There is no director working in Hollywood today who is more responsible for the detritus we have to sit through summer after summer than fucking Michael Bay, who — along with his producer/partner Jerry Bruckheimer — created the overly budgeted, plot-repellant, blow-some-shit-up blockbuster concept, beginning with 1996’s The Rock and continuing with same-movie/different setting slickly-manufactured-but-ultimately-empty Armageddon and Pearl Harbor films. Bay and Bruckheimer learned with that craptastic trilogy that if you introduce enough conflagration to fill a three-minute trailer, cast a leading man who doesn’t give a shit about anything but a hefty paycheck (Nicolas Cage, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett), and then hammer us over the goddamned head with some overly bombastic, often shrill soundtrack ditty, then middle-American schlubs will fork over enough cash to turn a robust profit for the studio and leave the theater insisting that what they just sat through was awe-inspiringly killer because they have too much fucking pride to let themselves believe otherwise. Yeah, it’s Michael Bay’s influence that is responsible for the celluloid offal that permeates our multiplexes now, from National Treasure to Independence Day to that god-awful Godzilla remake. There is no director that I detest as much as Michael Bay, because it is he who epitomizes all that is rotten with a Hollywood studio system that extracts half a day’s wages from a family of four and offers little other than celluloid sewage in return. If it weren’t for my vehement desire to steer at least one — just one! — potential attendee away from a Michael Bay film, then I wouldn’t bother reviewing his films myself, so much do I loathe his mindless, sensory over-killing oeuvre.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I walked out of Bay’s latest, The Island, not only flabbergasted with how much I didn’t hate it, but feeling as though I were actually mildy entertained! Maybe I was the simple victim of low expectations, but I kind of enjoyed The Island. I’d like to say that it was Ewan McGregor’s easy-going thespianship or Scarlet Johansson’s rack-of-abundance that saved the film from existing as just another in a successive line of bloated, fire-engulfed clunkers, but hell if it wasn’t Michael Bay who is responsible — for once, he’s created a action thriller grounded in humanity, a provocative sci-fi film that owes more to Aldous Huxley than it does, say, Paul Verhoeven. Believe it or not, in The Island blowing up shit is fun for the first time in years; I haven’t felt as exhilarated about the simple destruction of property since Governor Schwarzenegger made a mockery of glass and concrete structures in 1994’s True Lies.
Yet, as amusing as The Island was, anyone would be hard-pressed to call it inventive or original; it is as derivative as a Vanilla Ice hook, owing much to 1984, Logan’s Run, Phillip K. Dick, Gattaca, and a little-seen (“MST3K” fans aside) 1979 stinker, The Clonus Horror, the writer of which probably deserves a percentage of the profits.
I’m of two minds about boiling down The Island’s plot for fear that I’ll ruin what little mysteries the film holds — though the movie’s sci-fi secrets are all revealed within the first half, leaving the two heroes on the run from fireballs and bullets for the latter portion, which is more comfortable territory for Bay. Still, it is the initial 45 minutes of The Island that set it apart from your run-of-the-mill blockbusting shitkicker; for one thing, the screenplay is actually smart, which portends good things for Mission Impossible 3 and the in-the-works Transformers movie, written by the same team. It also tackles issues that — if not relevant today — will be at some point in the near future; and Bay manages to successfully create an inventive dystopian world in which, for instance, toilets detect the nutritional levels at urinals and then instruct food services workers of the characters’ dietary restrictions.
In this world, set in 2019, Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) is one of the few remaining human survivors of some sort of global contamination. Lincoln and the other survivors, including Jordan Two Delta (Johannson), live in this climate controlled environment where their daily activities are strictly regimented, awaiting their opportunity to be called, by lottery, to the only uncorrupted piece of land left on earth, known as “The Island,” where people are randomly taken to repopulate the planet. If you’ve seen the trailers, you probably already know what The Island is all about, but for the sake of those who haven’t, I won’t spoil anything else, except to say that most of the fun is in watching Lincoln’s figure out what you already have.
The Island isn’t a great film, and it’s certainly not good enough to make up for the sins of Michael Bay’s past — I’ll forever abhor anyone who subjects me to a romantic twist on the Pearl Harbor tragedy — but it’s both modest and intriguing enough (as a science fiction film) to give some resonant heft to the raucous explosions that draw in the crowds. For that alone, it was worth putting aside my beef with the man for a two-hour thrill ride; though, I can’t say that I’d fault anyone for refusing to shell out $10 to Michael Bay out of general principle — if there was ever a film worthy of pirating … .
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and lord over a small online publishing fiefdom. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()