Written by: Jimmy Hitt, CC2K Staff Writer
The Island, Or, Michael Bay the Auteur, Or, Please Stop Laughing
Granted, Michael Bay has one of those crisp and clean styles of directing that one would never confuse with Kubrick or Terry Gilliam, but at the same time, he is quite possibly more attuned to the audience’s enjoyment than any other director working today, aside from James Cameron. His characters are typically the most flippant and uninspiring people imaginable, but occasionally his work hits home in ways unique to cinema. One of the reasons Pearl Harbor sucked was because it took a slightly familiar story and gave it the Hollywood treatment—PC Japanese and all. The only way Pearl Harbor would have worked is if Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and the rest of the crew were replaced with unknowns. I guess what I’m saying is that Michael Bay has a tendency to use big names for characters with little or no interesting qualities. It allows him to forego characterization in favor of action. And he is the king of action.
So, The Island must be seen as Bay’s first film to truly embrace his talents on a multifaceted level. Since characterization is a problem for him, Bay wrote a story about clones with little intellectual development and even fewer annoying scenes of dialogue. Can anyone say that they didn’t cringe when Stanley Goodspeed said, “I’m a Beatle-maniac,” without a hint of sarcasm? Sure you are, Stanley, sure you are. (And what's with that name , anyway?)
Here, Ewan McGregor actually plays a wooden character on purpose, and Scarlet Johansson’s only directive is to look fucking hot. Let me be the first to say, “It works.” She looks hot, and the two main characters in tandem produce scene after heart racing scene. They act stupid, like all the other Michael Bay characters, because they are stupid. They are able to navigate the rigors of 21st Century action scenes because while in captivity they trained with virtual reality software. I love it. Finally there is a reason behind a main character’s invincibility other than that employed in Ultraviolet: cause Mila has such a tight stomach, dude! It’s not the standard action hero pedigree like, say, The Cruel Tutelage of Pai Mei, but it works.
Then the fun begins, just after the tricky little set-up. Aside from all of the philosophical repercussions of having clones of real citizens brainwashed into submission by dreams of an island paradise, when they escape and enter the real world, things begin to interest me. I feel the peril when Scarlet nears any man—because she’s so fucking hot. I can smell the characters’ hunger and exhaustion outside of their controlled reality. Sure, it’s all a little bit contrived and cheesy in a Michael Bay sort of way, but it’s such a great time that I couldn’t care less. Steve Buscemi’s presence only spices up the already-delicious cocktail.
And the hits keep on coming, especially after we learn what the facility really contains: clones of the super-wealthy; personal organ donors. In the midst of the easy-to-love storyline are two incomparable action scenes that sound great on a 5 speaker system and look amazing on a Hi-Def Plasma screen. The first occurs when Ewan’s character unleashes some industrial spools onto the highway. It blows The Matrix Reloaded’s highway scene out of its proverbial and, quite frankly, murky water. Second is the skyscraper scene, where a giant sign falls slowly down the building’s façade. I don’t know how the two characters survive, but goddamnit if it wasn’t spectacular.
This is what Michael Bay was meant to film. It’s possible that he has never made a better movie and never will again. The fact that The Island tanked hard at the box office shouldn’t serve as any indication of the film’s merit, especially since Bad Boys I and II were pretty terrible movies and they did great business. All in all, I feel that The Island is about as good a film as its concept would allow. It could easily have become another Gattaca, a film so bogged down in its supposed importance that it never really lived up to its potential; yet, Bay is too smart for that. He got his start in commercials and the lessons of that business always shine through his work as a film director. Never a dull moment seems to be his credo, and I can respect that.