"Mission: Impossible II" begins with a bang. Literally.
A plane carrying passengers to Atlanta crashes into the mountains, killing everyone on board. Among the victims: a Russian biochemist who's just invented a virus that could wipe out mankind.
Cut to Agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), who's rock-climbing in Australia. His vacation is rudely interrupted by a message from his boss, who recalls him back to active duty immediately. It seems that a renegade IMF agent, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), was behind the plane crash and is all out to profit from the Russian's death.
It's up to Hunt, with the able assistance of Nyah Hall (Thandie Newton), professional thief and Sean's one-time inamorata to stop him from unleashing the killer virus and destroying mankind. Also at Hunt's side are Luther Strickell (Ving Rhames), computer expert extraordinaire and the only other cast member of the original "Mission: Impossible" to return in the sequel, and Billy Baird (Brendan Gleeson), helicopter pilot. Oh, almost forgot - Hunt also happens to fall in love with Nyah, in a courtship scene which could only have come from John Woo's imagination: two sports cars racing against each other at high speed down a busy highway and ultimately smashing into each other at climax.
The stage is thus set for mayhem unlimited as the two IMF agents go head-to-head, leaving behind them a trail of dead bodies, collapsing buildings and exploding cars as they struggle for both the virus and the girl.
If all this sounds a little hackneyed, it is - John Woo's "Mission: Impossible II" is nowhere near as cerebral as the original Brian de Palma film, often simplifying the story to its bare essentials - a race against time to save mankind from a killer virus - in favour of the more twisted storyline of the original. Despite this, "Mission: Impossible II" still succeeds tremendously - it's an action movie to the hilt, with everything such a movie demands: outrageous stunts, exploding vehicles, guns of all shapes and sizes, some very, very cool gizmos (can I get those Oakleys in a store?), and a pleasurably nasty bad guy with a penchant for rubber masks. The new Cruise wardrobe - shades, long hair and fashionably-scuffed bomber jacket - is sure to have teenage girls panting, and the hardware on display would give most gunrunners a complex.
As always, there are a few scenes that will make you hold your breath - remember the Cruise-hanging-from-a-ceiling scene in the original? - and the production, with its seemingly unlimited store of cars, helicopters, bikes and boats, is faultless. The actors are good, particularly Dougray Scott and Ving Rhames, although the chemistry between Cruise and Newton could do with a little more spark.
John Woo's also learnt a few tricks from the previous year's biggest hits - there are a number of slo-mo martial arts sequences a la "The Matrix" - and his camera unerringly slows down at dramatic points in the film. The music score, with original compositions by Limp Bizkit and Metallica, is also very good, and the "Mission: Impossible" theme is obviously used to great effect as well.
If there is a flaw in "Mission: Impossible II", it lies in the storyline - a stronger script would have made this a far more memorable movie. I'd still recommend you go watch it, though - when it comes to action movies, very few people can do it better than John Woo and Tom Cruise, and this is a film that showcases both their talents to perfection.This article was first published on 27 Sep 2000.