"This is not mission: difficult, Mr. Hunt. It's mission: impossible. Difficult should be a walk in the park."
For reasons that I'm sure no one else on Earth will ever understand, after the blockbuster success of Brian DePalma's Mission: Impossible in 1996, Tom Cruise hired Hong Kong action maestro John Woo to direct the sequel in 2000. Mission: Impossible II (or M:I-2 as the posters dubbed it) didn't even bother pretending it was in any way connected to the previous movie (much less the old TV series), instead changing the Hunt character from an untested secret agent into an invincible superhero trapped in an indulgent action melodrama. If you were to strip away the franchise name and change the characters around a little bit, I honestly think the production would be more highly regarded as one of Woo's better American films, but in terms of being a Mission: Impossible movie, bluntly speaking it stinks.
The sequel opens with a group of terrorists hijacking a commercial jetliner and deliberately crashing it, later attempting to release a deadly biological agent on a major metropolitan area. In the summer of 2000, events like that must have sounded like ridiculously far-fetched Hollywood fantasy. It doesn't play quite the same way anymore, unfortunately. In any case, the villain of the piece is a rogue IMF agent (Dougray Scott) who harbors a grudge against former teammate Hunt and is now trying to get rich through a ploy involving an evil pharmaceutical company. As if we didn't already have enough reasons to be paranoid about corporate malfeasance, the firm has developed a supervirus for the sole purpose of selling its exclusive vaccine and watching its stock price soar. Once the terrorists get their hands on the bug, of course only our man Hunt can save the day with high-flying kung-fu acrobatics, guns loaded with unlimited ammo, and lots of stuff that goes boom.
Like I said, if you have any appreciation for John Woo's flamboyant theatrics, M:I-2 actually has its pleasures so long as you can divorce it from the Impossible franchise. It's one of the director's few American films to approach the operatic delirium of his Hong Kong pictures, complete with all the poetic slo-mo action and deliberate suspension of disbelief that are hallmarks of his style. By the time Ethan has to break into the heavily-guarded laboratory and then blast his way out again after facing off against hordes of armed enemies in a beautifully-staged ballet of bullets, explosions, and soaring emotions, you're reminded that John Woo simply makes this type of shit better than anybody else. The later motorcycle-a-motorcycle jousting duel between Hunt and his nemesis is entirely ridiculous, stupid really if you put any thought into it, but is perfectly in keeping with the heightened macho posturing that infuses all of Woo's films. Unfortunately, such fantasy excess just feels out of place under the Mission: Impossible banner. With a different title, Chow Yun-Fat in the lead, and Cantonese-language dialogue, this would probably seem a better movie.
The HD DVD:
Mission: Impossible II previously debuted on the HD DVD format as part of Paramount Home Entertainment's Ultimate Missions Collection box set. The studio has just now gotten around to releasing it separately. A comparable Blu-ray edition is also available.
The disc automatically opens with a lengthy HD DVD promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Mission: Impossible II HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
Ironically, M:I-2 has the oldest transfer of the three Impossible films, recycled from the master originally used for the DVD released back in 2000. The movie looks by far the worst of the three. The picture is very noisy in a great number of scenes, and it certainly isn't all film grain. Cruise's introductory rock climbing sequence opens with a sweeping aerial shot buzzing with noise. Edge enhancement problems also infect the image throughout the movie. Colors and flesh tones look oversaturated, and dark scenes have poor shadow detail. To my eye, the framing seems overly tight on all four sides of the screen, though that may just be John Woo's discomfort with the 2.35:1 format. On the plus side, the picture is quite sharp and usually detailed, especially in close-ups (fine object details in wide shots often have a dupey texture from the artificial sharpening). It's not terrible, but in comparison to the other two excellent transfers, M:I-2 is just mediocre.
The M:I-2 HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 format. In comparison to its predecessor, M:I-2 has a standard action movie mix. It's very bassy, with extremely loud music and effects, as well as aggressive directionality in the action scenes. It's quite solid work for what it's meant to be, just not particularly clever or inventive like the first film. Fidelity also seems a little dull, but if you crank it up loud enough it gets the job done just fine.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - French or Spanish DD+ 5.1.
The bonus features on this HD DVD title are duplicated from the DVD edition. Most of the supplements from the DVD have carried over.
In addition to these, the following featurettes from the first Mission: Impossible HD DVD are duplicated on this disc for no apparent reason (neither was on the DVD edition):
- Audio Commentary by John Woo - The director may or may not have some interesting things to say. His accent was impenetrable, so I had to give up after a few minutes.
- Behind the Mission (14 min., SD) - A typical EPK making-of puff piece comprised of interviews with Cruise, Woo, producer Paula Wagner, and screenwriter Robert Towne (from Chinatown to this, what a fall from grace).
- Mission: Incredible (5 min., SD) - A pretty shameless promotional plug for the movie's action and stunts.
- Impossible Shots (34 min., SD) - A much better behind-the-scenes analysis of 11 specific action sequences, hosted by the movie's Stunt Coordinator. This is the most interesting and informative feature on the disc.
- Metallica Music Video - I Disappear (5 min., SD) - For a movie tie-in video, at least this one keeps the use of clips from the film to a minimum. Mostly, the band members pretend to re-enact stunts from a bunch of movies that have nothing to do with Mission: Impossible. A barrage of silly visual effects are expended in the process.
- Alternate Title Sequence (30 sec., SD) - This is really no better or worse than the final version used in the film.
Missing from the DVD are some production notes found on the DVD-Rom section of the disc, which I'm sure nobody will miss. More importantly, the hilarious Mission: Improbable MTV parody starring Ben Stiller is gone, and that's a huge loss because it was the best part of the DVD. Why would they drop this? If it was a rights issue, we wouldn't be getting the MTV Movie Awards montage. This is a really disappointing omission.
- Excellence in Film (9 min., SD) - A tribute to Tom Cruise from the 2005 BAFTA Awards featuring a montage of clips from his movies.
- Generation: Cruise (4 min., SD) - A similar tribute montage from the MTV Movie Awards.
If you weren't a big enough fan of the franchise to splurge for the Ultimate Missions Collection box, Mission: Impossible II is finally available for separate purchase. Of course, most people who resisted the box set were probably trying to specifically avoid this movie. Unfortunately, M:I-2 is the weakest entry in the series, both as a movie and in terms of High Definition picture and sound quality. Still, it has some merits and provides some good, dopey fun. I'll give it a mild recommendation.
Mission: Impossible (HD DVD)
Mission: Impossible II (Blu-ray)
Mission: Impossible III (HD DVD)
Mission: Impossible III (Blu-ray)
Mission: Impossible - Ultimate Missions Collection (HD DVD)
The Last Samurai (HD DVD) - Tom Cruise
John Woo Collection (DVD)
Once a Thief (DVD) - John Woo
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