Of all ill omens--black cats, broken mirrors, Friday the 13th--the only one I steadfastly believe in is that when a film's credits contain the words "Directed by Michael Bay," you're fucked.
That's because Bay is--not to put too fine a point on it--a hack. Whether he's merrily dropping asteroids in Armageddon, selling Pearl Harbor's cheesy treacle, or helping Martin Lawrence become the Most Annoying Comedian Ever in Bad Boys II, Bay's greatest talent is finding great blockbuster premises (see the films above), then turning them into bloated, melodramatic bullshit (again, see above).
So I've been frightened of Bay's The Island all summer, knowing I'd get lured in by its sci-fi premise (Clones! Explosions! Scarlett Johansson!), and also knowing that it'd probably just make me bored, angry, and filled with even more distaste for Bay. But here's the thing: The Island is totally fucking rad.
No, seriously! Go along with me for a sec: Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Johansson) live in a sealed-off futuristic commune, where their duties consist of exercising, working, and wearing cool track suits. Lincoln and Jordan believe that an environmental catastrophe made the outside world inhospitable, except for one place--an idyllic island. It all seems a little too benignly Orwellian to be true, and Lincoln soon discovers some sinister shit lurking beneath their sterile lives.
It's a clever premise, but don't get me wrong: The script's hardly brilliant, and Bay's still a hack. But even as its plot holes gape ever wider and its clichés grow increasingly shameless, The Island maintains a slick, fun, and (somewhat) intelligent tone. Bay's few strengths--hilariously ludicrous action sequences, gorgeous cinematography, a weird (but welcome) penchant for having Steve Buscemi play off of a cast wherein everyone else looks like they just stepped out of Maxim or GQ--are paired with a newfound storytelling economy and focus toward character.
But despite its cool premise and fun performances, The Island doesn't want to be anything more than a kickass summer blockbuster--which it is, and marvelously. At the film's halfway point, electric guitars start riffing, taiko drums start pounding, cars/helicopters/flying jet skis start exploding, and guns start firing with an ever-increasing abandon--all the while the impeccably styled McGregor and Johansson run for their beautiful futures. It isn't poetry, but it is a lot of fun.