Armageddon slams into theaters... and blows that other comet flick away
It's the middle of summer, and it's time for the big blockbusters to be released. However, there are surprisingly very few, and ARMAGEDDON has a good chance at coming out on top... or at least at the box office. This pure action film from Jerry Bruckheimer (you know, the producer who gave us The Rock) is a milestone ahead of its predecessor, Deep Impact, which mostly suffered from direction, writing and special effects (which really only leaves acting, and that wasn't all that spectacular either). ARMAGEDDON knows exactly what it is and what it wants to be, and it succeeds in doing that. My only complaint is that the film ended cheaply.
Okay, so Armageddon isn't a great film. It's just a whole lot better than Deep Impact, and maybe I'm giving it too high of a review. But, let's face it: what more do we expect from a summer film then what's given to us in this film? I wasn't expecting a whole lot, only that it would be more entertaining than Deep Impact (and Thank God for that). The action is kept up and the audience has a great time. Unfortunately, some things do tend to annoy people, and this film does use quite a bit of them (I will expound on this further into my review).
From the start, Armageddon already looks to beat its predecessor, f/x-wise and action-wise. However, the plot shakes with similarities, but this is not its fault. The two "celestial-body-heading-towards-Earth" were made at about the same time, and the plots just coincidentally matched. ARMAGEDDON does something right by setting its priorities straight and heading towards the biggest box office crowd: the ones looking for mindless entertainment. We all know Armageddon will do well financially, but can it hold up as an overall film? My answer is: yes.
The film begins with a very impressive sequence involving a meteor shower. Meteors plunge into cities (most notably New York... again) and destroy landmarks and other various buildings. Watching the Empire State Building's top fall is rather impressive, and the shock of witnessing this often evokes laughter in the audience. However, the mood is kept rather somber and dark, rather than Deep Impact's ever-changing human-interest light drama to end-of-the-world chaos. It's impossible to review one comet film without mentioning the other, and I'm not even going to try. However, ARMAGEDDON has an underrated action director (Michael Bay) as well as a well-known cast. Together, they create a enjoyable action film that is sure to please most movie-goers.
After someone finally discovers the asteroid hurtling towards Earth, NASA races to find a way to deflect it. They come up with a way to destroy it: place a nuclear bomb inside it. However, they have to drill into the asteroid to do this, and so they assemble the best drilling team on the planet: Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his crew of oil drillers. They consist of Steve Buscemi, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, Owen Wilson, Michael Duncan, etc. This crew has all your standard problems (Affleck is engaged to Liv Tyler, who is Willis' daughter), and the first half of the movie seems a little bit slow and unnecessary. But many good scenes to pop in from time to time, such as the meteor shower at the beginning and several similar scenes. Even the romance between Tyler and Affleck is sometimes affecting. Sure, it's cheesy, but what did you expect? Casablanca? It's summer!
Anyway, the plot goes through the routine, and show us the gang getting ready. They say their good-byes, and off they go. Now, the film launches into high gear, literally. The pace is kept at one of the highest levels I have ever seen for a movie. The film runs about two and a half hours, but it seems like thirty minutes. It's completely engrossing because it contains everything we want when we watch it: humor, action, and sappy romance. In fact, the film hits massive homers in the humor department, as most of the jokes land right on the mark. Steve Buscemi's wise-cracking genius is a sight to behold and listen to. Peter Stormare's reasoning is funny, and Michael Duncan is a tough guy with a kind heart. The action is to be expected, and the result is a wild ride through what Deep Impact mumbled through. Finally, an action film that delivers exactly what it is promoting.
As with most of these films, the plot is the biggest problem with this movie. Inconsistencies tear the paper-thin plot apart, and while this may be expected, it got sometimes annoying. One major screw-up (I am not completely sure about this, so correct me if I am wrong) involves the landing of two shuttles on the asteroid. One's "Freedom;" the other's "Independence." Without spoiling anything, one of the ships has an unfortunate accident and is forced to land prematurely. However, after a bit, the ship's apparently switch (or at least their names do). With ten screenwriters (possibly more) working on this script, one would think they could at least get something like that right. Of course, the other inconsistencies revolve around the non-scientific approach the story is given. I wasn't expecting to be impressed by dialogue that wouldn't make sense to the average viewer (although have you ever noticed that someone will always say, "In English, please?" in one of these films?), and I wasn't. I was there for action and zany one-liners and that's what I got.
While the plot may be thinner than Deep Impact, it does get one thing right: it sticks with the shuttle mission instead of flipping between humans on earth and the astronauts' fight to save it. Deep Impact reminded me of daytime soap operas, and the person holding the remote kept changing the channel every ten minutes. You get pieces here and there, but nothing really solid. ARMAGEDDON nails down solid, and hits with all-out for entertainment. It works, and you can see this during the final 75 minutes. An all-out battle between meteor and humans insues, and we all know who prevails. It's only inevitable. However, what I would have given to see the meteor win. If one disaster film such as this would only allow the unthinkable to actually occur... well, I may be satisfied for the rest of my life. What doesn't work quite as well is the first 75 minutes as the script sets everything up. A wide arrange of characters are shown, and then given the obligatory introductions. This all seems rather unnecessary, and would have been better had the screenplay just took out all the "gag" scenes. But they are there, and it's kinda fun to laugh at them.
Willis sort of saunters through this role, as he could play this character any day. You must give him credit for returning to what made him famous. He's proven he's a talented actor with Pulp Fiction and 12 Monkeys, and he looks like he's just in this one for the money. Steve Buscemi has a lot of fun with most of the best lines. One of his even includes an allusion to Dr. Strangelove. Peter Stormare, reunited with Buscemi again (Fargo), is hilarious as the Russian astronaut who's been on the space station way too long. Liv Tyler is rather good as the weepy girlfriend/daughter, and her scenes with her father are very nice. Ben Affleck can't really find the right tone for his character, but he's a rather likeable guy nonetheless. Billy Bob Thornton gives the obligatory performance of the good-guy NASA member. He actually puts in a lot of humor and it gives the character a nice spin. And special note should really go to Michael Duncan (who looks a lot like Ving Rhames) for creating a colorful character without seeming cliched. The rest are almost unimportant, but the cast does its job quite well.
Michael Bay directs this stuff with a sure hand and a lot of slow motion effects. His visuals are actually quite amazing, including the spectacular lift-off of the two shuttles. Side-by-side, the image is from far away, as the spaceships race off, leaving a trail of smoke behind. Bay is a good director for color pictures, using oranges and yellows effectively. The cinematography is excellent, and the editing is fast-paced. The special effects are top-notch, blowing away anything seen in that other comet film. The opening sequence is one of the best moments in the film, and one shocking moment occurs when a meteor plows into a city and you see it completely wiped out from the top of Notre Dame. This is exactly what the summer season needed, because we all know there hasn't been much of it lately.
Armageddon is rated PG-13 for sci-fi disaster action, sensuality and brief but harsh language. This movie is diverting, fun, and just what the doctor ordered. If you didn't like Deep Impact, I highly recommend you see this one. It's worth the money. It also contains a slap at Godzilla, in case you didn't like that movie. This movie event is a pure escapist "popcorn" film, and of the highest order. The direction is solid, the acting is acceptable, and the dialogue is funny. What more could you really ask for in July?
***1/2 out of ****
Reviews by Boyd Petrie