Well, here I am. Because I am apparently such a masochist, I am reviewing Michael Bay’s late 90s opus Armageddon. I am not sure why, honestly. You know what I may say. Everyone has said it. This is supposed to be the film that signals the death of any thought in Hollywood. So successful was it, that every single summer blockbuster is trying to emulate it. And that is for the worst. Well, you know what? I am not going to review it in the traditional way. I am not going to bother recapping the plot. You know what it is. I am not going to bother trying to say what it does wrong-you know it. It is loud, obnoxious, with terrible performances, subplots that go nowhere, characters who are introduced but never mentioned again (and become part of jokes with terrible punchlines) a predictable ending and science present that third graders could debunk. It also represents a sort of abhorrent anti-intellectualism. Blue collar workers constantly talk down to astrophysicists-and they are allowed to get away with it. NASA is berated by Bruce Willis for creating this plan despite the fact that “they’re geniuses.” Well, considering the plan they come up with, I cannot exactly fault him. But when such a fascination with lowlifes in Middle America becomes the focus, it is hard to cheer for the film.
However…however, I do feel the need to (long sigh) defend this film and Michael Bay himself. Yes, I declared him the worst director working right now. However, I am not sure how well I explained myself. What I maybe meant is that he is the worst auteur. He is guilty of everything I described. But there are directors who are a lot worse. People like Gore Verbinski, Rob Cohen, John Turteltaub, Stephen Sommers, and McG have made films that make Bay’s work look like the work of Goddard. And frankly, none of these people even try to direct a film. They have absolutely no style, no definitive scenes, nothing that makes them stand out. They merely go through motions-they are interchangeable.
Not Michael Bay. His films are unmistakably his. He has the same focus with effects and aesthetic style as James Cameron. Bay did not create many of the flaws in his films-they had been creeping into Hollywood since the advent of MTV in the 1980s (mostly due to the efforts of producer Jerry Bruckheimer). Tony Scott does this sort of thing and gets away with it. So does his brother. Dark City, another film that came out in 1998 (and actually shared a Saturn Award with Armageddon for best sci-fi film of the year) contains the same sort of editing style. It was widely praised and holds a 77% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Why should Michael Bay take the blame for something many directors are embracing? As time goes on, his films seem almost on the forefront of the cutting edge. Like Roger Corman is considered-how much influence has he had on Hollywood?
Now, Armageddon. Howard Hawks once stated that a great film is “three good scenes and no bad ones.” How, then, do I deal with this, which is maybe three good scenes (I will give it credit there) and three bad scenes (which are made worse by the fact that they feature both Ben Affleck and Owen Wilson)? The mass scenes of destruction are well done (particularly the destruction of Paris) and the editing, to a point, works to help create a sense of unity in the world. Multiple cutaways show a variety of things happening throughout the world. It does manage to give a sense that we are part of something bigger. And the film-well I did manage to sit through it, something I have not been able to do with other Bay films (no power will ever get me to watch Pearl Harbor or Bad Boys II again. Ever). The film does work to a certain degree. And, unlike that other big comet film Deep Impact, it is not pretentious. It knows what it wants to be and does not try to be some sort of failed human interest story. When you are dealing with an asteroid “the size of the state of Texas” as is stated too many times, a larger scale may be what is required.
But the film does far too many awful things. The science is terrible (to the point where it does not acknowledge the existence of time zones) and the love story presented was the worse until-well Pearl Harbor. Dear reader, I am sorry, but I broke one of my own rules. During the “animal crackers” scene and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” scene, I could not hit the fast forward quickly enough. The film did not almost stop in its tracks. It almost flew through the guard rail off an overpass. Those scenes are such disasters that they have to be seen to be believed. But only once-I assure you. Maybe even only half a time.
It is not quite the assault that it was made out to be. But it is not good. In hindsight, it seems a lot better, because we now know how low Michael Bay can sink.