Action Heroes – Willis: Armageddon

I won’t shy away from the fact that I’m not a big Michael Bay fan. I tend to agree with the critics in that he lacks subtlety and his films are over-long and over-edited. You watch this pile of trash or even The Rock and you’ll be hard pressed to find a handful of shots that linger for over five seconds before cutting to another angle.

The destruction of skyscrapers or landmarks has never impressed me, not even in Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day. And yet Bay continues to bring on the CGI-candy. Looking at Bay’s own film output I must say I quite enjoyed Bad Boys – the only reason the hyperstyle worked is because it covered up the plotholes and the small budget. On this film Bay worked effectively as a director with a piece of shit script.

The came The Rock which made for a good first viewing. But on return it’s full of so much crap and so many letsdowns (what the hell was that chase sequence in the middle of the film all about anyway?). I won’t go on to look at his films post-Armageddon – suffice to say not much has changed and the scripts are even weaker.

So Armageddon:  Bruce Willis is ably supported by an unbelievably huge cast of known actors and up and coming stars:  Ben Affleck; Billy Bob Thornton; Liv Tyler; Will Patton; Owen Wilson; Keith David; Jason Isaacs; Michael Clarke Duncan; Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare; William Fichtner, Charlton Heston… The Rock had a similar star-like cast of familiar faces alongside Connery, Cage and Harris (Michael Biehn, Philip Baker Hall, William Forsythe, Claire Forlani, Tony Todd, David Morse, John C McGinley and so on), but then so did other Bruckheimer films like Con-Air (Cage, Cusack and Malkovich were supported by Rachel Ticotin, Mykelti Williamson, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Danny Trejo and Colm Meany among many) and Gone in 60 Seconds (Cage again, Robert Duvall, Angelina Jolie, Vinnie Jones, Chi McBride, Christopher Eccleston, Scott Caan, Giovanni Ribisi, Delroy Lindo, Timothy Olyphant and Will Patton). He seems to be the action movie equivalent of John Grisham where every part has a decent character actor in place.

And it’s down to the colourful array of actors and characters in this film that the first half works so well. Watching the mission come about and the characters interact with each other is magic. We start at Harry Stamper’s (Willis) oil rig where slowly but surely we meet the majority of his team and each is given a second or two to get some information about themselves across. Steve Buscemi really gets to make the most of being the comic relief here with his wisecracks and eventual outing as the person who showed Stamper’s daughter (Tyler) how to use a tampon!

Our motley crew are then told of the impending disaster that looms in the shape of a several mile long asteroid. Unbelievably, Willis convinces the powers that be that only he and his men can tackle this  issue. So we then go into training montage where each of the team are probed, tested, dunked, injected and pushed to their physical and mental limits (spot the Udo Kier cameo). In amongst all this, Bay delivers the odd piece of action and occasional rooms of military men asking scientists dumb questions. The fun is with the team that are going to be going up though. Anything else is just driving the plot forward. And it’s a shame too as when it comes to the men going into space and the film relaxing its funny bone you start to miss it all, very much.

All the while we get Bruce Willis having to tackle some of the most troublesome dialogue he’s ever had to voice.  He spends most of his time worrying about his daughter and fending off young upstart Affleck who’s after her affections.

After a disastrous stop at the Russian space station (which for no reason other than clichéd plot device gets destroyed) to fuel up, it’s a slingshot round the moon and then a bit of a bumpy landing on the giant ice rock. About a third of team get wiped out (goodbye Owen Wilson) and the rest are split into two teams.  Harry gets the mission going but it isn’t long before the people on earth lose their nerve and try to blow them up, culminating in a stand-off between the roughnecks and the military babysitters which ends with the corny line “I have never missed a depth!” from Willis (if you think that’s bad, poor old William Fichtner gets lumbered with clunkers like “He’s got space dementia!”).

A few incidents later and a few team members lighter and they finally all come together to drill the hole and drop the bomb. Of course not all is what they hoped for and one person has to remain behind to set it off. Affleck draws the short straw (and boy it might have actually been a decent and surprising ending there if he’d done it). But daddy has to step in and play hero. So we end up with Harry staying behind, giving a tearful (read as laugh out loud hilarious at the Cannes Film Festival screening) farewell to his daughter and a cheesy montage of zoomed closed ups as he pushes the button and blows his balls and the asteroid apart.

The rest of the team land home to heroes’ welcomes, and before you can say “wouldn’t it be cheesy if they had photographs of the dead roughnecks present at the wedding”… well they do. And I was only joking at the time, but ended up slapping my forehead silly in front of my friends when we saw it for the first time in the cinema.

Armageddon, with its poor, poor editing style and OTT action, ends up a bit of a guilty pleasure thanks largely to an entertaining first half. Having said all this, looking at Bay’s films that came out after (Pearl Harbour, The Island, Bad Boys 2, and three Transformers movies), it’s with gritted teeth that I say that Armageddon is one of his best films still.

Steven Hurst

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