Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible II (2000)

Ali Gray,
Matt Looker,
Becky Suter,
Ed Williamson

18th July 2018

This doesn't really need an introduction. We're talking about all the Mission: Impossible movies. Online. It says so in the title. Just get on with it. Today on Discussion: Impossible: it's Mission: Impossible II! Before we start, I must insist you all open this window and have this music playing in the background to set the scene and take you back to a very specific, very terrible time and place.

Discussion: Impossible - Mission: Impossible (1996)
It's Tom Cruise... but with a cool new attitude that Generation X will love!

Ali: OH GOD IT'S SO TERRIBLE. Were we really like this in 2000? Were we this stupid? It sounds like such a futuristic year, '2000'. But I was there, watching this in the cinema, thinking it was brilliant. I even bought the Limp Bizkit theme tune on CD single. The past really is a foreign country. One of the stupid ones.

Matt: I completely agree. I know it has a reputation for being the worst one and a bit ridiculous and OTT, and with that in mind I was preparing myself for a fun reassessment; a fond, entertaining look back at a film that could be forgiven for being a product of its time. But it has aged soooooo badly.

Ali: I was expecting a dip in quality between this and the first one, but I still love Hard Target and Face/Off despite how obviously terrible they are. Mission: Impossible II does not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Face/Off. It is beyond parody. It's like someone doing a really terrible impression of what an American John Woo movie would look like! The liberal use of slow-motion! The pigeons! It's all so unbearable shit and sexist and insufferably smug. I want it expunged from my mind immediately.

Ed: Been trying to get through it in short bursts on and off since yesterday morning. I just paused it to go and check on the chicken in the oven thinking it was nearly over and there's still a fucking hour to go.

Ali: The whole film is in slow-motion, even when it isn't.

Matt: Smug is the right word. Not only is it in the completely fucking stupid and unnecessary stunt work, or in the total overuse of slow motion (I clocked exactly when I was already sick of it - it was when Tom Cruise locks eyes with Thandie Newton over a flamenco dance... and that’s 12 minutes into the film), but it’s in the treatment of the Ethan Hunt character. Obviously all of the films revolve around Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt doing superhuman stuff, but this is the only one where Tom Cruise/Ethan Hunt behaves like he thinks he actually is superhuman. This is the only film where Ethan Hunt actually believes he is the living manifestation of destiny.

It's Tom Cruise... but he's got a new haircut!

Ed: It's finally over. Its real problem is that it has absolutely zero sense of humour and no ability or desire to convey that it knows how daft it is. It's just Cruise being rad and doing rad things like slow-motion roundhouse kicks and shooting a gun on a rad motorbike and getting off with a girl.

Becky: I tried watching this yesterday but fell asleep about 5 mins in. Going to give it another go today.

Ali: This is going on the record.

Ed: I guess we must have been used to this sort of thing back then and happy enough to go with it but it'd get laughed out of the Odeon now. Action films these days seem to understand that no one accepts invincible flawless male heroes anymore because they're like the gym guys on Tinder with the drugged tigers. And I suppose it's key to Cruise's late-career popularity that he's realised this.

(Another key is the constant and conveniently timed leaking of what a great guy he is on set and how committed he is to doing his own stunts. Don't look at the human rights abuses of his church that he 100% knows about and profits from! Look over here: he broke his ankle and kept going!)

Matt: I, for one, would like to point out the ridiculous editing of every stunt. They all suffer from that 2000s approach to action, which is "we're going to cut several times while doing the quickest thing in the slowest of motion". So when Tom Cruise spins round on his bike and shoots someone (in slow motion) - y'know, just after he does a front-wheel wheelie for no reason - there are FIVE shots that make up the whole moment.

Ali: There's a scene where Cruise jumps off a building and before he pulls his chute he does a little somersault. He's showing off to no one at terminal velocity.

Matt: [On a rant] And when he kicks up a gun so that it launches from the ground completely vertically (which I'm sure we can all agree is just impossible - I would try it and accidentally kick the gun off the cliff), that whole sequence is made up of about 20 shots (at 5:05, below). And if anything, this editing makes the whole action less slick, because suddenly you have four shots of Tom Cruise with his hand out trying to judge the height of the gun so that he can catch it at the right moment as he's spinning round and ugh, it's so laboured!

Ali: It's basically Mission: Impossible: The Trailer - The Movie. So much of the action looks wicked cut together in a trailer but it just makes no sense in the film. I really like the bit where he does an endo and swivels round to shoot the car that passes him, because it's quite balletic like a lot of John Woo stuff, but it doesn't feel very 'American spy'. It's that thing that I mentioned in my Fallout review, where Ethan Hunt is just assumed to be absolutely brilliant at everything. I'm so glad they got rid of that over the next couple of movies. Here, Ethan Hunt comes across as someone you'd actively avoid at your school reunion. He'd turn up wearing a leather jacket wearing sunglasses indoors and you'd spend the whole evening rolling your eyes at his endless bragging and slagging him off behind his back.

