(1998, Action/Drama/SciFi, color)
Matthew J. Elliott
In space, no one can hear you scream over the sound of the explosions.
In a Nutshell:
Oil drillers save the world from a giant asteroid.
Asteroids destroy New York. Alarmed, the President seeks answers. Head of NASA Billy Bob Thornton (whose character is probably named something different, as if that mattered in a film like this) confirms that more are on the way, including a Texas-sized rock that will extinguish all life on Earth in only eighteen days.
The solution: hire a team of oil well drillers to fly into space, drill a hole and drop in a nuclear device that will split the asteroid in two, allowing the halves to pass harmlessly to either side of the planet. The fact that the world’s best oil drillers are a colorful crew of man-child sociopaths headed by Bruce Willis is apparently not an issue.
Said crew misbehaves during physical exams, asks pointedly stupid questions during briefings and fails all the non-drilling tests during the lengthy training montage. Despite their billing as The Best in the World, they fail half the drilling tests as well. Now it’s time for an even lengthier farewell montage, as the various crew members say goodbye to their various estranged family members. (You didn’t ask, but no, the part when Liv Tyler makes animal cracker love to Ben Affleck while her real-life father shrills a love ballad is not at all creepy*.) The montage section comes to a close with the slow-motion manly walk montage to end all slow-motion manly walk montages, in which the drillers and astronauts drift manly-ly towards their space shuttles for approximately three hundred and seventy-two continuous minutes. Then they get slow-motion strapped into their chairs for four hundred and eighty-three minutes more.
Since he annihilated New York, auteur Michael Bay has shown remarkable restraint, allowing only one explosion every ten minutes or so, with one lapse to rain fiery death down on Shanghai. With the mission finally underway, however, the next seven hours of film consist entirely of gratuitous explosions and even more gratuitous countdown timers right up to the point where the asteroid hole is finally dug and Bruce Willis stays behind to detonate the nuke. The rest of the survivors make it home for an only thirty-seven minute-ish slow-motion manly walk montage among their newly reconciled family members. I’m pretty sure Liv Tyler marries Ben Affleck during the closing credits (while her real-life father continues to shrill), but Mr. Elliott stopped riffing at this point, so I turned it off.
This movie went on way past my bedtime—hence my urgency to shut it down as quickly as possible and get enough sleep to be functional at work the next day. It would probably wrong of me to admit that I spent the whole night dreaming that the Liv Tyler and Ben Affleck characters had five children who grew up shouting macho nonsense at each other in an unending slow-motion manly walk training montage. All had large countdown timer readouts on their foreheads, at the end of which they detonated one at a time, each self-sacrificing explosion saving the world in a unique way. I’m not admitting to dreaming this, you understand. For all you know, I dreamed of something else.
As for the film, I believe I once described the works of Mr. Bay as “chest-thumping, explosion-laced nonsense,” and this certainly fits Armageddon. Despite the rock-stupid plot and hideously long running time, I can’t deny it’s expertly paced. The movie keeps busy, moving the audience along with it at a dead run. If I hadn’t been in a rush to be someplace (in bed), the amount of time I spent in Bay’s brutal, hellish vision would not have bothered me.
British riffer Matthew Elliott wisely does not attempt to shout over Armageddon’s cacophony, instead wedging a wry comment in wherever he can find space. A few favorites: During the destruction of New York he mourns, “The entire population of Earth had only two days to retirement.” Upon the third or fourth mention of the Steve Buscemi character’s extreme horniness, he assures us, “This really is a running gag. It’s just kind of limping right now.” As the mission endures setback after explosion-laced setback, he notes, “Wallace and Gromit could have solved this in the first fifteen minutes.” As the setbacks and narrow escapes continue to fly more than an hour later, he says, “We’ve gone into Nick of Time overtime.” And now I’ve gone over my usual three-quote limit. That means the commentary’s pretty good.
*Yes it is.
(1998, Action/Drama/SciFi, color)