Bad Boys II still
Image: © Columbia Tri-Star

The Bad Boys are back in town…

Rating:

It’s mighty impressive when a film spawns a trilogy. More so when that trilogy is split over a quarter of a century. And even more so when said trilogy is basically running off of a chorus from a 1987 Inner Circle song. Bad Boys manages to be a series that is all of the above. With a returning cast, but a change behind the camera, Bad Boys For Life is a surprisingly fresh and genuinely great third entry into the franchise.

Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett (Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reprising their roles) are older than the last time we saw them in 2003. Middle age has caught up to them, and the typical crises and issues have arisen. Families expand, bodies aren’t what they used to be, and retirement threatens to come knocking. When Lowrey’s past catches up with him in the form of an attempted assassination, and with other related murders occurring, the two Bad Boys, who “Ride together, die together”, decide to unite for one last time to find the person responsible.

Will Smith brings his usual ‘could do it in his sleep’ charisma, but it is Lawrence’s presence that ends up being a highlight

The core to the success of Bad Boys and Bad Boys II was the titular Bad Boys themselves, with Smith and Lawrence’s chemistry timed perfectly. It’s a delight to say that even after seventeen years, it’s like they’ve never been away. Every witty back and forth between the two is like watching the greatest rally ever witnessed at Wimbledon, just actually fun and interesting. Will Smith brings his usual ‘could do it in his sleep’ charisma, but it is Lawrence’s presence that ends up being a highlight. If his brief, yet scene-stealing, appearance in last year’s The Beach Bum was a flirt, then his role here is a full-on date with a friend you haven’t seen in years. He has been gone from our screens for far too long, and Bad Boys For Life is just a reminder of how much he’s been missed. A lot of the comedy rests on his shoulders, and he is more than up to the task of carrying it. Every “oh shit” out of his mouth is pitch-perfect, and he can say more with his facial expression in a single reaction shot than most actors can do with their mouths across their entire career. I’d love to see any of the current Best Actor nominees attempt what Lawrence pulls off with ease. Joe Pantoliano also returns to deliver a speech that results in a truly surprising poignant moment. It’s also just a delight to see him have to put up with the two of them again.

Adil and Bilall bring their own style and sensibilities, choosing to not try and mimic Bay, though when they do reference or nod towards him, they get it spot on

And speaking of being absent, we must mention a certain Michael Bay. Choosing instead to provide Netflix with his expressionistic vulgarity in the form of 6 Underground (which is terrific), Bay has handed the directing reigns to Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. I would be lying if I said his lack of presence wasn’t noticeable, as it certainly is. The total bombast of Bayhem is lacking, and considering the series’ past – with Bad Boys being so of it’s time that it’s probably too old for Leonardo DiCaprio to date, and Bad Boys II with its excess of drugs, sprinklings of racism and invasion of a small country that it’s essentially George W. Bush’s America in film form – Bad Boys For Life can often feel relatively tame in comparison. This may be a welcome change for some, but I can’t help but wonder what Bay’s version of this film would look like. Nevertheless, praise must be given to Adil and Bilall, as even without Bay, Bad Boys For Life still feels like Bad Boys. Right from the opening scene, the essence is still there. The two bring their own style and sensibilities, choosing to not try and mimic Bay, though when they do reference or nod towards him, they get it spot on – a classic Michael Bay low angle rotation shot is achieved perfectly (background, camera and actor movement), in a way so few directors have managed to do.

The sensory overload that was the Bayhem action scenes of the previous two films is here replaced with clarity and clear direction. Not everything feels huge, and that’s OK. Instead of choosing to favour longer shot lengths and less kinetic editing, the action remains exciting, easy to follow and, most importantly, entertaining. That’s not to say that the scenes aren’t in any way crazy or spectacular – a sidecar motorcycle fitted with a mini-gun ensure that isn’t the case – but there isn’t anything here that matches the scope of starting your film infiltrating the KKK, and then two hours later driving a Hummer through a favela. But with the help of cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, Adil and Bilall offer some fantastic visual style. Interesting and thoughtful compositions are made, and unlike most casual action-comedy blockbusters of today, it bypasses the dull and boring photography to offer a film that visually pops. Bright and neon-soaked when it needs to be, the city of Miami hasn’t been served this well since Michael Mann’s Miami Vice.

I expected great action and very funny moments – which the film more than delivers on – but I didn’t expect a meditation on ageing

The most pleasant surprise to be found in Bad Boys For Life is one that Bay could probably never introduce, and that is the level of heart that is beating at the centre. Choosing to focus on the tribulations of growing old and having to accept not only that fact, but also that the new, younger ways may actually be better, is a direction I didn’t expect the series to take, but it is certainly a welcome one. I expected great action and very funny moments – which the film more than delivers on – but I didn’t expect a meditation on ageing. With the introduction of a new force within the Miami Police Department, called AMMO, the focus is shifted to a new team dynamic. Consisting of Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Nuñez, Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton, this approach towards a team aspect echoes the Fast and Furious franchise, a way for the film to recognise the changing landscape of action cinema since Bad Boys II, in very much the same way Lowrey and Burnett must recognise their place and role in the world. The fact that the action only compliments such ideas, adding a layer of substance to proceedings is impressive on Adil and Bilall’s behalf.

Far from the undercooked and pointless sequel we all feared, Bad Boys For Life may never reach the heights and lunacy of Bad Boys II, and yet it is far greater than we deserve. It is a genuinely funny and well-directed buddy cop movie – “what you gonna do?”. If it must be, it is an effective ending to a trilogy, but if the P Diddy song acts as a prophecy and “we ain’t going nowhere”, then I welcome it. Bad Boys For Life, Bad Boys Forever…

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