|The Island (2005)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi, Sean Bean, Michael Clarke Duncan
Director: Michael Bay
ALSO! Check out where it ranked in our 2005 Year in Review.
I recently took a beating from the sports fans who frequent Bullz-Eye when I dared to suggest that the Washington Nationals would finish in last place this season. At this point in time, they are the feel-good story of the summer, and that’s great, though I still don’t hold out hope for their playoff chances. Nonetheless, it forced me to look at my predictions for this summer’s movie slate. When it came to “The Island,” Michael Bay’s new sci-fi action thriller, I said, “While it will no doubt have more than its share of crane shots and preposterous explosions, it should be smarter than the average Bay.”
Dude, I was so on. “The Island” is actually quite enjoyable from a recycled sci-fi perspective. It has a relatively smart script, it’s teeming with talented, beautiful actors, and is exquisitely shot. But in the end, Bay just can’t help himself, and it’s not long before we are subjected to the same swirling camera shots and, yes, preposterous explosions that have made his name. Parents of young ones should also know that this is the most violent PG-13 movie I’ve ever seen, with scenes of gore just a notch below Bay’s R-rated “The Rock.”
Ewan McGregor stars as Lincoln Six Echo, a survivor of a massive plague that has poisoned the earth. Lincoln, along with all of the other survivors, lives underground in a sterile environment, with dreams of going to The Island, a Utopian world that is the only untainted place left on Earth. When his friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) is chosen to go to the island, Lincoln is both happy for her and a little jealous.
That is, until he learns The Awful Truth about the island. There was no plague, and there clearly is no island, as he sees one of the previous weeks’ “winners” getting dragged down a hospital floor to an operating table. He immediately grabs Jordan Two Delta and tries to escape, in hopes of buying enough time to figure out exactly what is going on. He has a sympathetic ear in programmer McCord (Steve Buscemi), but supervisor Merrick (Sean Bean) will stop at nothing to protect his investment, even if it means causing the unholy destruction of downtown Los Angeles. And, of course, it does.
Despite the subject matter cribbing from several sci-fi stories – “The Matrix,” “Logan’s Run” and “Fortress” are the main source materials, with a dash of “Minority Report” – the story is reasonably well executed, playing its hand only when it has to and leaving the audience in the dark as long as it can. Well, at least until Lincoln and Jordan escape the underground, and then all hell literally breaks loose, with a massive Run, Clone, Run! sequence that decimates half of a rather cool looking futuristic Los Angeles. It brings to mind the story about Bay when he was in negotiations to direct “Phone Booth.” While plotting out the course of action, Bay said to the producers, “How the fuck do I get this thing out of the phone booth?”
McGregor is clearly having some fun here, but he also adds a level of subtlety that Bay’s movies usually lack. His Lincoln Six Echo begins the movie as a blank slate, with his emotional responses just slightly off in all the right ways. Johansson is a little wiser (the scene where she raises a single eyebrow at McGregor is one of the sexiest things you’ll ever see) and, just like children are, she’s more emotionally developed, which comes in handy. No one else’s role is of any real significance. Michael Clarke Duncan’s Starkweather could have been played by anyone. Buscemi is once again Bay’s comic relief, and Bean is once again the heavy. On the plus side, if you’re going to get anyone to play these roles, you may as well get someone good, and they did just that.
Back to getting the actors out of the phone booth, so to speak. This proves to be Bay’s fatal move, as the action within the facility contained a certain claustrophobia that raised the tension a notch. Once they escape, the movie loses that edge. Granted, the action has to go above ground to reach its conclusion, but had Bay been able to put it off until the third act, it would have served him well. But no, Bay can’t wait to get them to L.A., if only so he can start blowing shit up. The scene involving a 70-story drop seems woefully out of place, as if Bay himself has forgotten that he’s making a sci-fi movie, not an adaptation of the video game “Rampage.”
“The Island” has its good points, but ultimately succumbs to what undoes all of Bay’s movies, which is the notion that bigger and louder is better. Quieter and tighter, now that would have been better. Sadly, that is not what we get.