Michael Bay, Hollywood’s unrepentant purveyor of blowing shit up real good, had pretty much detonated a fair chunk of Miami in his debut, Bad Boys, not to mention the spiffy new coat of napalm he coated Alcatraz island with in his sophomore effort, The Rock; so when it came time for him to announce his next movie, people wondered which city would suffer his nitrous wrath next. Well, never let it be said that Bay thinks small as the city he chose to annihilate was pretty much ALL of them at the same fucking time thanks to a pesky meteorite that’s the size of Texas, twice as mean and heading for us faster than a cat with a serious case of the 2am’s.
Still under the watchful eye of super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer (with Gale Anne Hurd also thrown in for good measure) Bay not only had himself a canvas the size of which he’d never had before but an honest to God enemy to smite in the form of the marginally more serious Deep Impact. That’s right, thanks to that bizarre quirk that only ever seems to happen in Hollywood, TWO killer meteorite movies where released that year and that is all Bay needed to unleash full, uncut, maximum bayhem onto awestruck audiences the like of which they had never seen before.
Beginning the film with a voice over from Charlton fucking Heston himself; he gravely informs us of the vital statistics of the meteor strike that nixed the dinosaurs as a prehistoric earth gets a cosmic enema from a hurtling space rock. It quickly becomes apparent as Bay OPENS his movie with Ben-Hur delivering blow by blow commentary on the destruction of all life on earth, that this movie isn’t going to fuck around. Zipping ahead to modern times (e.g. 1998), NASA gets wind that some serious shit is about to go down when first a space shuttle and then New York get peppered by flaming space detritus the size of basketball and Volkswagens and lo and behold a telescope picks out a “planet-killer” tumbling our way. Desperately brain-storming ideas, NASA honcho Dan Truman enlists oil driller Harry Stamper to train astronauts to bore a hole on the monstrous cosmic rock in order to blown it in half with a nuke from the inside. Harry disagrees, announcing that drilling simply isn’t something that cant be taught and that it would be easier to train his motley crew of rough necks to be astronauts instead. For no other reason other than this is a summer blockbuster directed by a man who went on to craft a scene involving a giant transforming robot pissing on John Turturro, NASA actually agrees and this deranged gang of misfits strive to become full fledged spacemen in TWELVE DAYS.
If this wasn’t preposterous enough, tensions rise when Harry finds out that his daughter, Grace and his young protege A.J. have fallen in love, something that the grizzled driller his heavily against despite bigger things literally looming on the horizon. Can these greasy lunkheads (who count excessive gambling and addiction to horse tranquilizers among their “quirks”) possibly hope to persevere after being flown to the asteroid to drill on the most hostile terrain imaginable?
Looking back at Armageddon armed with full knowledge that it’s directed by the man who went on to expel the two and a half hour plus Tranformers 5 onto an unsuspecting world like a regurgitating snake, it’s actually fascinating to see all those excessive bad habits Bay is now infamous for starting to creep in around the edges. Characters loudly hurl insults at each other based on race or size, rudimentary science is dumbed down to a hilarious degree involving examples involving firecrackers, ketchup bottles and Wile. E Coyote and WHAT the hell is up with that running joke that suggests that Steve Buscemi’s character is prone to sleeping with underage girls!?!?
Laughable attempts of drama (Seduction by animal cracker? Really?) stand shoulder to shoulder with scenes of legitimately breathless destruction as the movie careens through it’s aggressively daft plot without a solitary fuck for such pithy necessities such as common sense, logic or even a shred of subtlety. An early scene involving New York literally getting rocked by a vicious meteor shower may uncomfortably preempt the horrors of 9/11 but it’s still a riveting vision of destruction despite predominantly having Eddie Griffin loudly scream in panic at his supposedly indestructible pug dog.
While we’re on the subject, it’s also quite curious that even though Bay is a notorious fanboy of NASA, he has no qualms in showcasing all their space equipment as explodey death traps the second anyone gets within three feet of them. Hardly a glowing recruitment video…
Truth be told, however, Armageddon is a movie of two halves, one of which is far more entertaining than the other. The opening half introduces us to the large and admittedly impressive ensemble cast which includes *deep breath* Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Ben Affleck, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Liv Tyler, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Patton Peter Stromare and William Fichter *gasps for air* and their slapstick, joke-a-minute training is legitimately entertaining but when the action moves to outer space, thing start to get somewhat episodic, even for a disaster movie. Virtually all the trials and tribulations that the cast go through once they land on the tumbling intergalactic missile could pretty much happen in any order and the chunky spacesuit make it tough to work out who is who unless their giving one of the film’s endless speeches.
But despite all the mawkish flag waving and the fact that it seems like every other scene seems to be drenched in the stars and stripes, the movie (thanks to it’s crackingly good cast – a must for a 90’s Bruckheimer production) manages to hold it’s course through some choppy terrain to ultimately become an entertaining ride. Yes, the movie handles it’s on-screen relationships and emotions was well as that drunk friend who always insists on loudly telling you how much they love you, but I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity to admit that many man-tears were actually shed on my part during the self-sacrifice heavy climax despite the film notoriously getting chuckles from journalists at Cannes (“I’m glad you find the end of the world so amusing” bristled the notoriously prickly Willis as laughter greeted his big emotional moment with his on-screen daughter).
If you can wade through the clench-jawed emoting, rapid fire editing and that god damn fucking Aerosmith song, Bay’s ode to giant boomy rocks is a good robust giggle but those who can’t stand the crushing G-force of such punishing levels of dumb will instantly be set adrift by the utterly ludicrous concept – even Affleck admitted that Bay urged him to “shut the fuck up” when the actor pressed him on the realism of teaching drillers to astronaut as opposed to the other way around.
However, you have to remember that this was the exact point that the director started working overtime into pumping his exhausting bad habits into his movies and the steady decline to such movies as Pearl Harbour and the Transformers sequels where all but a formality.
Still, a film that casually turns the entirety of Paris into the world’s largest car park is pretty tough to ignore and is a decent example of 90’s, blockbuster ridiculousness but for most critics, it was a case of them shrugging their shoulders and stating “Armageddon sick of this…”.