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The Civil War

MRQE Top Critic

November

Walks you out of an emotional underworld back into the light —Marty Mapes (review...)

Cox lives three times in November

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Armageddon is an engrossing, engaging film. For sheer escapist entertainment, it is quite successful. On the other hand, there are a few too many angles from which to attack this film — science, depth, originality, editing — you name it.

After a documentary segment showing the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, the movie cuts to an oil rig. Here we meet the heroes of the film, a crew of drillers, taunting a ship of Greenpeace protesters (the first in a series of scenes flaunting Bruckheimer’s conservative politics). It is also here that the film sets up the shallow drama of Harry (Bruce Willis as his usual self), the leader of the roughnecks, discovering his daughter Grace (Liv Tyler) in bed with one of his drillers, A.J. (Ben Affleck).

Meanwhile, several sequences show us that asteroid fragments are bombarding the earth. Truman (Billy Bob Thornton, who is good, but underused in the role), a higher-up at NASA, learns that these fragments have been shot at the earth by an asteroid “the size of Texas.” He mobilizes his crew to learn that the real asteroid, “a global killer,” is headed right for us.

Truman calls on Harry and his drillers to accompany two crews of astronauts to land on the asteroid, drill to its core, and drop in a nuclear bomb. The blast will split the asteroid in two, with each piece flying harmlessly past the Earth.

As I said earlier, there are many points from which to attack this movie. Science is one (see the linked ABC science writeup.) Predictability is another. I won’t give away any details here, but 30 minutes into the film, you will know the outcome of all the story lines, including the love story between A.J. and Grace. Originality is a third. Not only is this the fourth asteroid movie in a couple of years, but much of the film’s melodrama was lifted straight out of Independence Day. Finally, the editing (by Mark Goldblatt et al.) was the biggest problem of all for me.

During some of the more tense action sequences, like when the first shuttle must try to land on the asteroid, quickly-cut closeups are edited together instead of giving the audience a better idea of the big picture. The result is visual confusion, which I guess for some people, is a substitute for dramatic tension. There are also montages that are made of seemingly random images. There are several shots of the Iwo Jima statue in Washington DC, even though the statue plays no part in the movie. It is possible that Bay and Bruckheimer found a parallel between the little island of Iwo Jima and an oncoming asteroid, but I doubt it. It is more likely that they were trying to distract the audience with patriotic images.

In addition to the golden silhouette of the Iwo Jima statue, there are other slow-motion shots of Kodak Americana: a rugged dad and son looking out their window with concern, the congregation of a small church gathering at dusk. These sequences make the movie look like a commercial for the U.S. Army or Dr. Pepper. The whole effect is apparently supposed to infuse the audience with pride in America. It has nothing to do with the plot, it’s just there for, well, I don’t know why it’s there. I had a similar complaint about Con Air, last year’s Bruckheimer action flick, but at least in Armageddon, the characters are fighting to save the world, instead of striving for the violent slaughter of a planeload of criminals.

If the exaggerated patriotism and death-to-criminals attitude makes you think Bruckheimer’s a little conservative, you don’t know the half of it. In addition to the scene of our heroes taunting the Greenpeace ship at the beginning, there are other subtle conservative messages. The drillers have to be brought in from their vacations. Several of them are hard to catch. One in particular is photographed in silhouette as he rides his horse (looking like the Marlboro Man) away from two black helicopters. The drillers agree to save the planet, but they demand to never have to pay taxes again. Ever.

I don’t argue with the director’s politics or patriotism per se, it’s the fact that I felt I was being force-fed these unarguably glorious images. To sweeten the taste, Trevor Rabin’s score copied the Irish-orchestral sound of the music in Titanic. With all this emotion and glory, one wasn’t allowed to question the meaning of what was going on.

And yet, perhaps that’s why I ultimately found the movie engrossing and engaging. I allowed myself to be swept away by the familiar story and the well-paced action. None of my complaints occupied my mind long enough to distract me from the fun. There’s a lot wrong with the movie if you think about it, but it can be enjoyable.

Just check your brain with the usher and enjoy the ride.