Becky: This is Cruise during his most macho phase, trying to be all edgy and worldly: the year before he was in Magnolia saying the C-word and had just worked with Kubrick, so now he's trying to prove to everyone he's a renaissance man; he’s watched some Hong Kong cinema and taken a martial arts class. It's basically Ethan/Cruise on his gap year - long hair and always brings a guitar to parties.

Ali: I wonder if present-day Ethan Hunt ever thinks back on his weird year in Seville, when he grew his hair long and got really into motorbikes, and thinks: 'God I was such a prick'.

Ed: I am not famed for my attention to plot detail but I literally have no idea or interest in what's going on. There's a virus and Thandie Newton had to fuck a guy she didn't want to. Cruise hung off a cliff one-handed in a wholly unnecessary scene. Anthony Hopkins doesn't seem to be in it anymore.

Ali: The treatment of Thandie Newton in this movie is pretty despicable. Her character is pawed over like a piece of meat, ogled endlessly, gets passed around like a fuckjar and has absolutely zero characteristics that don't pertain to her sexuality. Every negative female stereotype is present and correct, even down to her driving nearly sending her off a cliff. I just cannot get past Dougray Scott's character foaming at the mouth and yelling "I AM GAGGING FOR IT". In a Hollywood movie. Released this century.

Matt: Not to mention the line "what are you going to do, spank me", and Anthony Hopkins popping up just briefly enough to spout a bit of misogynism ("What, go to bed with a man and then lie to him? She's a woman - she has all the training she needs") before disappearing for basically the rest of the movie. Actually, just before that, he says something like "We are asking her to resume her past relationship, not do anything she hasn't already done... voluntarily, I might add." Oh, well if she's already shagged the abusive psycho-spy once, why can't she do it again? There's literally no difference. Seriously, fuck that guy.

Ali: The entire scene in the bath is gross. It's framed just so that Thandie Newton's cleavage is in shot. It's so leery and exploitative. I found the perfect pause face to illustrate the unbearable smugness of this movie:

Ethan Hunt is a Tory pass it on

Matt: I've had a long think about this, and I actually think the worst, most ridiculous moment in the whole film is when Thandie Newton meets Dougray Scott for the first time, and they just stare at each other - in slow motion, natch - but then he raises his hand in a sinister way with an angry look on his face, and Thandie Newton looks scared... but he just catches her scarf! Her scarf was blowing away because of the helicopter! He wasn't going to try to strangle her with one hand, he was just being a gent with a murderous, smoldering look on his face. Haha, brilliant fake-out, John Woo.

Becky: The treatment of Thandie Newton is awful. She looks great but is so under-utilised: seriously, she's a master thief and the best place she can hide the necklace is in her cleavage? Dougray Scott is also under-used. I seem to recall he was on the verge of breaking through, but here he's a villain who's more sleazy than he is dangerous. "Why would I deny myself the occasional ride?" Icky.

Ed: Dougray Scott is one of those British actors who did a few episodes of Taggart and then randomly got to have a little go on Hollywood for a bit, before they decided he wasn't up to much and shoved him out the back door. Henry Cavill could very easily have been a Dougray Scott. I wish his real name was Douglas Raymond Scott and he made a portmanteau of his names because he liked being called "Doug" and "Ray" equally.

Ali: But it's pronounced 'Doog-ray'. He would have had to have been called 'Doog-las'. This is preposterous. Any bits we did actually like? Anything you'd keep? Anything? Anyone?

Matt: I loved the bit where they decided to do away with the old Cold War spy aesthetic of the first film and upgrade everything to some ridiculous unsustainable tech standard, to the point that he gets his mission through a pair of shades and then throws them at the camera to self-destruct. Oh no, wait, that was all fucking awful too.

Ali: I felt bad for Luther, he spent the whole movie apologising for poor download speeds. It's not his fault, it's the year 2000!

Becky: I like Tom Cruise's floppy hair. And the ridiculous use of masks and voice changing throat plaster thingys. And also Luther's line: "Punk put a hole in my Versace".

Matt: I'll say it again - the franchise very quickly becomes too reliant on the masks as a plot device, but it still always looks great. The bit where Dougray Scott tears his Ethan Hunt face off in rage after finding that Thandie Newton is working for IMF still looks great. I still can't see the joins between the actors and the CGI.

Ali: I liked how when Cruise wore the mask pretending to be Richard Roxburgh, the Australian henchman guy, no one questioned the fact that he'd shrunk a couple of inches.

Becky: My other fave bit is when Ethan goes all Last of the Mohicans on Nyah, but instead of jumping into a waterfall he jumps out of a 20 storey building.

Ali:Tom Cruise IS... The Last of the Bro-hicans.

Coming soon: Mission: Impossible III. Almost certainly!

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