It might not be cool to espouse the opinion that Michael Bay can make a visually slick film but, there, I’ve said it. Yes, he has a fondness bordering on the fetish for explosions and car chases, and his films can never be regarded as complex. However, if you want a slick popcorn flick, he’s the man to go to for the explodo. Bad Boys was a loud slice of buddy-comedy-action, The Rock is one of the best popcorn films around and Armageddon, albeit very silly, is enjoyable nonsense that looks good. I won’t defend Pearl Harbor – I’m not that stupid – but the bomb POV shot was cool, even if it seems quite sick in retrospect to watch the harbinger of death in such glorifying visuals.
All of which brings us to The Island, Bay’s latest assault on the visual and aural senses. He is the appropriate choice for this type of movie; he was asked by Steven Spielberg to direct it, so it’s not like I’m the only one who agrees. And he directs this well, shooting pretty pictures and pretty people (he particularly likes having women with long legs in short skirts in there for no other reason than he obviously likes it; not that I’m going to complain about it …) and moves it all along at a quick pace, which is how these things should be done.
The film sees Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor) in a containment facility for people who have survived a disaster in the near future and who must remain there while they recover and wait for the Lottery to pick them to go to The Island, the only untouched place on the planet. (Did they clone gullibility into people as well? Who is going to believe that a disaster wouldn’t affect the whole planet? As an aside, I feel the film was slightly spoiled by the pre-knowledge of them being clones, not in a ‘Oh, no, it’s completely ruined my enjoyment’ way, but in the care in which they take in the film to maintain the illusion prior to the chase scenes.) Lincoln feels there should be something more to life in the facility and his curiosity leads him to discover the truth; that the Island isn’t real and that they are going to die. Taking Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) with him when he flees, they escape the facility, while being chased by crack mercenary (Hounsou). When they get out, they are helped by a worker and friend (Buscemi) who tells them the truth that they are clones and they seek out their originals to reveal the truth.
This is fun but silly stuff that doesn’t bear up to excessive scrutiny – couldn’t the clones have been kept in a hospital environment where they are not allowed to move, so that they couldn’t escape? – but gives you an enjoyable enough ride. The central idea is very nice but not used for any deeper subtext. The actors don’t have to do much apart from look good at the right time, especially poor Scarlett, who pouts and runs on cue. Ewan comes across better as the main focus, and there are some lovely scenes with him and his sponsor (played by Ewan but with his natural Scottish accent, which allows him to call himself ‘wanker’ and say ‘shite’, something you can never have enough of in blockbuster films), that are very funny and interesting. Buscemi also comes out well, playing a small part with his humour, although not as outré as he was in Bay’s Armageddon. Strangely, it is these smaller scenes between the action that Bay shows a very delicate touch, allowing the dialogue and humour to come through, which is very refreshing.
The action scenes, which are the whole point of this film really, are up to scratch, as Bay eschews CGI (except to portray the future) in favour of hands-on stunts. This adds a realism that makes the action more exciting; compare the metal-crunching chase when the cars are crushed by what look like old train wheels falling off the back of an juggernaut, with the CGI-enhanced freeway scene of the Matrix Reloaded. They can sometimes be a little too relentless and Bay likes to whip his camera around too much to make it look like things are happening faster than they are, but you know you are in the hands of someone who isn’t afraid of a little spectacle.
I’m not saying this film is great, being a mish-mash of other films (don’t mention Logan’s Run, for example), but it is a fun slice of visual entertainment that you’ll enjoy for the duration and not much more. Not a ringing endorsement, perhaps, but not a slamming put down either. Disengage brain and have some explodo fun.