Over and over and over again, I have to defend myself over my love of Michael Bay’s masterpiece, “”Armageddon.” At first I felt like maybe I was just defending the film due to the fact that there’s such a visceral hatred of it from my peers and fellow movie geeks. Nothing like a good ole argument over a fairly arbitrary movie, right? Then I realized, after repeatedly watching the film whenever it came on WTBS, HBO or any other channel (and for some reason, it’s on TV a lot), that I really think you will be hard pressed to find a movie that so successfully combines so many different genres, characters, actors and styles into one awesome gut-busting package.
I need to take a second to say I could care less either way about Michael Bay. I know that next to Uwe Boll there’s hardly a better way to raise the ire of the modern day film enthusiast than to invoke the duo of Bruckheimer and Bay. But for me, I look at their films separately and judge them according to the self contained unit on the screen. I can’t do that with Boll and am starting to get that way with Eli Roth, but time will tell on the latter. I will say that if you’re a film nut and you hate “”Armageddon,” five bucks says you hate Michael Bay. That’s no reason to negatively judge the ultimate in popcorn films and it’s rather ticky-tacky if you still judge it based solely on “”The Bay Factor.”
My first argument is that “”Armageddon” is a classic tale of unlikely heroes forced to do a task they don’t want to do but agree due to honor and a sense of morality. And, money. Films like “”The Dirty Dozen,” “”Seven Samurai,” “”The Wild Bunch,” “”Saving Private Ryan” and to some extent, “”Star Wars” are about the same thing. Ne’er do wells forced into action who become heroes. Scoff all you want but the plot of all the films I mentioned are similar to, if not the same as, “”Armageddon.” No, Bay is not Kurosawa, Peckinpah, Spielberg or Lucas in many ways. But like those directors, Bay is the master at what he does: Big, balls to the wall popcorn movies. Furthermore, he’s the best, most consistent director of big budget films working today.
Also like some of those aforementioned classic films, Bay (and screenwriters J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Hensleigh) isn’t afraid to kill off some of the more beloved characters. The script is tight and never misses a beat as we meet each of the oil rig workers hired by NASA. Each and every one of them has a solid backstory and, if you can grow up long enough to let it happen, you get to know them and relate to them. When some of these characters bite the big one, they don’t come back. Again, if you can step outside your armchair criticisms of “”but it’s Michael Baaaaay“ long enough and let yourself enjoy it, “”Armageddon” is an excellent example of simple character development that happens visually and not through chit-chat. We meet them first as blue collar workers and soon know them as human beings. Then we get on board with them and launch into space after a hilarious training montage followed by one last night on the town. All great and funny scenes.
The stars of “”Armageddon” are an incredible assembly of actors and characters from across the cinematic map. Pairing up Johnny-come-lately action star Ben Affleck with classic action star on the decline Bruce Willis is near genius. While the torch never fully passed (either Willis won’t let it go or Affleck effectively blew out the flame with “”Pearl Harbor” and “”Daredevil”), nowhere else will you find two huge, modern day action stars equally sharing the spotlight in a movie. Furthermore, the rest of the cast is one of the best ensembles ever onscreen. Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton, Peter Stormare, Owen Wilson, Michael Clarke Duncan, William Fichtner, Udo Kier, Matt Malloy and frigging Charlton Heston as the narrator! Plus, no chicks allowed except Liv Tyler and she’s great in the film as the little girl torn between daddy Willis and loverboy Affleck.
In closing, and again. I feel like “”Armageddon” is unfairly judged due to a general mob mentality against Michael Bay and his brand of balls-out action films. Had this film been made in the late sixties/early seventies, I guarantee it would hold up alongside the more rebellious ensemble classics of that time. What hurts “”Armageddon” (aside from that stupid “”Aerosmith” song) is the fact that film geeks often try to behave snobbishly and act is if they’re above the thrill ride and simple cinematic manipulation of the film. While they fall all over themselves feeling “”arty” for loving “”Oldboy” (that has a blatantly recycled plot twist from “”Chinatown”) and other standardized “”safe cine-nerd” bets, disavowing “”Armageddon” and giving a thumbs-up to older films of this genre is a contradiction of asteroid sized proportions. Furthermore, if you want to see a director at the peek of his game and if you want to see a big ole fun movie, you can do no better than strapping in with Bay starting in 1995 with “”Bad Boys” followed by 1996’s “”The Rock” and capped by the best of the bunch, 1998’s “”Armageddon.”