsistent and flawed.

However, Woo's redeeming grace came from 1997's Face/Off. Now there was a movie with bad advance word, and I was one of those who felt certain it'd tank. Remember the trailer, the one in which Nicolas Cage's head spins and eventually turns into that of John Travolta? If that wasn't one of the all-time silly lead-ins, I don't know what was.

However, much to my surprise, Face/Off turned out to be an absolutely stunning piece of work. Despite the ludicrous nature of the plot, I was so enraptured by the film that I ignored all of its flaws and went with the beautiful flow. In fact, Face/Off was such a terrific movie that I even was able to overlook the fact the theater in which I saw it had a blown front left speaker; the audio dropped in and out from this channel. Since I'm awfully anal about these things, it should have driven me nuts, but I was so immersed in the movie that I barely noticed it.

That experience bought Woo all sorts of good faith with me, so I was determined to ignore all the nay-saying about M:I2. Were the early critics right? Yes and no. While M:I2 clearly wasn't a disaster as a film - and it cleaned up at the box office, with an eventual gross of about $215 million, which makes it the year's top attraction to date (as of Halloween 2000) - it never remotely approached the sublimely beautiful violence of Face/Off. M:I2 is a solid action flick, but not one that I found inspired or terribly memorable.

In this film, we again find Tom Cruise as superagent Ethan Hunt. It seems that one of the Impossible Mission Force's own men - Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) has gone to the dark side and Hunt needs to recruit Ambrose's ex-girlfriend Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton) to infiltrate his camp and discover the scoop. Inevitably, the two beautiful people fall for each other in that amazingly-quick-yet-still-soulfully-deep manner that seems to only exist in the movies, and the personal connection adds an element of danger to the mission.

The story proceeds along fairly predictable lines, but I'll leave out the details to avoid any potential spoilers. I did think the movie ventured into Scooby Doo territory too often, however, but I'll omit the specifics to keep any surprises intact. If my meaning isn't clear, you'll get it better after you've watched the film.

In any case, even with the Scooby Doo bits intact, M:I2 manages to offer a fairly entertaining and compelling experience, though I don't think it's a rousing success. When I first saw it and felt mildly disappointed, I believe this was related to my post-Face/Off expectations; even with all the doom-and-gloom predictions that surrounded the film, I still really thought it'd be something special. When I discovered that it was a good but not great piece of work, I felt let down due to the enormity of my own hopes.

As such, my second viewing - which came with this DVD - seemed to provide a more objective screening. However, my opinion didn't differ at all after this recent experience. The movie moves at an erratic pace; an awful lot of the first half is devoted to exposition that could likely have been pared down without any loss to the narrative. Despite all of that time spent on the characters and the plot, I still thought the participants appeared fairly ill-defined. As was also the case in the first Mission: Impossible from 1996, Hunt feels like a very nebulous and poorly-drawn character. There just doesn't seem to be much going on there, and we get few clues to his personality beyond vague action-hero clichés. Cruise makes a better tough-guy here than in the first film, but I still didn't find much about the character to seem compelling.

The same general malaise affects all of the roles. Newton is certainly gorgeous, and she displays moderate spunk at times, but we learn little about Hall other than a) she's a thief, and b) she used to bed down with Ambrose. Why'd she leave? Why was she with him in the first place? What's her sign? Can I get fries with that? All of these questions are unanswered, and the character remains vague.

Little more detail applies to Ambrose. Why'd he break off from the IMF? Apparently due to jealousy; he was always in Hunt's shadow and got sick of Ringo to Hunt's rest of the Beatles. (Yes, I stole that from an episode of The Simpsons.) Other than that, who knows? One would think the IMF big-wigs would have a tighter rein on their agents than to let one slip away like this, but hey, even MI6 lost 006 to the Russkies in GoldenEye, so I suppose anyone's susceptible. Despite these flaws, M:I2 does offer enough crackling action to make it worthwhile. Woo remains the master of choreographed mayhem, and the entire last act of the film is a tribute to his gifts. The climax actually occupies almost the whole second half of the movie; from the 67-minute mark when Hunt goes to enter BioCyte through the finale is almost non-stop action and tension. Woo manages to vary things considerably during that period so that we experience a wide variety of kinds of action and see a few neat twists. Yeah, the Scooby Doo thing interferes, but it's still a pretty thrilling and exciting series of sequences.

And that's really all that we need from a John Woo take on the Mission: Impossible franchise. I would have preferred some of the depth and quirkiness found in Face/Off, but films that great don't come along everyday. As it stands, M:I2 makes for a pretty solid action flick that I'm sure to check out a few more times. I may not be bowled over by the movie, but it remains better than average and probably stands as the best action film of 2000 (to date).

The DVD:

Mission: Impossible 2 appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As a recent, big-budget film, one might expect M:I2 to look great. One would expect correctly, as the movie presents an almost flawless image that shines from start to finish.

