Clones, Car Chases & Carrousel: Michael Bay's The Island
“You’re special. You’ve been chosen. The Island awaits you.”
There was a time, years ago, when Michael Bay didn’t just make sci-fi movies that starred giant robots punching the bejeezus out of each other. Before the scourge of the “action figure blockbuster” took Hollywood by storm in 2007 with the release of Transformers, Bay directed The Island, an "original" science fiction / action film in an age of remakes and reboots. It’s certainly not his best directorial effort, but the sleekness of the production, the cast, and a serviceable screenplay elevate it above most mid-2000s fare.
Essentially taking the stories of THX 1138, Logan’s Run, and Parts: The Clonus Horror (so much so that the Clonus filmmakers recieved a large settlement for copyright infringement) and throwing them in a blender with a heavy dose of Bayhem, The Island mainly takes place in a giant facility housing the last of humanity. Or at least that’s what mad scientist Sean Bean tells his progeny. The masses are kept happy by the eternal promise of “going to The Island,” the last inhabitable place on earth, a utopia that hasn’t yet been ravaged by radiation and decay. Every night a new member of the population is chosen in a Lottery that gives one individual paradise for the rest of their days. They all fall for it of course, but in reality The Island is just another word for death, much akin to the Carrousel in Logan's Run, where you're executed at the age of 30. These aren’t humans in the true sense, they’re products, clones used for spare parts for the upper class. Win the Lottery? That just means some rich jerkoff needs a kidney or heart transplant.
Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson star as Lincoln Six Echo and Jordan Two Delta, (two clones of famous multi-millionaires) who have a flirtatious friendship at the facility. McGregor, in recent weeks, has been experiencing some changes and wishing for more than the life he’s been leading, something that upsets Sean Bean and the other brass at Merrick Biotech. These clones aren’t supposed to question their place in the world, aren’t supposed to want more, they’ve been bred to be docile, loyal constituents. Johansson, in her first action film, is great in the dramatic and comedy scenes, but obviously a little rough when it comes to the action. Being her first rodeo, that’s to be expected, but since then she’s blossomed into a capable action star in her own right, and we’re all the better for it.
McGregor’s curiosity gets the better of him during the second act and this is where his whole world comes crashing down. Michael Bay isn’t exactly known for body horror, but in The Island, we get an especially gruesome scene involving heart transplant surgery. Michael Clarke Duncan, returning to work with Bay after his scene-stealing turn in 1998’s Armageddon, gives a memorable turn here as the clone of a famous football player. Unfortunately for him, he wakes up mid-surgery to gruesome and horrifying effect. Screaming hysterically, he bolts out of the operating room, and his terror is palpable. It’s one of the most jarring scenes in Bay’s career. Around this time we also meet Steve Buscemi’s McCord, also reuniting with Bay for the first time since Armageddon, he’s McGregor’s “man on the inside” constantly giving him hints as to what the real deal is, but keeping things cryptic so not to lose his job. Buscemi gets some great moments here, including an awkward encounter with McGregor in a bathroom that gets one of the biggest laughs in the picture thanks to the reaction of a then unknown Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family).
Once McGregor and Johansson escape the facility and are on the run, we’re treated to the signature Bayhem that's become a trademark of the filmmaker’s career. Car chases, gunfights, copious explosions and even transforming drones (foreshadowing Bay’s later obsession with Robots in Disguise) all add up a thrilling albeit superficial action spectacle. Bay uses this style to lift a fairly derivative idea and make it his own, it’s not a classic by any stretch of the imagination but it’s blast when watched with the right mindset.
The mid-2000s were filled with blockbusters but it’s Michael Bay, continuing in the same vein as his 90s classics The Rock and Armageddon that was able to put his spin on the sci-fi/action genre. The Island is a film of recycled ideas made interesting by his signature visual palette and eye for detail in the midst of an action scene. Audiences who are tired of the current superhero blockbuster landscape would do themselves a favor by checking out this often forgotten film from a key purveyor of cinematic mayhem.