written by Mike Shea on 28 May 2000
I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with Mission Impossible 2, and given that I was so looking forward to it, as were a lot of people, I found it important to find out why it didn't succeed where it surly should have. After watching MI2 and thinking about it for a while, I decided to go back and watch the movie that put director John Woo into my hot directors list, Face Off. Face Off was a movie I walked in hating and walked out of wondering how such a hot action movie could have been so underhyped. What I found was the little known Hong Kong director, John Woo. Woo's The Killer was world renowned as one of the best action movies of all time. Directors such as Robert Rodriguez (Desperado), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and the Wachowski brothers (Matrix) all cite Woo as a major influence in modern action films. With as hot as movies like The Killer and Face Off were, Mission Impossible 2 should have been an instant classic in action films, it wasn't. Where exactly did this movie go wrong? In the following article I will take a look at three failings of Mission Impossible 2, the lack of a strong action introduction, the limited action scenes and the weak characters and compare them to Face Off. This may let us see why one succeeded and the other failed as good action movies go.
No Strong Action Introduction: One of the things that instantly told me that Face Off was no typical Hollywood action movie was the introduction. In the first 20 minutes, you get a non stop bullet festival. The artistic murder of Archers son, the plane chasedown and the hanger shootout are all powerful individually, but when you get them all strung together, you get quite a rush. Mission Impossible 2 instead starts with a mild story, a quick plane hijacking, a nice cliff climbing scene with the wrong soundtrack and then a weak instant romance. This takes you almost to the hour mark without one good shootout. There definitely should have been more, even a James Bond 15 minute mini adventure would have given you a better feel for Ethan Hunt's abilities as a spy, not to mention get you pumped up for an action film. Movies like the Matrix, Desperado, The Killer and even Gladiator all show you how a strong intro is vital to a good action movie. MI2 just didn't have it.
Too Few Action Scenes: This shortcoming is the easiest to pick out. Face Off had no fewer than four huge action scenes that easily took up 15 to 30 minutes. The intro mentioned above, the jailbreak, the gangster hangout shootout and the huge church scene all put together come out to about 1 hour of action. This easily makes up for the 1 hour of bad story thrown in between. MI2 had the same weak story, but there were only two big action shots that I can remember, the lab scene and the conclusion. Sure, they are both excellent action scenes and both pretty lengthy, but now we get about 1:20 of filler. Too much for an action movie.
Weak Characters: The introduction of Face Off gives you all the reason in the world to understand the motivations of both Caster Troy and Sean Archer. You get the death of Sean's son, the development of Caster as a murderer, terrorist and sex offender along with a wonderful intro shot of him coming out of the car (one of my all time favorite intro shots). Right off the bat you know exactly how these characters are going to act. Maybe we are all supposed to know that Ethan Hunt kicks ass from the first Mission Impossible, but a good intro would have let us know how tough he really is. We aren't given much at all about the bad guys except that they are real stern and look tough a lot. We get a whole lot of development between our hero and the heroine, who is nice to look at but does little for the movie aside from wearing a multitude of nice outfits. Once again, if they had given us a reason to hate and fear the bad guys as well as a reason to understand how tough our hero is, we would be able to stomach the bad plot line.
As you can see, Mission Impossible was missing some major elements that make good action movies. Still the movie holds it's own and manages to have a couple excellent scenes. Still, if Woo had followed the model he had for Face Off, we wouldn't care at all that it had a bad plot line and instead we could sit and watch the fireworks. As it stands, Face Off is a much better movie for this very reason.
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