Michael Bay and Bruce Willis blow up an asteroid. 'Nuff said...
It's the size of Texas and it's travelling towards Earth at 22,000 miles an hour. No, it's not Harry Knowles returning from a family visit on Endor, it's a big bit of rock and it's going to kill us all! Run for the hills! Aiiiieeeeeee! Of course it's not real, it's moooovie magic; the kind of movie magic generated by big explosions and macho posturing from the school of brass balls. Facing off against the frankly tardy Deep Impact, Armageddon quite rightly ruled the summer box office with an asteroid-sized fist of iron ferrite, consigning the competition to dinosaur-like extinction on a global scale. Go Bruce!
The chances are you'll have already seen it, but for those who haven't it really is a sinful and visceral pleasure, so long as you're prepared to check your brain into cold storage for a couple of hours. Bruce Willis is Harry Stamper, the worlds finest deep core oil driller, called into action by NASA when a gigantic meteor threatens to annihilate our beloved planet. The only apparent way to slay the beast is to drill deep into the rock and detonate a massive nuclear warhead within 18 days, as you do, and it's far too short notice to train astronauts to drill. Instead, the powers that be conclude it'd be easier to train Harry and his ragtag crew to be astronauts and then send them off aboard two experimental shuttles to do their drillin' thang in the hostile environment of space.
As you might expect from Michael Bay, the self-proclaimed Lord of Destruction, there are very few things in this movie which don't blow up. As well as the usual complement of cars, this time mashed and smashed on a near galactic scale, Bay takes his God-granted opportunity and demolishes a couple of cities while he's at it, most hindsight-baitingly New York (complete with smoldering World Trade Center), and most satisfyingly Paris (yay!). On the point of foreign interests, perhaps the most shocking aspect of such a globally minded film is the xenophobic and downright cliched portrayal of national stereotypes and the simple-minded excess of sickening American patriotism (the President delivers his crass speech to an awestruck world whilst children run through the streets in slo-mo waving toy space shuttles in front of John F. Kennedy murals). It's this almost overwhelming level of sticky toffee sentimentality that short-sightedly threatens to alienate the very people Bay clearly thinks he's showing an example of a United World Nation, but assuming you can ignore his childish and cackhanded manipulation of ignorant American misconceptions you'll be just fine.
It's easy to become overawed by the admittedly opulent pyrotechnics first time round, but movies such as this either stand or fall on the strength of characters inbetween the action. It's a lesson Bay learned the hard way with Pearl Harbour, but fortunately Armageddon falls into the same category as the earlier The Rock. Willis is as believable as one can expect in such a far-fetched scenario, pulling off the Dogged Man Of The World routine with ease, whilst Ben Affleck as his protege A.J. goes through the motions of his usual annoying schtick, trying to be all things to all people and failing miserably at all of them. The real bonus is to be found in the supporting cast.
Although nowhere near on top form, the likes of Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Michael Clarke Duncan and Owen Wilson add some light relief with their apocalypse-alleviating banter in between explosions, with Buscemi in particular clearly having the time of his life as his character begins to suffer from "space dementia". The presence of Billy Bob Thornton is also a most welcome addition, and although he's clearly slumming it he does manage to add a little dramatic weight to the proceedings, particularly in the dynamic between himself and Keith David's bureaucratic General.
In terms of production values, Armageddon is one of those films where it becomes immediately obvious that no expense has been spared. From start to finish you can practically feel the draft from hundred dollar bills fluttering out of your TV screen. There are instances of dubious set design every so often (why is every room and hangar at NASA adorned by a gigantic stars and stripes?), but by and large the quality of workmanship in all areas (direction and scripting aside perhaps) is top notch. The effects boys clearly put in some overtime, there's some gorgeous cinematography and Trevor Rabin's score is as rousing as you can possibly hope for.
The press took great pleasure in mauling Armageddon upon it's release, slating the pro-American element beyond all necessary reason and citing weak scripting and Bay's kinetic directorial style as food for the ADD generation. Perhaps even more unfairly early footage of Willis' genuinely touching exchange with screen daughter Liv Tyler was laughed out of the auditorium at Cannes, something which I have to say I find rather harsh. It might be as cheesy as a steaming plastic tray of UGC nachos, but there are a couple of bona fide emotional moments that prove, as we all know, Willis can be at his most powerful when shit isn't blowing up left, right and centre.
Fortunately, or rather rightly, Armageddon found it's audience well and they voted with their feet, proving what we here at theOneliner preach day in and day out; if it's entertaining it's good. Largely free from pretence, Armageddon is a fine demonstration of the quintessential summer blockbuster. It's exciting, funny, touching, stunning to look at, and lots of French people die. I for one ask for little else.
From my island of apathy I award this movie 4 out of 5 Giant Invisible Bumble Bees
Ben Affleck (A.J. Frost)
Liv Tyler (Grace Stamper)
Billy Bob Thornton (Dan Truman)