Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The One Michael Bay Movie People Didn't Hate but Maybe Should

I've recently spent some time watching some of these "Die Hard on an X" films. to put it simply I've been developing a screenplay for my own "Die Hard on an X" film and I've been looking at some of the major ones from the 90's for inspiration. After re-watching Air Force One and the amazingly awesome Con Air I decided to take a look at The Rock. Aside from being Die Hard in Alcatraz, it has a 7.4 rating on IMDB despite being directed by Michael Bay. One of the most often-criticized directors in contemporary Hollywood made a movie that people didn't universally hate? How could I resist that?

I didn't exactly go in with the highest expectations, but about forty minutes in I had to stop, both due to the overall plot not being very good and certain elements that rubbed me the wrong way. I'll get into those in a moment. Let's just start by saying that this movie gave me no way of getting into it. I found nothing interesting in any of the characters, the story didn't keep me going. At best it was dull, and at worst it was outright confusing.

From what I gathered, the bad guy played by Ed Harris was resorting to drastic measures because he was upset with the government failing to appropriately compensate the families of fallen soldiers, but it wasn't very well explained. Neither was the plan put forward by the supposed good guys which apparently involved sending a dangerous convict into Alcatraz to do... something. Um... yeah, are you sure Ed Harris is supposed to be the bad guy? He seems to me to be a far more relatable character than the ones we're supposed to be rooting for. At least he has some sort of motivation, if a sadly underdeveloped one. Ed Harris can be a great actor, but here he's not so good.

Now I'd better address the concerns I had about the implications of The Rock. To be more specific, I think it's necessary to address the role of gender here. The "Die Hard on an X" formula has hardly been perfect about the roles of women, and indeed I have criticized it in the past for a general lack of female protagonists. However, while it is generally a man who gets to beat up the terrorists, most films in the trend try to do something on the front of gender.

Con Air had the female prison guard Sally Bishop, and while her role was greatly overshadowed by a huge number of men she did get her moments to show how tough she was (bonus points for being tough while spending most of the film in handcuffs). Air Force One had a male protagonist in James Marshall, most of his allies on the plane were male, and there is an all-male terrorist group. However, it was the female vice president played by Glenn Close who was taking charge on the ground and calls a lot of the shots, not to mention that the Marshal's wife also manages to rescue herself from a hostage situation during the climax. Even in the original Die Hard, John McClane's wife is the person who becomes the spokesperson for the hostages and does everything she can to help them under the circumstances. The Rock, on the other hand, is outright sexist.

This was a film that I swear was going out of its way to avoid giving its female characters the slightest bit of depth and value to the plot. They add in female extras here and there in a desperate attempt to hide it but I wasn't fooled. One could argue that the U.S. army still has restrictions on where women can and can't join so that might justify the lack of female soldiers. However, in general women are given very little in the way of roles. The only female character I saw who offered the slightest contribution to the plot was an unnamed extra who provided some minor exposition.

The only female character who actually seems to have any significance is Nicolas Cage's girlfriend, who seemed to be more interested in sex and marriage than anything else. She didn't even seem to be a motivation for him. She is literally just there to look pretty and nothing more. At least in Con Air we got a bit of depth in Cage's relationship with his wife so that there is an emotional connection. He also has a clear motive for staying on the plane that ties back to his experience as a U.S. Army Ranger. Here, it doesn't really work. Cage has no personality and his wife is just interested in marriage. They don't even try to make her compelling, Bay apparently thought that just making physically attractive would keep the audience invested.

What finally drew the line for me was a scene when the movie is (finally) starting to actually get somewhere. We finally meet with Sean Connery (took him long enough) and he makes a deal to have a hotel suite. He has a few people come in to clean him up and we have a stylist, and did they really have to make him such an offensive character? We've got a male hair stylist showing up for a couple of scenes, and apparently the filmmakers thought that was funny, because they decided that it was necessary to make him a camp gay. Really? Are you kidding me? I thought we were past all that nonsense and trying to get rid of those awful stereotypes of homosexuals. Why was it even necessary for the character to be presented that way? The apparent sexism was bad enough, but now we're bringing in homosexual stereotypes? This was when I finally realized there was no way this movie was going to be getting any better; best case scenario would be that it would continue to be dull, assuming of course it doesn't get even worse.

We got a lot of Die Hard imitators in the 90's. Some of them, like Air Force One and Con Air, were actually pretty good. This is not one of those movies. It isn't even enjoyably bad or campy fun. What we have here is a poorly written, poorly executed, sexist, and homophobic mess of a film (and I wouldn't be surprised if there's some racism at some point as well). It is a waste of talent from great actors like Ed Harris and in general a huge waste of time. I don't know why out of all the films Michael Bay has directed this is the one that isn't universally hated, because I don't see anything good about it. If you want to look at "Die Hard on an X" films, you can skip The Rock.


  1. Bay has never been a progressive ginking guy, at least in terms of his film making. In almost all of his movies women are merely eye-candy and/or damsels in distress. He also travels frequently in stereotypes, so no surprises about anything you've written. That said, I did watch this years ago and enjoyed the action when it got there, but wasn't gaga over it like a lot of people. I'd like to say it's because I was more enlightened than others. Really, I just found it a "meh" action flick that I gave a pass because I like Sean Connery. Watching it now I might react much the same way you did because I've matured. At least, I like to think I have.

    1. That should hardly be surprising. After all, he is somewhat infamous for his tendency to insert unintentionally racist characters into his movies ("Jazz" in Transformers being the example most people remember). I guess I should have known better.

  2. I have no desire to see this film and after your critique, it just confirms why I didn't want to see it in the first place. I like Ed Harris and I like Sean Connery but they sound wasted in this film(not them personally but their acting). What a shame

    1. So do I. Well, you already know my thoughts on Sean Connery's early work as James Bond but to be fair my criticisms are more directed at the films themselves than on their lead actor. I have enjoyed a few of his later films like The Great Train Robbery, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusdae, and The Hunt For Red October (though I have heard he is apparently not a very pleasant person in real life) so I know he can be a good actor or at least an enjoyable one. They didn't even have that in The Rock.

    2. Oh I am going by his acting like in Robin and Marion and the films you mentioned. he is a bit of an ass. I recall watching the original Barbara Walters special where he had no problem stating that if he felt a woman needed a slap, he would. I can say, some women do as some men do but not, ever, ever, ever in any way should that happen unless one has to defend oneself. This happened to me only once by another woman who was a bully and she started pushing me. I pushed back once and she fell back which gave me time to get to a teacher.