Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Mission: Impossible – Fallout hits theaters this week, and by all accounts, it confirms this as the best action franchise going right now. As I mentioned in last week’s Commentary Commentary J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III is still my favorite entry in this excellent film series, so it seemed only natural to give equal time to my least favorite.
John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II is a ridiculous bombast of style over substance, and while that’s not always a bad thing for action cinema it works here to replace slick fun with dumb, fun-like mayhem. The film has its charms, but it’s definitely the weakest of the bunch. Woo recorded a commentary track for its release to home video, and it’s been ported over to the new 4K UltraHD release too so I gave it a listen.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Commentator: John Woo (director)
1. John Woo was making a Nike commercial in Brazil when he received a call from Tom Cruise asking to meet about directing the film.
2. He was concerned about competing with Brian De Palma’s style, but Cruise was very adamant that he wanted Woo’s style for the second film. “He loved Face/Off, he loved all of my Hong Kong films.” Cruise said his goal was to have each film — each “episode” — be a different style from a different director. “That made me feel relaxed.”
3. Woo wanted the film to have a human element as opposed to being all about action and stunts, and when the script came in with the love triangle he knew it was what he wanted.
4. Cruise and Woo were previously set to work together on The Devil’s Soldier, but while Rupert Walters completed a script it never made it into production.
5. He refers to the opening reveal of Ethan Hunt pulling of the mask and actually being Dougray Scott as “the evil hiding behind a beautiful face.”
6. The opening plane crash was originally meant to cut right into the fuse being lit followed by the same credits sequence as the first, “but Tom didn’t feel that was that exciting,” so the actor suggested they cut to the rock-climbing instead.
7. Director and star clashed over some of the stunts as Woo wanted stunt doubles and Cruise was adamant about doing them himself. He told Woo he didn’t like “cheating” and that it’s too easy to spot when the actor is being doubled because of body movement, timing, etc. It didn’t help that Woo is himself afraid of heights. “I admire his courage.”
8. They debated multiple countries as the locale for their “love story” including Italy, Russia, and Malaysia but ultimately decided on Spain. “I was so much crazy about the flamenco dance.”
9. Nyah Hall’s (Thandie Newton) character is inspired by Audrey Hepburn’s role in How to Steal a Million.
10. He wanted the film to be sexy without the need to show any sex. It’s more elegant this way.
11. The script originally featured Hunt (Cruise) and Hall hashing out their new relationship via a conversation in a room, but Woo thought it was too boring and opted instead for a phone call during a car chase. He finds the whole scene to be “funny, sexy, and romantic.”
12. Newton is British and was unfamiliar with driving on the right side of the road, so they hid a stunt coordinator in the passenger seat with access to the car’s emergency brake.
13. They wanted Ian McKellen as Hunt’s boss, but scheduling conflicts prevented his casting. Producer Paula Wagner told Woo that Anthony Hopkins wanted the part, and “I was shocked. I was so nervous. I couldn’t sleep for a couple nights.”
14. Chimera is the virus and Bellorophon is the cure, but to Woo Chimera is also Sean Ambrose (Scott) while Bellorophon is Hunt. It’s “Greek myth as metaphor” for those of you not paying attention.
15. He wanted audiences more invested in the love story than the spy story. Hmm.
16. Woo’s preferred method of working with actors is to learn about their interests and how they feel about life in general. “I like to watch their face, their eyes, and try to find out their special quality.” This helps him find the proper camera angle to highlight their quality on screen.
17. His nickname on-set is “One-shot John” because he prefers a minimal amount of takes. John Travolta was a big fan of this during the production of Broken Arrow and Face/Off.
18. He likes to create theme music with his composer in advance of production as it works as inspiration while working. Their time in Spain led he and Hans Zimmer to incorporate the guitar into more of the music.
19. His love of the “two guns” move was inspired by his love of Westerns, and he first used it in A Better Tomorrow.
20. Cruise rode the motorcycle through the fire without the use of flame protection gear or gel. Woo loves it.
21. There are three key things behind every action sequence he designs. First, he wants to include something he’s never done before. Second, the scene should develop naturally out of the story. Third, he needs to know the interest level and skill-set of the actors involved. The action sequences here were planned out and given to Robert Towne before he wrote the script.
22. Cruise shared with Woo his love of Bruce Lee, so the director used that as inspiration for designing the end fight between Hunt and Ambrose.
23. The true worth of a hero isn’t how many bad guys you kill — it’s how much you truly care.
24. His films typically have tragic endings, but he wanted something more uplifting and positive here and opted for Hunt and Hall walking hand in hand into the crowd as the camera rises up into the sky.
25. He doesn’t mention doves once.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“The movie’s all about character, all about romance.”
“Hey! How’s Tom?!”
“I think a spy is not interesting.”
“The cars bumping each other and spinning around, it just feels like making love.”
“I must tell you, this is my first PG-13 film.”
“We like to see a movie look like a movie.”
“In my movies, sometimes the bad guy is hard to die.”
“The whole movie is about love and not about violence,” says Woo, and that’s a theme that plays through his commentary. He’s adamant that he made a love story here, and that intention explains the film’s goofier sequences. The film remains the weakest of the franchise, but per Cruise’s intention, it definitely feels like a unique entry highlighted by the director’s own style. As for the commentary, Woo leaves a few too many gaps to make this a must-listen, but fans of the filmmaker will find some highlights all the same.