I have to come clean before I write this review: Armageddon
is one of my favorite movies of all time. I know, it's the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, but I just happen to love the movie. Still, after the brainless action of movies like Armageddon
and Bad Boys II
I can see why people tend to cringe in agony when they hear that Michael Bay is putting out a new movie.
Hopefully The Island
can put to rest some of the more, shall we say, troubling qualitites of Bay's past works. In his first film sans-Bruckheimer, Michael Bay stretches his directorial legs with the help of an excellent cast and a story that, unlike many of his past films, is almost entirely worthwhile.
The plot begins as a page straight out of Brave New World
, with a strangely utopic society built on the ashes of a great cataclysm. Eventually the story goes on to involve all of the great points of a good science fiction movie: clones, brainwashing, flying vehicles, and Steve Buscemi. In an effort to avoid spoilers, I will have to simply say that the plot is actually quite good in this film; the flow keeps the viewer's attention while presenting a relatively believable story.
It can't go without saying that The Island
has a plot that is very derivative of many past works. Including the Brave New World
feel that I spoke of before, it also takes cues from Logan's Run
(and to an almost extreme
extent, it pays homage to this film like no other), Blade Runner
, and most disturbingly, it bears many close aesthetic resemblances to Minority Report
. However, science fiction stories are generally very derivative anyway; at the very least, this movie at least drew the right parts from the right influences.
Where this film truly shines, however, is in the all-star cast. I'm naturally going to hold this movie to some high standards, since it features two of my favorite actors: Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson. Luckily, both are able to pull off excellent characterizations. While the script in this film looks like Shakespeare compared to the Star Wars
prequels, it's obviously not the caliber of some of McGregor's past movies (Trainspotting
, Moulin Rouge
, and Big Fish
come to mind); still, McGregor pulls off his role (which actually becomes a dual-role halfway through the film) with his usual witty excellence. Johansson finally brings her indie street cred to a Hollywood summer blockbuster, and naturally she pulls the role off well, even though her character is sometimes ignorant and at other times, rather underused.
The supporting cast features some heavy hitters who too often get too little camera time. Michael Clarke Duncan, a veteran of the Armageddon
cast, easily puts in one of the best performances in the movie, even though his character is on screen for a total of about five minutes. Fellow Armageddon
-vet (and veteran of just about every other movie, as well) Steve Buscemi provides his usual sarcastic panache; it's nothing surprising, but his character is as amusing as ever. The villain is played by the first potential usurper of Gary Oldman's villain throne, Sean Bean. Bean has the innate ability to play a remorseless bastard, and his character exhibits this ability to a tee. Dijmon Hounsou (straight from my earlier Constantine
review) also provides an emotionally charged and believable performance, despite the underdevelopment of his character.
The aesthetic of this movie is strictly Bad Boys
meets Minority Report
. High contrast scenery, coupled with Bay's signature long-pan, short-cut style, makes for the usual visual masterpiece. If Bay had veered a bit away from that "blue" look from Speilberg's recent futuristic debacles, I would have been more pleased with the look. The world of The Island
is very similar to Blade Runner
in that it presents futuristic elements while retaining elements of the modern day, allowing for a more believable environment. Occasionally, however, the inclusion of a Honda Element or H-2 pushes the film into a bit of an anachronism that is based on product placement. Oh, and about the product placement: if you're easily turned off by blatant marketing in movies, this movie will make you gag. It is reasonable to say that many of the corporate logos were placed in the film to gain a sense of realism and attachment with the society, but after the second Aquafina logo (not to mention the virtual XBox fight), I was doubting the "artistic vision" of these product placements.
As far as believability goes, this movie is likely Bay's most believable movie to date, as far as action sequences and strange science-fiction facts go. It seems as if the events in the movie could
happen, which adds to the tension of the film. A few of the action scenes are utterly hilarious in that over-the-top style that Bay's films are known for, but they're still each ten million times better than any ludicrous action sequence from the Matrix
sequels. It's definitely not as difficult to suspend disblief for this film as it was in Armageddon
Generally, I have to say that I enjoyed this movie. In fact, this could be better than the original Bad Boys
or The Rock
, which most would regard as Michael Bay's most competent works. While Armageddon
will always keep a warm place in my heart, The Island
might be Michael Bay's best movie to date, thanks to the combination of great actors, a decent script, and the same solid action of its predecessors. It's sad that this film has already been considered a financial failure and is now confined to late showings in the smaller theaters, because it's an action blockbuster that you won't have to feel guilty about seeing.Final Score: 4/5
The Island: Scarlett looks good, Ewan acts well, so let the popcorn flow.