I have something to confess: with the exception of the absolutely atrocious Armageddon and Pearl Harbor, I have actually enjoyed most of Michael Bay’s movies. Not because they resemble what anyone with two brain cells to rub together would consider decent cinema, but, because they are actually fun to watch. Bad Boys I and II and The Rock might be over-edited, overlong, overstuffed demolition derbies of sound, fury and zero substance, but Bay certainly knows how to make them fun.
His latest sensory overload is The Island, a sci-fi action epic starring Ewan McGregor and Scarlet Johansson. Is it mindless fun like The Rock or Bad Boys, or cringe inducing bile like Armageddon or Harbor? Somewhere in the middle, I would say.
Lincoln Six-Echo (McGregor) is a resident of a utopian but contained facility in the mid-21st century. Like all of the other inhabitants, Lincoln hopes to be chosen to go to the The Island – reputedly the last uncontaminated spot on the planet – that is until he discovers that everything about his existence is a lie and that he is actually more valuable dead than alive. With fellow resident Jordan Two-Delta (Johansson) at his side, Lincoln makes a daring escape to the outside world to discover the truth. Naturally, the powers that be are in pursuit.
Conservatives will love this movie, despite a none-too-subtle swipe at Our Fearless Leader halfway through. For the first hour or so, The Island works as a cautionary tale about the effects of cloning in the guise of a diverting summertime popcorn flick. Instead of unleashing his typical filmmaking ingredients – mass destruction, car chases and pap pop songs to get things rolling – Bay spends the first half of the movie setting up the utopian society Lincoln and Jordan inhabit. Reminiscent of films such as THX-1138, Blade Runner and Logan’s Run, this is where The Island is at its most entertaining and interesting. Decent performances from McGregor, Johansson, Djimon Hounsou as a hired gun, Sean Bean, as society creator Merrick, and Steve Buscemi, as a technician friend of Lincoln’s, also help.
But once Lincoln and Jordan escape into the outside world, the filmic influences (Minority Report, The Matrix, Bay’s ownBad Boys II and even Schindler’s List) are so strong that one has to wonder whether Attack of the Clones would have been a better title. Worse the blatant product placements come even more fast and furious than Bay’s trademark edits. With the exception of a terrific car chase and a few very funny scenes, The Island becomes your standard, run-of-the-mill action film that jettisons much of the ingenuity of the first half in exchange for chases, explosions and shootouts, culminating in a rushed, self-conscious conclusion that is enough to have even the most undiscriminating movie fan to roll their eyes in disbelief.
The Island is a film that starts well, but runs out of gas long before its conclusion. It is a cinematic vacation spot you may wish to hold off visiting until it reaches the less expensive shores of DVD rentals in a few months.