Armageddon (1998) Review

“Time to Kick Some Asteroid” — what a tagline eh? And Good luck to them. I would have thought that if you flew up into space and actually tried to kick an asteroid, you’d probably break your toes (depending on how much effort you put into it). What would be the point of kicking an asteroid anyway? Are you just trying to vent your frustration at the prospect of it destroying your planet? Maybe somebody disliked the unnatural look of the big hunk of rock, or perhaps the birds of the world will rise up to defend their Jurassic ancestors. That’s right, birds still feel the burn of their closest relatives. In “Armageddon”, it wouldn’t matter if the… “astronauts” were sent up to simply kick an asteroid, Michael Bay would still find a way for them to save the planet with a good old punt. Such is the way of it with “Armageddon”, realism itself is booted out the window faster than you can say “Shia Labouef” and it will infuriate some to no end, but it does help to create a mildly entertaining movie that unfortunately overstays its admittedly muted welcome.

Michael Bay is the one helming the project so I went in with my usual preconceptions. I looked and saw it was 150 minutes long, I despaired. It has not been long since I watched “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” from the same director and that has left me very much bay-phobic and likely will until I get cremated and have my ashes placed in the DVD case of “The Right Stuff”. The movie opens with some impacting debris from a huge asteroid that we find out is expected to hit the earth in 18 days, the rock is the size of Texas and will wipe out all life on Earth, “even bacteria”, and it is up to the wondrous US government to stop it! The government in question decides that they can only succeed by drilling into the asteroid and placing a nuke deep inside it, which will then blow it into two larger pieces that will both miss earth. One of the scientists claims to be one of the smartest men alive and backs up his argument that this plan will work with “I’m right”. I can only imagine the tumours that developed in the brains of anyone who has an interest in astrophysics and the like. Adam Raki from “Adam” actually began to write his own eulogy at this point. He was able to finish it before the movie was over, he did have more than two hours left to do so after all.

NASA decides that recruiting the best oil driller on the doomed planet, by the name of Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), is a better idea than sending up a team of trained astronauts. Hold your applause it gets even better. Harry has fifteen days by the time he is recruited to be trained as an astronaut and sent up on a mission in which he’ll have to experience up to eleven Gs of force as he slingshots around the moon onto the asteroid, which he will then have to use his expert skill to drill into. I won’t delve far into the fact that training a body to experience a force that will increase it’s weight eleven times in fifteen days should only be reserved for the hulk and his super buddies, because then I would detract from all of the other inaccuracies the film contains — and we can’t have that can we.

Harry also recruits his Earth drilling crew to help him on the mission, Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan and Owen Wilson are among the big names that make up the crew, and they each play heavily caricatured characters with the depth of a puddle, but they are all at least mildly amusing. A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck) is the member of the crew that really gets under Harry’s skin, and he has found himself in a relationship with Grace Stamper (Liv Tyler). The revelation that his daughter is in this relationship causes Harry to chase A.J. around an oil rig firing his shotgun at him. This scene is a low point of the film and because it comes early on it is likely to place the film in an immediately unflattering light. It is unmistakeably Michael Bay in that regard. The training of the crew in the early stages are certainly evocative of “The Right Stuff” but it is never even close to as brilliant as that movie was. There is little in the way of characters bonding with other characters as they see fit, there is even less of the good humour and then even less again of the intelligent ability to give each astronaut a deep personality that Phillip Kaufman did so expertly.

The relationship between A.J. and Grace is shallow just like the rest of the film and their is also something about Grace resenting her Father for splitting with her Mother which results in her calling him “Harry” instead for most of the movie. It isn’t something that means anything and is tacked on in an effort to give the characters emotional depth, and it doesn’t work. There is only one time in the film that even comes close to some having genuine meaning, and that is when Chick (Will Patton), a member of the drilling crew, goes to his son from which he has been estranged to leave him a toy space shuttle. It’s close but no cigar, and unfortunately feels like the picked up dregs of a better picture.

The movie trucks along at an acceptable pace for the most part and I was never really bored until the last half an hour. Problem after problem arises and I found myself wishing that they could just blow up the damn rock already. As usual I find myself ironically bored when Michael Bay gets to the part of his movies where he feels he has to turn the action all the way up to eleven and just run with it for the final half. In “Speed” I found myself saying “Oh what now!” as every new problem arose, eager to see it’s resolution or more rather how it is resolved. In “Armageddon” it is more of an “Oh, what now?” as you find that you weren’t as close to the end as you believed you were.

I found myself in two minds about what to give “Armageddon”. On the one hand for about four fifths of the film I was mildly entertained, but then the last fifth dragged on and I really had to be milked for my attention. it was almost a six, and it was a six almost all the way through but Bay’s remarkable ability to fumble the ball with his stupid explosions and obnoxious action, have reduced it to little more than an average picture. It is fun, it isn’t boring for the most part, but you can certainly do better.

5/10

Note: When Ben Affleck asked Michael Bay why NASA would decide to try and train a drilling team to be astronauts rather than astronauts to be a drilling team, Michael Bay delightfully told him to “Shut up”. This sums up “Armageddon” better than an actual asteroid plummeting to our planet could ever hope to in its wildest dreams.

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