Mission: Impossible—Why Two Is Better Than One An exclusive post from the Subtraction.com newsletter

Just a quick apology for anybody who reads my blog for design and technology commentary and who puts up not only with my monthly film rants, but also with today’s excessive pontificating about the “Mission: Impossible” series. I readily admit that these are purely self-indulgences, and today’s is no exception. Same goes for this additional newsletter commentary.

There’s plenty of disdain out there for “Mission: Impossible II,” and so some people might take issue with the fact that in my ranking it appears higher than the generally well regarded original “Mission: Impossible.” Though that latter film does have its merits I’ve always found director Brian DePalma’s work on the series opener to be patchy, sometimes incoherent and generally overrated.

Likewise I maintain that the movie that director John Woo turned in for its sequel has long been underrated—largely because of its cultural schizophrenia. With its excessive slow motion, unabashedly balletic action and unaccountably generous use of doves, II is at least formally in line with Woo’s classic Hong Kong movies. It’s easily as romantic and lyrical—and even as Asian. The key difference is the ethnicity of its cast; Woo’s affectations somehow seem more “natural” to Asian actors than Western actors, owing perhaps to a kind of orientalist view of the highly expressive logic that often drives Asian film. There’s something about a Western cast performing in the mode of Asian cinema that seems odd and even farcical. If you can imagine Tony Leung, Andy Lau or Chow Yun-Fat in place of Cruise, the film begins to make much more sense. Even as is, with July’s rewatching I’ve now seen this movie at least a half dozen times—and though flawed, I still regard it as a very solid piece of entertainment.

I’m actually not sure how many people would agree with me so that’s actually not a recommendation. But this is: if you haven’t already seen it, watch “Jack Reacher,” which also stars Tom Cruise and was also directed by Christopher McQuarrie. It’s superb. And if you have watched it, I urge you to watch it again. It gets better with each viewing.

Cheers from either New York or San Francisco (I’m doing a lot of flying back and forth between the two these days),