Sharpness did appear perfect. At no time could I discern the slightest hint of softness. No matter how wide the shot, no matter how small the element of the frame, it always seemed wonderfully crisp and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented virtually no concerns, but the artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV seemed a bit more extensive than usual. (Keep in mind that these are only an issue on 4X3 TVs without the "anamorphic squeeze" available on Sony WEGA sets and some other brands; anamorphic artifacts also would not be a concern on 16X9 TVs and they are very player-dependent, so you may not witness the same problems I found.) As for print flaws, I couldn't find any. M:I2 seemed completely devoid of scratches, grain, nicks, speckles, grit or any other defects.

Colors looked marvelously bright and bold. I found the hues to seem amazingly sumptuous and accurate throughout the film. From the brilliant reds of the costumes worn by the Spanish dancers to the heavenly ambers of sunsets to the myriad of tones witnessed in the jockey's uniforms, colors were extremely strong. They appeared perfectly clear with no signs of running, bleeding or noise; even red lighting - often a trouble spot for home video - was exceedingly smooth.

Black levels came across as deep and tight and contrast seemed excellent. Shadow detail appeared similarly terrific, as all low-light situations were perfectly discernible. One of the best examples of this trait came during the "burning of the saints" scene in Spain; the fire-light cast an effective glow and the image looked marvelously life-like. I came awfully close to awarding the picture of M:I2 an "A+" - it's just that terrific.

Also excellent was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of the film. To my modest surprise, the mix lacked a lot of really showy set pieces; it won't compete with the high-octane firepower of something like Saving Private Ryan or Twister. However, the track did provide a very engaging and encompassing mix which kept me quite involved in the film. Audio surrounded me effectively virtually throughout the movie, usually through various exaggerated swoops and bangs; for example, when we see dancers spin, their dresses "whoosh" around us. Woo loves that kind of hyper-realistic audio, and it was on display during most of M:I2. When the action did pick up in the action scenes, the track became even more aggressive and ballistic. Ultimately, the sound seemed effectively impressive and engulfing.

Audio quality appeared virtually flawless. Dialogue always sounded warm and natural, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were quite loud and bombastic, as Woo clearly intended. Many of the sounds were amplified far beyond normal limits, so that a small noise - like, say, a grenade as it rolls across the floor - reaches much more impressive and intimidating heights. Despite this tendency toward exaggeration, I found that no matter how loud the effects became, they remained very clean and accurate; I discerned no signs of distortion during the movie.

Surprisingly, the best aspect of the soundtrack stemmed from its music. The combination of Hans Zimmer's score and the various reworkings of Lalo Schifirin's title theme really made the film effective and helped pump the adrenaline. I expected the best part of the soundtrack to revolve around effects, but actually, my favorite scene combined music with effects into one killer package: when Hunt emerges from Ambrose's hideout and starts to take off, the score kicked in quite strongly and really amped up the whole package to a new level. The music displayed excellent clarity with some tight and deep bass. Added to a broad and rich soundfield, this means that M:I2 deserves a solid "A" for its audio.

M:I2 packs in a few supplemental features. First we find a running audio commentary from director John Woo. My biggest problem with this track? It suffers from many empty spaces; Woo can go for extended periods without remarks. However, when he speaks, he generally offers some pretty interesting information. He covers a variety of topics about M:I2 itself - from casting to effects to stunts to story - and he also mentions a lot of his thoughts about filmmaking in general. Happily, Woo devotes some time to discussions of his past, and even reveals why he started to use the double-gun technique that he made so popular! Due to all of the gaps, this can be a frustrating commentary, but Woo fans will definitely want to give it a listen.

The DVD includes a slew of video features, though some are of questionable value. "Behind the Mission" lasts 14 minutes and 28 seconds and provides a glossy overview of the film. We hear interview snippets from Woo, producer Paula Wagner, writer Robert Towne, and actors Cruise, Newton, Scott, John Polson and Ving Rhames; these clips are interspersed with a slew of movie scenes and a couple of shots from the set as well. For all intents and purposes, this is a promotional piece that provides little insight into the film. It's a well-executed program but the lack of detail makes it less than compelling.

Briefer but better is "Mission Incredible", a five minute and 12 second piece that discusses the film's stunts. In this program, we hear from Woo, Cruise, Wagner, Scott, Polson, climbing expert Ron Kauk, stunt coordinator Brian Smrz, first assistant director Arthur Anderson and second assistant director Joan Cunningham. (Wonder if she still loves Chachi?) Their comments are mixed with more film clips and additional shots from the set. The brevity of the featurette is its weakness, and it also suffers from some of the glossiness found in "Behind the Mission". Still, at least "MI" includes some interesting information, and it makes for a decent little hors d'oeuvre if you want to get just a taste of stunt facts.

