Too Bad a Tsunami Didn’t Destroy "The Island"

“We’re about to fall 70 stories!” “Don’t worry. We’ll walk away from it.”
There are a few spoilers in the following thoughts on Michael Bay’s new movie. So, if you really want to spend your hard-earned money on this massive waste of time, space, and other resources, you may want to turn back now.

I would use the word “obscene” to describe Michael Bay’s The Island…

  • for the way that its story is made up almost entirely of ideas stolen from other, far better science fiction movies;
  • for the way that it operates in a hysterical, high-speed, senses-battering mode in order to hold your attention and distract you from the astonishingly huge gaps in logic;
  • for the head-spinning coincidences;
  • for the way it insults our intelligence by labeling almost every piece of furniture in this futuristic film with LARGE CAPITAL LETTERS so that we know exactly what it is (like “CONTAMINATION DOOR”), and so we know exactly what kind of destruction will take place if someone pushes the wrong button or messes with it (which is pretty much a guarantee that someone WILL mess with it);
  • for the way the characters speak to each other in a language of the PAINFULLY OBVIOUS so that we don’t for a moment have to think for ourselves;
  • for the way it wastes the time and talent of so many great actors (Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johannson, Sean Bean, Djimon Hounsou, Steve Buscemi);
  • for the variety of ways in which it sensationalizes and entertains us with various forms of torture, maiming, injuring, poisoning, and desecrating live human characters;
  • for its portrayal of authority — ANY authority, from cops to the cafeteria lady — as evil and oppressive and disposable; and for how it identifies the heroes as people who will lie, cheat, and steal in order to rebel against any authority but themselves (thus, it’s a movie aimed to appeal to the sympathies of a six-year old);
  • and most of all, for the amount of money that must have been spent in order to mount such an outrageously empty, derivative, ridiculous film. (Think of how many smaller, meaningful, worthwhile movies could have been made with just the amount of money the various sponsors contributed in order to have their logos onscreen… logos that have curiously remained EXACTLY THE SAME even though this is supposed to happen in the distant future: MSN, Johnny Rockets, Calvin Klein, Nokia…)

Yes, I would call the film obscene if it weren’t so inadvertently funny.

My friends Danny, Wayne, and I laughed like we haven’t laughed in a long time.

We especially laughed when, to escape the police, Ewan McGregor AND Scarlett Johansson jump on a flying motorcycle (the kind the bad guys use to chase down escapees, but that the cops never seem to have handy–they’re still using present-day BlackHawk helicopters). It’s clear that McGregor has never used this kind of cycle before, but he operates it like a pro, weaving in and out of various levels of airborne traffic, at high speed, dodging bad guy blasts, and then he SMASHES IT THROUGH ONE SIDE OF A SKYSCRAPER, DOWN A CORRIDOR WHERE HE HITS NO ONE, AND THEN OUT THE WINDOW ON THE OTHER SIDE… and somehow Scarlett Johansson doesn’t let go. (Apparently, we’re back to the days when smashing an aircraft through a skyscraper is good old-fashioned fun again instead of a troubling reminder of real terror.) THEN they end up stranded on a giant company logo, at the 70th floor level, on the outside of the tower. The logo is a big letter “R”, so they have a nice space to cower in as the bad guys fly around and SHOOT THE LOGO OFF OF THE BUILDING (it’s fastened there with cables, you see; easily separated from the building). Then the logo FALLS OFF THE BUILDING with them still holding onto it. Fortunately for them, the falling logo HITS THE BLACK HAWK HELICOPTER on the way down, destroying it (and, I can only assume, all of the officers inside), and then falling 70 stories to the ground.

Do McGregor and Johansson survive the fall? What do you think?

Are they able to go back to their existence without a big media row?

That’s just five minutes of this relentlessly ridiculous film.

To make matters worse, the movie THINKS it has a serious story, and that it’s dealing with serious issues.

These issues have been dealt with far, far better in the movies that The Island has pillaged: A.I. (Artificial Intelligence), Gattaca, Minority Report, A Clockwork Orange, and many more, above all … THX 1138.

In the end, the movie has nothing more to offer than Soylent Green. We discover, early on, that McGregor and Johansson are just clones, “insurance policies” waiting to have their organs harvested for the benefit of their “originals.” The originals believe they’ve invested millions into the development of tissue that is not part of a sentient creature; and thus they see no ethical problem. But the clone-making company learns that the organs just don’t work unless they’re developed within living, breathing human beings, so they create a covert society in the middle of a desert where the clones can obliviously grow these “resources” until the day they’re told they’ve won a lottery, and they’re carried away into the depths of this evil corporate fortress and euthanized so their organs can be extracted. The movie then runs on the impression that we will find this truly horrifying. In truth, you’ll just sit their imagining Charlton Heston running around in a panic, shouting, “Your insurance policies are PEOPLE!!!”

