Title: The Island
Genre: Action, Adventure, Mystery
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriters: Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Ewan McGregor, Djimon Hounsou
I knew that sooner or later conservative politics would make their way back into the Hollywood mainstream, but I must say I never suspected that Michael Bay, that great purveyor of excess, would be responsible for their triumphant return. With its platitudes about the sanctity of life and the various slippery slopes of cloning, therapeutic or otherwise, The Island will play right into the hands of those objecting to the latest inventions of science on moral grounds, as well as those arguing more generally for the rights of embryos or — excuse me — the “unborn.” I suppose it was inevitable: in a summer when seemingly every other movie involved some sort of anti-Bush metaphor, some stab at balance, no matter how feeble, was probably necessary.
Fine; conservative politics are just as allowed as liberal politics, after all, and only the fiercest of wingnuts would complain about the presence of a conservative bent in a Hollywood blockbuster. But why do these stances and subtexts have to come packaged in a movie so aggressively uninteresting — painfully dumb, loud, derivative. Early buzz about the film seemed favorable despite Bay’s involvement, but I am sorry to report that his relentless bombast is no less irritating here than it was in Pearl Harbor, or Bad Boys II, or The Rock. He has precisely one tone in his arsenal — fever pitch — and sustained over more than two hours, it threatens to become physically painful.
The set-up gave reason to hope. The opening hour is dedicated to setting up a reasonably elaborate dystopia: with virtually the entire earth affected by some sort of mysterious “contamination,” humanity’s last stronghold is a humongous, glass-encased, self-sustaining structure, where every aspect of the residents’ existence is tightly controlled, and every week, a lucky lottery winner is sent off to “the Island,” nature’s last uncontaminated haven. The glossy, flashy production design and detail — the winner of the weekly lottery is announced game-show-style by a supermodel with wind blowing through her hair as she speaks — suggest exactly the sort of post-apocalypse we might expect following our short-attention-span existence. With Sean Bean playing a sinister, Godlike doctor, questioning our protagonist (Ewan McGregor) about the dreams he has been having lately, we know something’s afoot, and for a while, I enjoyed the mystery, and cheerfully speculated about what may actually be going on.
After about an hour, incredibly, The Island tips its hand, and proceeds to collapse in on itself. The mystery is gone, and with it goes absolutely everything that was interesting about the movie, since the answers to all the questions posed by the first act turn out to be fairly obvious, and the ones that do pose some interesting implications go unexplored in favor of destruction, Michael Bay style. We turn from active, thinking viewers to passive zombies, watching the action unfold (I don’t say plot, because there is hardly any left) without any intellectual or emotional investment whatever.
Speaking of destruction. I wonder if this is a hobby of Bay’s in real life — does he ever simply start breaking things upon entering a room? Here, as elsewhere, his thirst for calamity is so intense that one almost gets the feeling that he is channeling his real world aggressions into the cinematic realm. If you tried to keep count of the number of things that explode, crash, fall down and crash, flip over, or otherwise break loudly, you would likely have to be carried out of the theater; giant signs, marquees, trucks, cars, flying cars, and jesus, it never stops, and by the time the plot rumbles to its labored conclusion, you wish McGregor and Scarlet Johansson, playing the former’s partner-in-crime, would just sit down and have a conversation. Please.
It’s boring, as you may have gathered, not to mention stupid through and through; the entirety of the resolution is astoundingly unlikely, requiring the sort of suspension of disbelief I am only willing to grant better films. No doubt logical flaws and gaps in plausibility are easier to overlook in movies where you actually care about what’s going on, and I have no intention of being consistent: I have seen films that are both less plausible and less stupid than The Island. In other words, it’s a symptom, not the ailment.
In any case, I don’t know what I expected, but the reality of The Island is precisely what I should have anticipated. If you can imagine a dystopia thriller as imagined by Michael Bay, odds are your vision is spot on. Except, perhaps, the sudden spasm of Republicanism.