Rock and Roll
The Rock is directed by Michael Bay, produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, and stars Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris, along with William Forsythe and Michael Biehn. The film is dedicated to the memory of Simpson, who passed away five months before the film's theatrical release.
I have brought up Michael Bay and all of his delightful Michael Bay-isms in tons of my past reviews. How could I not? The man has developed a notorious reputation over the years for directing big budget action movies that put explosions wherever they can fit and not give at least half a damn about coherent storytelling or any other kind of narrative function. So it's odd: my first ever review of a Michael Bay movie is the movie that is not only his best outing to date as director, but a film that I legitimately like. Not just like. I mean I like it a lot. The Rock was Michael Bay's second directorial feature, and was well before Michael Bay completely turned into the Michael Bay we all know and love. Though considering Bay's next film was the messy Armageddon, it didn't seem to take very long for Bay to come into full form.
There are moments of Michael Bay-isms throughout The Rock, but they're mostly tamed when compared to what we see in the likes of Pearl Harbor and all of the Transformers movies. Explosions come in a limited capacity (there are some BS explosions, but they're few and far in between), and the plot isn't completely devoid of logic or simple common sense. In The Rock, General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) and his group of rogue U.S. Marines invade a weapons depot and steal rockets armed with a deadly VX gas. Hummel and his men then take control of Alcatraz Island right offshore from San Francisco, taking eighty-one tourists hostage. Hummel demands that the U.S. government pay him $100 million, which he will distribute to his men and the families of Marines who died on missions under his command. Hummel explains that the deaths of the Marines under his command were not compensated for, and he aims to have the government pay for this wrongdoing. Hummel threatens to fire the gas-filled rockets on San Francisco if his demands are not met. The Pentagon and FBI then formulate a plan to retake Alcatraz Island. They enlist the help of top chemical weapon's specialist Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) and John Mason (Sean Connery), a 60-year old British national who is the only man to have ever escaped from Alcatraz. Goodspeed and Mason join a team of SEALs that infiltrate the island, with Goodspeed knowing how to disable the rockets and Mason having the knowledge of the island's layout and all of its hidden passageways.
Bay considers The Rock to be his favorite movie among his own, and that makes all the sense in the world. The Rock contains just about everything that Michael Bay dreams about at night: patriotism, slow-motion helicopters, and explosions to name a few, all the while staying afloat with storytelling, character, and humor over the course of the film's 136 minutes. Plus, the cast is easily the most interesting group of actors that Bay has ever worked with: over-the-top Nicolas Cage, toning down his usual histrionics to play a nerdy Goodspeed, who doesn't enjoy taking part in the action but is still willing to do so anyway. Then there's Mason, who is something of an older James Bond. And finally, you have General Hummel, with Ed Harris playing his role not like a pure villain, but instead as a troubled, sympathetic man who was once a hero, but feels that he has no choice but to now become the villain. That seems to be a sort of recurring role for Ed Harris, with similar roles coming in the likes of The Truman Show and Snowpiercer. His character doesn't mean to cause anyone harm. He is simply doing what he believes to be the right thing, even if it means he's viewed as a villain. But anyway, Connery, Cage, and Harris all work well together, especially Connery and Cage.
- There comes a point in the movie where Mason and Goodspeed have to work together, and this is where The Rock is at its best. Connery and Cage have great chemistry together, despite their characters being almost total opposites. Connery's Mason is a hardened criminal while Cage's Goodspeed is a good-natured scientist. If the two hope to survive, they have to combine their skills: Goodspeed's handling of the VX gas and Mason's skills in combat. The duo is something of an older veteran-young rookie combo, with Goodspeed trying to convince Mason that he has the guts to stand up to him, while Mason frequently has to save Goodspeed's skin. The two also engage in some humorous banter, with Goodspeed avoiding swear words at all costs.
- When I saw The Rock for the first time a while back, I fondly remember the thrill rush I got watching the car chase that ensues throughout the streets of San Francisco. Mason, having just gotten his release from prison, escapes FBI custody in a hotel and steals a Humvee, with the FBI and Goodspeed (in a yellow Ferrari) chasing after him. The chase is, unquestionably, the best action scene that Michael Bay has ever directed. Yes, there are some BS explosions and the editing is a little chaotic, but watching the cars zip through the San Francisco streets with Hans Zimmer's excellent score blasting loud and clear is amazing fun. It's weird to say the car chase is the best part of the entire film, happening about 45 minutes into the film. Not that the rest of the action isn't good. It's just that all of the punching and gun-slinging that happens later on at Alcatraz isn't as good as the car chase.
- The Rock can't resist comparisons to Die Hard, despite its central story and the dynamic between Mason and Goodspeed. The entire sequence on Alcatraz is Die Hard on an island, with Mason and Goodspeed picking off Hummel's men one by one while evading capture. Had this been done with a different duo of actors, The Rock would have only been as good as its first half. But it's the chemistry between Connery and Cage that salvages the whole sequence, saving it from being little more than action junk food.
And you know what? Similarities to Die Hard in this movie are a whole bunch of whatever. When you've got one of the most exciting car chases of the 1990's and Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage proving to be a terrific pair, The Rock has enough to boast about. And while it's far from the smartest movie you'll ever see, there's enough jarring excitement throughout to keep you vastly entertained. The Rock is also something of a unique gem, a gem in the sense that it's an actually good work from a director too well known for directing hot pieces of garbage. One can only dream of Michael Bay not veering off course and turning to total dreck. Regardless, we ought to appreciate The Rock for the entertaining piece of film that it is, and something from Michael Bay that we can look at with joy instead of total disgust.
Recommend? Yes. It's a fun 90's action movie that is worth your time.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: