Michael Bay just can’t help himself it seems. Just when you think he’s learnt some self-control, the guy has to go and play with himself on screen yet again. Look mate, we as an audience don’t care about how big either your cock or your Ferrari is (I’m sure they’re huge – just like mine), what we do want however is a good action Summer movie that combines thrills and escapism but will hopefully have something deeper and more meaningful going on as well. “The Island” is at least an attempt to be that but only half succeeds at either thrilling or making one think.
Starting off well, the first act plays like a derivative albeit lightly enjoyable science fiction drama. There’s an admirable sense of restraint going on from Bay with nary an action sequence in sight and a decent sense of mystery that sadly has been spoiled by all the various promotions of the film. Playing out somewhat like “Logan’s Run” meets “Total Recall”, the tale unfolds along predictable but enjoyable lines with the odd flash of creativity (eg. the holographic shield) and an impressively picturesque opening nightmare sequence.
Act Two moves to the outside and so dialogue goes out in the window in favour of a rather average paranoid chase thriller. The futuristic setting allows for some nice effects touches such as a great looking Los Angeles 2019 skyscape, yet many of the scenes here feel very modern day and yet that proves a strength rather than a weakness. The film’s high point comes during a spectacular highway chase involving giant iron dumb bells reeking havoc on a freeway that’s simply jaw-dropping despite some of the shakiest and all too close camera work since “The Bourne Supremacy”. Sadly the power of that sequence is let down as it leads into a bland jetcycle chase through all too CG downtown skies and then a laughably bad scene involving a fall down a building.
As the film progresses it gets exponentially worse, and as the science fiction elements are reincorporated back into the regular action it sadly turns from being unoriginal to simply boring. The evil Ewan human counterpart subplot comes in but short of their different looks/accents there’s nothing to it. The liberation storyline towards the end is tired, and the standard ‘fight the baddie’ climax within the colony itself is as dull as a bad “Star Trek” movie. At nearly two and a half hours its a long haul movie that presents the strange dichotomy of losing steam the more it increases the adrenalin.
Yet despite all its problems its the best Bay film in years, certainly the strongest since his only truly good film “The Rock” which is a great fun action/drama vehicle. “Armageddon” was much stupider and more fun, but the Bruckheimer-less “Island” at least tries to incorporate a story that involves some interesting and quite relevant contemporary themes about the future of medicine, cloning and the ethics involved in biodiversity. Despite these things being brought up, the moral issues are never truly explored and once Bay seems to truly seize control of the movie they’re undermined in favour of a whizz bang ending which turns those themes into a throwaway plot device.
Working for it is the actors. McGregor and Johansson have delivered much better, yet they both bring an inherit gravity and intelligence to their parts even though they’re both playing bright but somewhat inexperienced children. Small roles from Hounsou and Buscemi leave an impression too, but the likes of Duncan and Bean are utterly wasted. A lot of the trouble stems from the fact that the film initially at least tries to establish something more to these characters but as soon as they’re out in the real world, what little development is thrown out the window in favour of tired jokes about language semantics and one all too long scene of how good Ewan feels having a tongue down his throat – just wait until Scarlett teaches him how great it is to be on the receiving end of a really good rim job, his head ought to explode.
The film also suffers from what has to be the most gratuitous product placement since “Castaway”. Aquafina, XBox, Puma, Tag Heuer, all get good plugs to the point that no doubt it’ll become a great drinking game. By the end, one is astonished the ‘running clones’ in white jumpsuits don’t form up into the famous Nike swirl as the helicopter camera whizzes overhead. As always Bay shoots with that high saturation, high contrast and at times grainy frantic cinematography that seems his forte. Likewise the score is set on standard blitzkrieg levels and the visual effects, more prevalent than usual, are impressive. Notably lacking though for better or worse is a good sense of humour – the gags are tired and the film takes itself all too seriously during its ridiculous scenes.
You have to give credit to Bay for making his films engaging and “The Island” is no exception. Yes its far too long and often has some dull patches but it never truly drops its frantic pacing and sets out first and foremost to entertain and satisfy. I’m glad to see him trying something a little different like he’s done with the early scenes and casting on this film, yet this as both Summer and sci-fi movies go is average at best. The recent likes of “Sith” and “Mrs. Smith” were more satisfying in terms of sheer entertainment value, and there’s no point comparing it to the likes of the infinitely richer “Batman” or far more intense “Worlds”.
You can’t help but feel that there was once a quite interesting and potentially deep science-fiction movie that was in here that was seriously dumbed down to deliver a mediocre action vehicle. One has to ask, why must a good story be dumbed down to add in the testosterone – pulling off both action and smarts in a movie is a tough job for any director and one day he may crack it. But not today.