There’s a fleeting bit of fun to be had watching Ewan McGregor meet his “original” and fight himself. But that doesn’t make up for the excruciating pain of watching this abominable waste of Scarlett Johansson, whose natural beauty is lost in these relentless, grotesque, Maxim-style glamour shots served up for the salivating neanderthals in the crowd.

Steve Buscemi and Johansson have worked together before, in a wonderful little movie called Ghost Wo
rl
d
. They’ll be more famous now, thanks to this, but they’re sacrificing their integrity in the process.

Oh, did I mention the glass? Whenever anybody in the movie falls or runs or drives at a high speed, you can expect their path to be blocked by all manner of glass objects. One of them falls from a great height in the middle of a train station, and somehow lands behind a bar, crashing through a huge shelf-system made of glass and loaded with bottles of alcohol. So not only do we watch this character shot, but also falling, and then smashing through enough glass to put windows in a skyscraper.

I walked out of the theater feeling as if I’d just paid seven dollars to have someone shove my head through plate glass windows for two hours, except for the fact that I’d been laughing the whole time.

That can’t be healthy.

Expect Michael Bay to be rewarded with a huge box office weekend.

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    I have yet to see it a second time, but I actually think Wallace & Gromit was a bit of a letdown — certainly not in the same league as the short films it was based on.

    Corpse Bride has its problems, but I really enjoyed its depiction of marriage, so I’m tilting towards that one.

    FWIW, Hoodwinked and Gulliver’s Travel (which doesn’t even seem to be listed at the IMDB) are the only ones on this list that I haven’t seen.

  • Catherine Gaffney

    Keep your eye on HOODWINKED. Directed and written by Cory Edwards. (Friend of ours here in LA!) It will open December 23rd.

  • jasdye

    w&g may get it, although not necessarily deserve it (the movie was a bunch of moving puns. funny and enjoyable, but not much beyond that.) yet to see ‘howl’s moving castle’, but i think it’d be great to get in a Miyazake.

    it’s always just a bit trickier when pixar’s not in the running.

  • Anders

    Thanks for saying it jasdye. I was thinking it. ;)

  • jasdye

    Finally, a movie for the rest of us!

    Idiots!
    Idiots!
    Idiots!

    Scarlett Johansson is AWESOME HOT!

  • BethR

    …it identifies the heroes as people who will lie, cheat, and steal in order to rebel against any authority but themselves (thus, it’s a movie aimed to appeal to the sympathies of a six-year old)…

    I think you’re being unfair to six-year-olds, Jeffrey. You’ve described the mental and emotional sympathies of a two-year-old, possibly implanted in a fourteen-year-old body. In other words, The Island is clearly a film designed to appeal to idiots.

  • Martin

    Sounds like some debts are owed to Blade Runner and Logan’s Run, as well as to Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Yeah, I linked to that Clonus story at my own blog.

    In the meantime, it looks like Michael Bay wasn’t “rewarded” after all — The Island is the first of his films that did not open at #1. In fact, it opened at #4.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah, it was unintentionally goofy, overly derivative, and a criminal waste of acting talent.

    And going into the theatre with precisely those expectations made for an entertaining if content-free Saturday afternoon.

  • Anonymous

    When I first saw the trailer for this movie my first thought was “Hey! They ripped of ‘parts: the clonus horror’”. Which is an incredibly bad movie from the ’70s starring Dick Sargent from Bewitched. It was the basis for an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 if that gives you any indication of it’s worth.

    Anyway, it turns out that the director of that movie is suing the makers of ‘The Island’. You should really check out ‘parts’ because the plot is really exactly the same.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Actually, if you really want to see Johansson in a mainstream movie that is a total waste of her time and ours, see The Perfect Score.

    It’s clear that McGregor has never used this kind of cycle before, but he operates it like a pro…

    This is explained in the film — he knows how to use it because he somehow has the “memories” of the person that he is a clone of.

    The question is, why on earth does he have that person’s “memories”? I thought the bodies were based on the original person’s DNA and the memories were programmed separately.

    …and then he SMASHES IT THROUGH ONE SIDE OF A SKYSCRAPER, DOWN A CORRIDOR WHERE HE HITS NO ONE…

    I don’t believe this is correct. In fact, I think I saw him hit someone. I remember discussing with my friends afterwards that it was rare to see innocent bystanders get hit during a chase scene, but it seemed to happen here. (There is also the public-transit vehicle that gets blown up somewhere along the way — surely it wasn’t empty…?)


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