Nobody has the time to watch everything, and as a result a lot of stuff just kind of slips through the cracks. Especially if it’s not something that just doesn’t generally match up with your preferences. Which, sometimes ends up making it so that you miss out on entire series’, no matter how popular they are. And, I’ve found it oddly fun to go experience these long-running series, with no real idea of what I’m getting into. Often that leads to absolute nonsense, such as when I went to see the eighth Fast & the Furious movie, it being the first one of those I ever saw. But, sometimes it ends up working out pretty well, because you get to see a surprisingly decent movie, devoid of any context that maybe would unfairly work against the movie. Such is the case with Bad Boys for Life. Now, going into the movie, I hadn’t seen either of the first two Bad Boys movies, and figured I’d just try to figure out the whole deal with them, aside from whatever cultural osmosis I’d picked up. And, I ended up having a good enough time with the movie that I went ahead and checked out the first film afterwards, and found something surprising. I didn’t like it nearly as much! Because while it certainly seems that a driving force behind the affection that the first two movies garner from people is the insane film-making behind them, it turns out that I responded better to an emotional and well-told story. Shocker!
The film continues to tell the story of two Miami police detectives, Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey. Quite a bit of time has passed since they last saved the city from craven drug dealers, and it seems like things have generally been status quo. They’ve continued their destructive but apparently effective ways, until their most unavoidable foe has caught up with them. Time. Which takes the form of Marcus’s daughter having a son, making Marcus a grandfather. He announces his retirement, much to Mike’s fury, but they still decide to go enjoy themselves at a party. And, during a ego-boosted foot-race disaster strikes, as an assassin on a motorcycle shoots Mike several times. He spends the next couple months in recovery, while the assassin, Armando, continues killing everyone associates with the case that brought down his powerful cartel-leading father, under orders of his mother Isabel. But, eventually Mike is fully recovered, and ready to track down the man who almost killed him. Which, doesn’t go over well with his Captain, since he can’t exactly investigate his own case. That task has been given over to a former girlfriend of Mike’s, Rita, who runs a new team known as AMMO that attempts to solve the same high-level crimes that Marcus and Mike did, but with less death and destruction. So, Mike ends up working with AMMO, feeling immediate strain dealing with their radically different views of policework. And, while Mikes’ methods do lead the deaths of several potential leads, he still considers his way more effective.
But, Mike finally starts getting some movement on the case when a former informant of his gets killed by Armando, leading to he and Mike fighting, and Mike finally seeing his face. Mike starts to feel something familiar about Armando, and pieces together who he, and his mother is. And, with that he, AMMO, and an un-retired Marcus begin tracking down Armando, by finding the local criminals who have flocked to his side. Along the way their captain is killed, and this just spurns the two on to continue tracking Armando down as fast as possible. Which, is going to be an even bigger problem, because it turns out that the reason Mike recognize Armando is because he’s his son. It turns out that early in his career Mike worked undercover, infiltrating a cartel, and ended up falling in love with Isabel. They planned to run away together, but she got caught instead, and apparently gave birth to their son, putting him down a path to become a perfect criminal. Mike reveals all of this to Marucs, and they concoct a plant to confront Isabel and Armando in Mexcio. They bring along the AMMO folks, and attack Isabel and Armando at an abandoned hotel where Mike forces Isabel to tell Armando the truth. She attempts to kill Mike, almost killing Armando in the process, and is then killed herself. Mike then brings Armando home, where he faces the penalty for his numerous murders, while also attempting to forge some sort of relationship with the father he never knew. All while Mike and Marcus continue to be Bad Boys with their new AMMO crew.
I am completely shocked at how much I enjoyed Bad Boys for Life. Not that I went into it expecting to hate it or anything, but all I really knew about the series was that it was kind of the epitome of that special brand of Michael Bay excess, which has never really worked for me. A very all flash, little substance approach that just kind of falls apart for me. And, when I ended up going back and watching the first film after this one, that really is what I got. That first film does some interesting things, but it’s also exactly what I was worried this film would be. And, instead we got a shockingly emotional and competent action movie, perhaps without enough visual flair to keep up with its predecessors, but which actually tries to tell a solid story with these characters. Yeah, it occasionally leans a tad too far into the “I’m getting to old for this shit” territory, but by and large it’s a fun romp with two incredibly charismatic actors just having a blast together. There is a bit of pervasive theme of rolling its eyes at “the kids today” with their crazy notions of due process and competent police work which is a little frustrating though. We get a lot of scenes of these two characters who have caused untold amounts of damage and death laughing at more responsible characters, mocking their desire for competency and even going so far as making jokes about men going to therapy, which is insane to see in a movie released in 2020. But, the film gets by on its charisma alone, just becoming one of the most watchable blockbusters in recent memory, and a real surprise to come back from such a long gap in release.
But, one of the things that I found most fascinating about this movie, and the thing that’s really sticking with me, is how similar that film is to Ang Lee’s Gemini Man. I was not exactly a fan of that movie when it came out last year, but as soon as the major twist of this film was revealed, it became impossible to separate the two. They’re both about Will Smith struggling with his legacy and the sins of his past, personified by some sort of offspring of his that has come to hunt him down. It’s frankly insane that these two movies are so similar, and even more insane to think that Bad Boys for Life handles the premise much better than Gemini Man. Instead of a literal clone made by an authority figure form his past, Mike is being chased down by his son, born from his biggest mistake, a relationship with a woman that literally built who he is, and why he does the things he does. Both stories attempt to look at a man grappling with the mistakes of his past, dealing with the terrible things he’s done in the past, and trying to reckon it all, and weirdly I think the fact that this is an entry in a long-running series manages to accomplish that task much better. We’ve seen the adventures of Mike Lowery, the chaos he’s caused, and the messed up personal life that he’s been dealing with. And, this movie takes all of that, the expectations and knowledge we have of him, and examines the origins of that, while giving us a believable look at how he would deal with that. It also helps that we don’t have to stare at a horrifying CGI version of Will Smith, which certainly makes for a more enjoyable experience.
Bad Boys for Life was written by Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan, directed by Bilall Fallah and Adil Arbi, and released by Sony Pictures Releasing, 2020.
Categories: Reel Talk