Mission: Impossible 2

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The star of “Mission: Impossible 2” is … the director, John Woo.

Easily the best action-movie director currently living on Earth, Woo has powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. With his trademark slow-motion shots and spectacular stunts, his action sequences are as breathtakingly well-crafted as any of Orson Welles’ or Alfred Hitchcock’s famous set-ups. Woo’s genre may not command as much respect, but he is no less skilled at what he does than were the old masters at what they did.

As for the movie, well, it’s not nearly as confusing as the first one, if that’s at all encouraging, and it’s more like a James Bond movie (albeit an ultra-hip one) than the last few James Bond movies have been.

Impossible Missions Force super-spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back, this time sent to recover a deadly man-made virus called Chimera, and to locate its antidote, too. Seeking to thwart him is Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), an IMF agent who has gone sour on the whole “law and order” thing and intends to use the disease and its cure for his own monetary gain. Fortunately, master thief Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton) is not only a master thief, but a former lover of Ambrose’s, making it no difficult feat for her to re-enter his life, get the goods, and get out.

Alas, there are complications, as complications there must always be. One major one is that Ambrose, having worked closely with Hunt before — he even played his double a few times — knows Hunt all too well. He knows Hunt’s favorite methods of operation, and is able to head him off at the pass.

The first film’s most famous scene was the unbearably suspenseful sequence in which Hunt hangs precariously from a wire in an all-white room full of alarms that go off at the slightest change in sound level, temperature or movement. This one doesn’t have anything that quietly unsettling, but it does have a spectacular motorcycle chase — that’s right, a good old-fashioned motorcycle chase — that is among the best we’ve ever seen in a movie, not to mention numerous other action-packed scenes.

The movie’s flaws are few, but noticeable. The dialogue is surprisingly good for an action film, but there are a few clunkers here and there, and they’re embarrassing. (“Stay alive!” Hunt yells to Nyah. “I’m not going to lose you!”) And while the action is hot when it comes up, there are long passages of slowness, almost tedium, as we wait for the story to pick up again.

And the story itself, of course, is positively ludicrous, relying quite heavily on the use of rubber masks that look exactly like other people, and devices that can make your voice sound like theirs, too. This would be fine as a one-trick thing. But several MAJOR plot points revolve around this impossible technology, straining credibility almost to the breaking point.

But of course you don’t go to one of these things because you want a documentary. As popcorn thrillers go, “Mission: Impossible 2” has set the bar high for the summer blockbusters. Let the games begin.

B+ (; PG-13, mild sexuality, mild profanity, brief gore, abundant explosions, fistfights, shooting, some of it graphic in nature.)

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