IF I MAY PARAPHRASE Walter Matthau in JFK, criticizing the finer points of a movie like Mission: Impossible 2--and yes, it does have finer points, madame et monsieur cinéaste--is like picking gnat shit out of pepper. You either embrace Tom Cruise in the full blush of his ineffable Tom Cruise-ness (which this movie most definitely represents) and surrender to the splendor that is John Woo, or you stay home. Both options are valid. But as in all things related to Hollywood, there is a bottom line: If you're the kind who likes to be blown away by the cinema of incredulity, you could do much, much worse than Mission: Impossible 2, a cannily scripted (by Robert Towne, no less), perfectly acted, and exquisitely directed gut-wrench of a superhero spy movie.

Because it's a John Woo film, it only gets really amazingly great in the last 20 minutes, which comprise an operatic orgy of ceaseless running, punching, kicking, shooting, swerving, leaping, falling, and exploding. But the rest is strong, too. The movie that leads up to the multiple orgasm finale has a story (something about a stolen über-virus and a melodramatic love triangle), with stakes to raise and cliffs to hang from. It has a fine villain (Dougray Scott), a beautiful and formidable love interest (Thandie Newton), and a totally credible hero. Naturally there are flaws, but like all discourse that surrounds events that are inherently visceral, they tend to drift away like so many gaseous vapors from an exploding tanker truck.

I loved this movie. I loved the vertiginous helicopter swoops as Tom Cruise scales an impossibly sheer cliff to receive his impossible mission. I loved the profligate back flips in the fight choreography as he takes out villain after glass-jawed villain. I loved the preposterous motorcycle chase/joust. I loved the human touches, too: the love triangle set against the backdrop of global intrigue; the lascivious slo-mo close-ups of Thandie Newton; the villain's Scots accent. But most of all, I loved the giddy sense of hyperbole and spectacle that coursed through the whole enterprise. It may not last too long after the credits roll, but pleasures like this aren't meant to. Otherwise, they wouldn't need to make part three.

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