After the frantic chaos of Bad Boys II, there was something of a question as to where Michael Bay would go next after a career spent machine gunning Manhattan with asteroids, nuking Alcatraz with napalm and hurling cars all over Miami. After taking a critical black eye or two after the laughable romance of Pearl Harbour, Bay had returned to more familiar waters as Will Smith and Martin Lawrence decimated Cuban drug barons and the KKK with bullets and quips aplenty – but the Bad Boys sequel would also mark the end of Bay’s collaboration with super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the man who had overseen all of the director’s features thus far. So the question was asked again: where exactly would Bay go next? The answer would be DreamWorks, with his next project being a deep dive into sci-fi with The Island, a flashy, high concept, futuristic romp that saw the famously energetic director having to try and restrain himself in order to tell a gradually unravelling story complete with outlandish twists.
In a dystopian 2019, Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta live with the other survivors of a global contamination in an isolated compound under a strict set of rules. Clothing, meals and down time is regulated to keep everyone safe but everyone is automatically included in a lottery where, if they win, they will leave the facility and go to “the Island”, a miraculous paradise seemingly untouched by the fatal pollution that’s apparently poisoned the planet.
However, if all that sounds incredibly dubious, then congratulations because what’s actually going on is that Lincoln, Jordan and all the other, white jumpsuit wearing members of the compound are actually clones, manufactured in order to be insurance policies for the super wealthy in case they need a transplant or two. The story of a dystopian world outside is weapons grade bullshit and the Island is nothing more than a fake goal when in actuality it means that it’s time for you to be led off to have your organs harvested but due to his enhanced curiosity, Lincoln is somewhat ahead of the curve.
Escaping to find earth is absolutely fine, thank you very much, the two clones have to find a way to stay multiple steps ahead of the mercenaries sent to bring them back in by sinister boss-man Dr. Merrick who all look at clones as merely a product with no souls or rights to prevent them from firing automatic weapons in their direction on a crowded street. But even though Lincoln and Jordan have the mental age of fifteen year olds, they prove to be extremely wily, managing to stay ahead of flying air cycles and crashing helicopters and even manage to locate the people they’ve been cloned from. However, if they don’t find a way to expose this highly illegal operation, every clone back at the compound will be mercilessly culled in staggeringly inhuman version of a factory recall.
When watching The Island, it’s impossible to ignore that the whole movie is “off” is some kind of way you can’t quite put your finger on and after a while it becomes quite bothersome. It should work, I mean there’s none better than Bay to create a vapid, empty, highly photogenic facade as that’s pretty much how he shoots the world anyhow, but much like that fake reality created for these clones, something just doesn’t feel right. Both Ewan McGregor – still fresh from spending months in front of green screens as Obi Wan Kenobi – and Scarlett Johansson – five years away from portraying Black Widow for a sizable portion of her life – are both capable, likable actors and yet they noticably both don’t quite gel in the roles and the entire concept, while entertainingly preposterous, holds less water than a spastic bladder. However, when you hear Bay tell it himself, things finally start to come into focus as it seems that The Island was supposed to be a ramped up pastiche of the camp, dystopia-on-the-run movie that’s seen in such camp classics as Logan’s Run and THX-1138 – the problem, it seems, is that Bay is unable to direct anything that isn’t a grotesque, glossy, parody of a garish commercial, do while Bay was apparently taking the piss, we instead all just saw a standard Michael Bay film.
To be fair, if you up your resistance to silliness (substantially), The Island is actually a hugely expensive looking disposable bit of fun that, in more rational hands, could have been a tight, rug pulling, sci-fi/thriller, but the Lord of Bayhem simply hasn’t the patience for all that plot shit and obviously just wants to blow shit up. He holds his water admirably however, but by the time the movie is half over, he loses all self control and the story has a fifteen minute break down where the director desperately has to get all the destruction out of his system before he has a fucking aneurysm and thus hurls scenes of car destruction (Plagiarized from his own Bad Boys II), miraculous escapes and vehicles straight out of Halo in an admittedly impressive orgy of noise and fire.
The real joke is that he needn’t have bothered as the trailer gave the game away months before the film was even released which makes the build up oddly tedious and the reveal completely nonsensical, but in all the super-shiny bedlam, there’s still a lot to enjoy and some of it’s even deliberate!
While it’s amusing that the script genuinely believes that Maxim magazine will still exist and Xbox continues to use their original logo in a future that has floating trains, the best example of the director’s weird Bay-isms involves the fact that Lincoln is American while the amoral douchebag he’s based off (both played by McGregor who grasps any opportunity to actually act like a drowning man reaching for a flotation device) keeps the actor’s orginal Scottish brogue which I suppose means that in Bay’s vision of the future, Scottish equals evil – or something. Elsewhere Bay actually crowbars in a major plot point involving women being irresponsible with credit cards (it doesn’t help that Johansson is not much more that blonde hair, lips and a pair of boobs), while Sean Bean’s villainous scientist is suddenly able to brawl like a MMA fighter in order to end the film with a standard, if ludicrously illogical, boss fight. Still, he fares better than Steve Buscemi and Djimon Hounsou who are all but lost amid the showers of sparks and frantic editing.
It’s all preposterous bullcrap of course, over produced to within an inch of it’s life – but while there’s some interesting social questions a movie like this could raise about the nature of humanity, human rights and even the pro-choice argument, Bay obviously would rather spend his time dropping train parts onto a high speed car chase than actually have anything interesting to say.
Still, as a one off, The Island is fun to visit but is ultimately a rather hollow attack of the clones.