By Brian Rentschler
Short version: Overall, this movie was silly and formulaic. The threadbare plot and insipid dialogue made it almost unwatchable at times, but the movie partially redeemed itself by including a few action sequences that pandered to me.
Given the fact that this movie was directed by Michael Bay, I wasn’t expecting Citizen Kane when I sat down to watch it, but I have to admit that despite a few interesting action sequences, I was really surprised by how bad it was. After the movie was over, I watched a “Making Of” documentary about the movie, which I thought was far more interesting than the movie itself. The first shot in that documentary is Michael Bay being interviewed on camera. He’s talking about how he told the writers not to go into details about the action sequences. He only wanted them to put the word “action” in the script where they wanted an action sequence, and he would come up with the specific details himself at a later time. At first glance, such an approach doesn’t seem unreasonable, but trust me, that’s his way of saying that he puts far more value on action scenes than storyline or character development.
The Island is a very unique film for Michael Bay in a couple of different ways. It’s the first feature film Bay has directed that wasn’t produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, and it was a box office failure, earning only about $36 million in the U.S. According to IMDB, Bay’s next project is the Transformers movie. That doesn’t sound like every director’s dream to me, but Steven Spielberg is listed as an executive producer, so what do I know?
The Island is set in the year 2019, and it starts out in a contained, somewhat utopian facility. Everyone in the facility has been told that they are the only survivors of a major contamination disaster that killed off the rest of the world’s population. Life in the facility is pleasant enough, but ultimately boring and unfulfilling. What everyone looks forward to, more than anything else, is a lottery of sorts held at regular intervals. The winner of each lottery gets to go live on The Island ™, where there is peace, prosperity, love, happiness, puppy dogs and rainbows.
Dr. Merrick (played by Sean Bean), who runs the facility, is pleased with how everything is going. At least he is until Lincoln Six Echo (played by Ewan McGregor) starts asking “too many” questions. Why do people keep joining the facility? Where are they coming from? Didn’t the contamination kill everyone else off? Where do all those pipes go, and what are they for? Why does everyone wear white uniforms, which are difficult to keep clean? (It scared me to hear a guy ask that last question.) Lincoln’s best friend is Jordan Two Delta (played by Scarlett Johansson), who ends up winning the next lottery to go to The Island ™. Quite by accident, Lincoln discovers a level in the facility that he was not supposed to know about. He ends up seeing two people who had supposedly gone to The Island ™, but instead they end up being killed while he watches. Fearful for Jordan’s life, Lincoln helps her escape from the facility into the outside world, which turns out to be quite uncontaminated.
As luck would have it, the first place Lincoln wanders into happens to be a hangout for a friend of his from the facility, a guy named McCord (played by Steve Buscemi). After McCord gets over his initial shock and disbelief from seeing Lincoln and Jordan outside the facility, he hides them at his place and explains that there is no such place as The Island ™ (ya think?), and that everyone in the facility is a clone of a human who has paid good money for the clone’s “spare parts.” Some are surrogate moms, others are there to provide eyes, others are there to provide a liver or kidney, but all of them are ultimately killed after their purpose has been served. Lincoln and Jordan are shocked (yes, shocked!) by this, um, shocking revelation, and they immediately decide to inform their human counterparts of the evil, deceptive practices that are being used by Dr. Merrick and his facility. Of course, Dr. Merrick, not wanting to lose his multi-billion dollar business, hires a mercenary by the name of Albert Laurent (played by Djimon Hounsou) to track down Lincoln and Jordan. There are so many nail-biting questions at this point. Will Lincoln and Jordan be able to track down their human counterparts and let them know what the facility is really doing to its citizens? Even if they’re successful, will the human counterparts even care? Will Laurent and his team catch up to them first? Will lots of action sequences take place in the meantime? What will happen to everyone else inside the facility? Will a love story develop between the two lead characters, despite the fact that they were “programmed” not to have any such desire and the actors who play them are 13 years apart in real life?
Seriously, I could feel my IQ drop while I watched this movie. It felt that “dumbed down.” There were a few action sequences that were so well done that I felt compelled to keep my rating above the dreaded “one star or less” theshold. Probably my favorite action sequence was one that involved a flatbed truck carrying lots of train wheel sets that look like barbells. (I wondered why such things were necessary, since all the trains are portrayed as mag-lev, but I’m sure some techno-geek will set me straight.) I was also struck by the fact that every car chase scene involved Dodge Magnums — model year 2005, to be exact. I thought I was the only person who drove a 14-year-old car; it’s nice to know I’m not alone. And the way the movie depicts the future… that’s only 14 years away. I don’t even think the local freeway improvement project near my place is going to be done in 14 years, and this movie would have us believe that all the trains are going mag-lev, some vehicles can fly… yeah, okay. Sure…
So is this movie worth watching? Honestly, I can’t imagine anyone for whom the answer is yes. Armageddon is equally stupid, but it’s more enjoyable. The Rock has equally insipid dialogue, but it’s kind of cool to see Sean Connery liven up the screen. I’m not sure what the exact reason was for the box office failure of The Island, but my best guess is because it wasn’t a “feel good” movie, and the two lead roles should have been recast. If you set your expectations appropriately low and bring plenty of popcorn, you might be okay, but I think it’s safe to say that one of Bay’s earlier masterpieces might fit the bill a little better.