The first Mission: Impossible film delivered just about everything that should be expected of an oversized summer blockbuster: a charismatic cast, inspired and suspenseful direction from Brian DePalma, and brains. Maybe too much brains, as it turned out. A twisty plot made the film hard to follow for some, prompting complaints that it made no sense. It did, but the objections assured that any sequel would pare the story down to a simpler tale of good versus evil. Sensibly, this led to the involvement of director John Woo, who has made a career of spinning confrontations between good and evil into operatic action films. So why does it take 90 minutes before Mission: Impossible 2 becomes recognizable as anything but a standard big-budget action movie? The story moves quickly, but it takes a long time to get anywhere interesting. Tom Cruise returns as an oft-smirking top international spy, this time charged with retrieving a deadly virus stolen by Australian turncoat agent Dougray Scott. Caught between them is Thandie Newton, an international thief once involved with Scott but now charmed by Cruise. A substantial letdown from its predecessor, M:I2's story (by Star Trek vets Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore) and script (by a slumming Robert Towne) seem determined to return Mission: Impossible to its roots as a James Bond rip-off. It's also a disappointment coming from Woo, who used Broken Arrow and Face/Off to prove that his sensibility could be translated intact to American films. Only the action scenes bear his stamp—one even includes a conveniently placed throng of doves—but by the time they show up, context has robbed much of their impact. But not all: M:I2 at least ends well, with a final act that's packed with an assortment of Woo's signature action setpieces. Is it worth the price of admission? Probably not, but at least the film ends on a strong note. Still, a telling moment in the coda says everything about the blockbuster mentality, even in the post-Matrix era: When a character uses the word "expunge," he immediately makes it clear that "expunge" is synonymous with "erase." How helpful.
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