Ride Together. Die Together
Set nearly two decades after Bad Boys 2, Detectives Marcus Burnett [Lawrence] and Mike Lowrey [Smith] have their lives turned upside down when Isa bel Arteas [del Castillo] of the Arteas cartel is broken out of prison and sets her son, Armando [Scipio], on all those who were involved in her imprisonment. Because of this, Mike is subsequently gunned down in a drive-by and Marcus swears to God that if Mike pulls through he will put violence behind him. Thankfully, Mike recovers but while he is hungry for revenge he is unable to work his own case. Subsequently, he is brought on in a consultancy capacity to assist a modern investigatory team headed up by his ex, Rita [Nunez].
From the very outset, the absence of previous director, Michael Bay, is distinctly felt but by no means in a bad way. The whole thing has clearer direction and doesn’t feel nearly as grimy or grubby as Bay’s signature frenzied, erratic style but still retains the general aesthetic we have come to expect from these movies. Another noticeable change is that the general premise is more focused with a surprisingly straightforward narrative that doesn’t get distracted with digression and excessive music video style indulgence. Furthermore, in a moderately self-aware move, the film openly lampoons itself for its telenovela, soap opera plot points and reveals.
On the whole, this instalment feels like a departure from its sophomoric roots and a decent reflection of a maturing of the central characters.. for the most part. The movie opens with Marcus vying for retirement and wanting to slowdown, not only that, he wants the same for his partner but acknowledges that Mike is too wild and will resist mellowing, seeing it as a defeat, until the life catches up with him and he eventually dies on the job. Shifting a large portion of the emotional weight onto Lawrence is a solid choice and reminds us that the man is a decent actor who can give us more than fart jokes and stupid faces – which is all Bay’s previous films seemed to hand him. That isn’t to say that Smith in any way drops the ball or is side-lined but Lawrence’s mission from God thread and Smith’s quest for both vengeance and redemption are primarily sold to the audience because there is a noticeable level of energy and sincerity from the leads. Of course, this spotlight on character development means that the movie sort of veers away from action comedy mayhem and further into older couple buddy comedy but it’s a welcome shift. This is also nicely juxtaposed by the introduction of the new younger team dynamic, who fit in the established universe perfectly because they look like models that can execute impeccable quips but quickly endear themselves to the audience.
As much as the inclusion of new directors has helped shape this film, the fact that each instalment has had notably different writers speaks volumes. A lot (but disappointingly not all) of the homophobia is curbed and the level of humour has thankfully moved away from base-level dregs. Even simple physical comedy feels elevated – when meeting an informant, Mike and Marcus argue about the amount of superfluous tasks they have to undertake en route and upon finally arriving at the scene, the timing of the snitch being dropped onto Mike’s wife’s car is fantastic. The action sequences, while admittedly not nearly as hyper-intense as Bay’s usual fare, are decent and thankfully far easier to follow. The addition of Lorne Balfe’s score work is also very positive, bringing the requisite intensity with a very nostalgic 90s Bruckheimer throwback feel.
**the following paragraph contains huge spoilers**
One of the main plot developments involves a significant twist regarding Mike’s past. The lack of any real backstory development to date has meant that dropping a huge “I used to be an undercover agent in Mexico” reveal doesn’t seem too unreasonable. The added twist moment comes when it is hypothesised that Armando is in fact Lowrey’s son and in doing so, we get to address the idea of a man who cannot move past his job, a man getting on in his years with little in the way of legacy and a man who is confronted with the physical embodiment of all the mistakes of his past. Put differently, Bad Boys For Life achieves what Gemini Man could not and perfectly pits Will Smith against a younger adversary with all the emotional weight behind such a revelation.
My biggest frustration was that the story attempts to address slowing down and acting your age but as the film closes, Lawrence and Smith turn to each other with a cheeky grin and essentially say “fuck it, bad boys for life.” The solidarity and self-denial is arguably fine but feels more like two fifty year old men realising they should make way for the next generation only to dismiss that fear by continuing to pretend they’re in their mid-twenties forever. On top of that – and partly due to this immaturity – Bad Boys still suffers from the signature toxic masculinity that afflicted the previous two movies but at least it feels like some sort of progress is made and the general racist, sexist, misogynistic and generally intolerant overtones have also been muted. Not eradicated, just muted.
It’s quite surreal to conclude that the best of a franchise is its third instalment but Bad Boys For Life feels like it finally hits the right rhythm and comes together to form a solid heartfelt action comedy. The mid-credits sequence heavily implies another film in the future and if this was to pass on to the younger team, that could work but I feel everything that needs to be said for Mike and Marcus has been covered. But depending on how this one performs at the box office, who knows?
17 January 2020
The Scene To Look Out For:
I genuinely felt the humour in this feature was the best it has been over the entire franchise. Largely inoffensive, it plays to simple amusements without regurgitating the same abhorrent jabs. A prime example would be Mike and Marcus forced to use non-lethal weapons to apprehend a perp. Whilst in pursuit, Mike lands a perfect hit on the criminal’s forehead. Walking over to the unconscious individual, it is revealed that an enormous welt has developed on his head. Both are repulsed but Marcus is compelled to touch it. Again, same stupid puerile but ultimately innocuous.
Martin Lawrence gets a lot of schtick for the roles he finds himself in but he’s undeniably talented and does a great job reminding everyone why he is such a solid supporting role. In a way, I was reminded of his performance in 1998’s Life where he bounces off Eddie Murphy perfectly with a considerable balanced degree of humour and heart.
“Sometimes you’ve gotta suffer for what is right”
In A Few Words:
“For what could have been a very lazy retread, the third instalment stands as the best of the series thus far”