For those who crave a more substantial meal, "Impossible Shots" is the place to go. In this section, we find 11 brief featurettes, each of which covers a different stunt. These range from the mountain climbing at the start of the film through the car chase, the break-in at BioCyte, and the climactic scenes. The featurettes range from one minute, 55 seconds to four minutes, 24 seconds and take up a total of 34 minutes and seven seconds.

Once again, these pieces bear a slick appearance that I didn't much like; at times they seemed more interested in looking cool than providing useful information. Nonetheless, I did learn a lot about the various stunts, and the programs conveyed these details in a fairly effective manner. I would have preferred to see more footage from the set and fewer "talking head" shots - Woo and Smrz receive a lot of face-time - but I still got decent insight as to how the work was done, and that's the most important part. M:I2 contains a lot of sequences that made me wonder how they were done, and I was happy to learn the specifics.

Many DVDs include music videos, and the vast majority of those clips are absolutely terrible. One exception, however, is Metallica's "I Disappear". I'm not a big fan of the band, and I don't think the song itself is one of their better tunes, but the four minute and 28 second video was a lot of fun. It combines the traditional lip-synching shots with a bunch in which band members are placed in various scenes of danger; none really echo M:I2 itself but they manage to evoke the spirit of the piece. Happily, actual movie clips are almost non-existent. It's not one of the all-time great music videos, but it's above-average and is a nice addition to the DVD.

Less compelling is an "Alternate Title Sequence". This 38-second snippet starts when the sunglasses explode and mainly shows the movie's title. It seemed only mildly different from the existing credits and wasn't very interesting. From the name of this extra, I thought it might be a different scene than the one used, but it's actually much more mundane.

Ben Stiller is a comedian who does work that seems more clever than funny, an idea supported through "Mission Improbable", a parody that aired during the 2000 MTV Music Awards. In this six and a half minute piece, Stiller plays Tom Crooze, Cruise's alleged long-time stand-in. Cruise himself and Woo also appear in the skit, which makes fun of the pathetic nature of wannabe Crooze. It has a couple of funny moments - especially when Woo delights in torturing Crooze - and Stiller does a decent Cruise imitation, but it wasn't something terribly funny.

As far as I can recall, no prior Paramount DVD has included a proper booklet. Technically, M:I2 doesn't alter that trend, but it comes a little closer to the addition of a true booklet instead of one of those cheap little title cards. M:I2 tosses in a four-page booklet, though all it does is announce the chapters and the various supplements. Well, at least it's a step in the right direction.

In addition to these extras, we find some DVD-ROM features. "Agent Dossiers" gives us a few screens each of details about Ethan Hunt (Cruise), Sean Ambrose (Scott), and Luther Stickell (Rhames). These are moderately interesting but lack enough depth to make them really worthwhile.

"Mission Locations" provides small details about each of six different locales in the film - most of which are in Australia - plus a general overview of three spots around Sydney. For example, "BioCyte" provides a 3-D model of the building plus some photos. Each of the areas includes the snapshots - there are 45 in all - and the other features are tailored for the locations. In Moab, Utah, we see some pictures from the location scout. All in all, this area adds some decent information in a fairly nice manner.

"Chimera Data" takes a look at the film's virus. We get an introduction text plus some close-ups of the Chimera/Bellerophon art seen in the film, the 37 second message from Nekhorvich in the movie, "DNA scan" of the disease and some "microscope images". The information doesn't tell us much more than we already learned from the film, but it's a nice summation of the data about this fictional virus.

"Tech Tools" provides a slightly closer view of 12 of the movie's gadgets. From the "briefing glasses" to the "transponder watch", we get a detail or two about each device and also see a few seconds of film footage that reminds us what exactly it was. It's another minor but mildly fun extra.

Lastly, the DVD-ROM section offers a link to the M:I2 website. I poked around this page for a while but found little of interest. Granted, it includes the movie's trailers, which are surprisingly absent from the DVD. Otherwise, it seemed a like very promotionally-oriented site that had little substance.

One last comment about the supplements: Paramount again prove themselves one of the more considerate studios through their attention to a variety of details. For one, they listed the exact running times of the various features, which is a big help to folks like me who want to be able to convey these numbers to you. I think the information is helpful for any DVD viewer, however, since you'll know up-front how much time you need to devote to a particular segment; for example, the term "featurette" can apply to a four-minute glorified trailer or a 45-minute documentary, so it's good to find out in advance the exact length of the program.

I also really appreciate the fact that Paramount almost always provide full subtitles for most of their supplements. In addition, they include French subtitles as well! Since only a few other studios ever bother with subtitles for the extras - Universal also do this pretty consistently - it's nice to see this additional effort.

Some may be disappointed with the overall package of Mission: Impossible 2, as it doesn't compare to more packed DVDs like Fight Club or The Perfect Storm. However, I thought the extras were generally decent and worth a look, and the movie itself was a fairly solid action flick. The DVD also provided absolutely stellar picture and sound. M:I2 isn't a great DVD, but it does everything fairly well, and it gets my recommendation.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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