The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
The Island

Reviewed by Jake Finbow.

Director Michael Bay
Length 136 mins
Certificate 12A
Rating *****-----
Filmmaking: 2  Personal enjoyment: 3

Photo from the article The Island is Michael Bay’s latest $100 million budget summer event movie - and therein lies its problem. It delivers some interest and spectacle yet ultimately does not hold together, intent as it is on sidelining the promisingly thought-provoking elements inherent in the plot in favour of spectacle. The end result is a film that has a couple of excellent action sequences, a further half dozen tedious and un-involving action sequences, and a story with some good ideas that become increasingly detached from the action.

The film’s opening is effective and intriguing, taking place after an unspecified disaster has caused the Earth to become contaminated. The survivors of this apocalypse have all been moved to a giant facility sealed off from the outside world. Here they exist in the hope of winning the weekly lottery whose prize is a move to the only uncontaminated place left on Earth, The Island. Life in their facility is strictly regulated: sleep is monitored, diets are controlled, regular exercise (consisting of kickboxing in virtual reality X boxes) is enforced. Yet Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is haunted by nightmares and begins to question his surroundings: who makes the rules they live by? Where do the pipes he fills at work lead? If the world is contaminated, why are more and more survivors brought in all the time? By the time Lincoln discovers the truth, his best friend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), has been selected to go to The Island and it is up to him to save her.

The film’s premise is at least an interesting one, as is the idea of Bay directing such a film, considering his previous output of Bad Boys I (1995) and II (2003), Pearl Harbour (2001) and Armageddon (1998). Instead of using this as an opportunity to move on from these glossy and wilfully empty films and tackle something with a little more depth and subtlety, Bay sticks to what he knows, meaning the film reneges on its early promise and quickly degenerates into a rather predictably straightforward succession of chase sequences. The direction is, typically for Bay, wildly over-the-top. While this works in individual moments, such as the impressive CGI shots of the facility, it becomes obtrusive when we become distracted from what is happening in front of us by the world of intricate gadgets and screens always in the background.

The movie relies on the charms of its stars for our emotional involvement, and luckily both McGregor and Johansson do deliver decent performances. Despite this, their characters are (perhaps unsurprisingly) not given any time to develop - a shame, as both manage to capture the childlike innocence of people who have grown up in a sanitised, sheltered environment yet who, at the same time, display curiosity and a will to survive. A few fish-out-of-water comic scenes fall flat, but this failed light relief is more than made up for by a scene-stealing turn from the ever-magnificent Steve Buscemi.

Ultimately The Island delivers bits and pieces of enjoyment. Whilst sections are captivating, as a Sci-fi thriller it never reaches the levels of, say, Blade Runner (1982) or even Minority Report (2002), and as a Sci-fi action film doesn’t have the visual wow-factor of something like The Matrix (1999). While its fairly lengthy running time of 2 hr 16 mins goes by fairly quickly, and the film is captivating at times, The Island leaves you with a sense of a missed opportunity, and the certainty that it could have been so much more.

This review was published on August 20, 2005.

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