Mission: Impossible 2 review

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Do you ever wonder why high-security buildings have ventilation shafts you could hold an Oasis gig in? Are you perplexed by the fact that the IMF is packed with more bad apples than Granny Smith's dustbin? Do you point blank refuse to believe that a rubber mask can alter a man's height and weight as well as his appearance? If the answer to any of these questions is a big fat "yes", then keep right on moving. There's nothing for you here. No really - - do anything but read about Mission: Impossible 2. It'll just play havoc with your blood pressure.

Producer/star Cruise has reacted to the criticisms that M:I-1, like the original TV series, had "too much plot" by ruthlessly axing the gritty post-Cold War angst and replacing it with improbably glossy Bondesque world-saving. Out went Brian De Palma's Hitchcockian homages and meticulously staged set-pieces, and in came a recognised action maestro. After Face/Off proved that John Woo's trademark blend of operatic stylistics, freeform action and psychological musing travelled well, Cruise clearly wanted him let loose on the franchise.

The result may occasionally rely on selected highlights from Woo's back catalogue - the doves from The Killer, the punch-up on the beach from Face/Off, mid-air gun catching and two-shooter action from any number of his films - but, at its best, M:I-2 is bullet fast and shudderingly exciting. Whether it's a knife juddering to a halt millimetres from someone's eyeball or Cruise burning up the blacktop on a motorbike, the money moments more than meet expectations. The film's final 20-minute action-splurge is retina scorching stuff.

So why does it only merit three stars? Well, the trouble is that for an hour smack in the middle of it all, nothing happens. After a superb plane heist and Cruise's rock climbing antics set your blood pumping early on, M:I-2 dawdles. Woo turns on an Enya-esque soundtrack, sticks in shot after shot of the Sydney skyline and forefronts the slurpy romance between Cruise and the lovely-but-wooden Newton. Even Anthony Hopkins cropping up to give Cruise his mission, some niftily edited flamenco and the arrival of Rhames are scant compensation for the fact that the story's going nowhere. Slowly.

It's only when the killer-virus plot device is properly activated and the "they've-only-got-20-hours-to-save Australia!" clock starts ticking that Woo drags himself back to the business of providing blockbuster-standard excitement. But by then, a potentially great action flick has slipped irretrievably back to being merely a good one.

When it's running at topspeed, M:I-2 delivers real thrills, but the middle reel is frankly dull, dull, dull. Still, if Cruise can only be persuaded to sign up the Wachowski brothers for part three, this could turn out to be a very healthy franchise indeed.

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