Image courtesy of www.impawards.com
Ewan McGregor……….Lincoln Six Echo/Tom Lincoln
Scarlett Johansson……….Jordan Two Delta/Sarah Jordan
Djimon Hounsou……….Albert Laurent
There are two types of artists in any creative field. The first is the artist that is interested solely in their craft, the one who doesn’t care about the sort of money it could fetch. With them it is the creative expression and expansion that matters; Martin Scorsese is this sort of auteur. He is a craftsman of the highest order whose lesser work is still better than many directors top work and yet financially his movies are generally never among the top 10 or 20 in any given year. The other type of artist is the anti-Scorsese, if you will. This is the sort of director who doesn’t try to make a masterpiece or even a movie bound to be nominated for more than technical awards at year’s end; he’s trying to make something that pleases the audience in a purely visceral way and laughs all the way to the bank doing it. Jerry Bruckheimer has made a living producing the films of these sorts of directors, most recently with Michael Bay.
Bay isn’t among the elite directors in Hollywood for one reason; he makes one-dimensional action-oriented movies that outdraw most of the Academy Award nominated movies on a regular basis. While it will never earn him critical praise or any sort of award beyond the fluff award shows of MTV or Nickelodeon, many an auteur will come and go while the Michael Bays of the world remain ever constant. Grabbing box office bucks with his high profile bonanzas, movies like Bay’s latest opus, The Island, are the backbone that allows the “serious” cinema of Hollywood to survive.
Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star as Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta, two star-crossed lovers in a world not of their own doing. Crafted from real people’s DNA, they are meant as spare parts. Problems arise when Lincoln realizes the truth and flees the oasis, taking Jordan with him. The man behind all of this is Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), brilliant doctor and geneticist. He objects to this and hires Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) to bring them back. From here it’s a mad cap rush of escape and survival filled to the brim with lots of explosions, chases scenes and some gunfights all stylized for your protection.
At first glance, The Island is a combination of several movies of the genre. The plot is reminiscent of the 1970s science fiction ground-breaker Logan’s Run, car chases in the manner of The Matrix: Reloaded and stylized action sequences commonplace in any Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Bay has $130 million dollars to play with for this movie and the movie shows it off.
The strength of the movie is in its action sequences. Bay plays to his major strength, which is making his action tight, engrossing and dramatic. When The Island is in full-bore action mode it is operating at its peak efficiency. Bay knows how to craft his action sequences so that they are believable and suspenseful on top of being incredibly well done. When the movie goes into being more action than plot, it is gripping and engrossing.
The world surrounding this action is also crafted magnificently. Set many years past today, The Island borrows heavily from Minority Report in trying to imagine the sort of world possible, warts and all, a lifetime from now.
The problems begin when the movie isn’t in an action sequence. Bay’s problem as a director is that he isn’t good when it comes to building dramatic tension without the use of an explosion or a gun fight. With having the amount of talent to work with on this film, Bay does a remarkably poor job of putting them in position to succeed. He leaves his main characters (McGregor and Johansson) one-dimensional, rooting for them if only be default. He also does a poor job trying to create his villain in Bean’s Merrick. Merrick is evil but in an innocuous way; he isn’t given enough scenery to chomp to really make the cause of Lincoln and Jordan seem noble by comparison. He’s evil and bad in a visceral way but he lacks the sort of depth (for an action movie villain, that is) like he showed as Ian Howe in National Treasure.
Bay’s pacing also has a lot to be desired; the first act of the film is developed at a snail’s pace. Bay crams the bulk of the plot into his first 40 minutes, leaving the last 2/3 of the movie to be comprised of minimal plot and maximum action sequences. This is Bay’s first production without Bruckheimer’s steady hand over him and it shows; the movie takes far too long to stop with the plot and back-story, little as it may be, and places far too much time and effort on a story that requires a more minimalist approach. His attempt at making it a slow build until his big action sequences is commendable but he does it in such a boring, melodramatic fashion that the action is a welcome relief from the plot for the wrong reason.