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Why The Rock Is Still Michael Bay's Best Film

Why The Rock Is Still Michael Bay's Best Film Image
  • Posted on 06th Oct, 2022 22:39 PM

Michael Bay is a filmmaker with a mixed reception for creating explosive action films. However, The Rock is his best due to a great cast and premise.

p>Michael Bay is one of the most explosive action directors of all time, from making big-budget franchises such as Bad Boys and Transformers, to recent thrillers like 6 Underground. However, The Rock remains his best feature because it is a hard-edged military action thriller that contains plenty of drama and humor.

The cast in this action picture is also stellar, including the late Sir Sean Connery, who portrays a character that can be classified as an older version of James Bond, while Ed Harris plays a more sympathetic villain who believes he can honor the memory of his fellow soldiers by holding San Francisco for ransom. In the middle is Nicolas Cage, who delivers a funny and energetic performance as a chemical weapons specialist who is very intelligent at his job, but extremely anxious when it comes to military combat.

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The Rock involves General Frank Hummel (Harris), who recently lost his wife, and swore to take action for fellow soldiers who died under his command. He demands that the U.S. government pay him one hundred million dollars in order to pay benefits to the families of the fallen soldiers who served with Hummel in Operation Desert Storm and in the Vietnam War. Along with demanding money, Hummel and his army steal missiles containing nuclear poison gas, which will be launched in San Francisco if Hummel's demands aren't met. On top of that, Hummel is running his personal mission in Alcatraz prison (aka The Rock), where his men hold eighty-one hostages, and have his missiles ready for launch.

When it looks like there's no hope to stop Hummel's personal but foolish plan, the government and the F.B.I. call on John Patrick Mason (Connery), a former British operative who's been held in prison for several years (without a fair trial) for stealing classified documents (which includes info on JFK's assassination). Mason is also the only man to have ever escaped from Alcatraz, which is why his knowledge of the facility is needed to save the hostages.

Another person called upon for the mission is Stanley Goodspeed (Cage), a chemist who can disarm the missiles with poison gas. He is very intelligent when it comes to nuclear weapons and science, and is also obsessed with The Beatles and rock music. However, he gets nervous when it comes to fieldwork, especially military combat and swimming, but overcomes his obstacles by sticking to his mission to save the people of San Francisco.

While The Rock may seem like another typical action thriller, Bay makes his film effective by making the story exciting and hard-hitting, along with appealing protagonists. The heroes, Mason and Goodspeed, are an odd pair, but their arguments and challenges in working together are part of the comic relief in this feature. Mason is the old but tough veteran who can still take down bad guys and anyone who gets in his way, while Goodspeed is the well-educated nerd who prefers working in a science lab rather than on the field.

The two heroes also have personal conflicts. Mason has a daughter, Jade, who doesn't understand him and why he went to prison, but he intends on talking to her and getting to know her better because she's the only family he has left. Goodspeed has a girlfriend, Carla, who's pregnant and wants to marry him, but, despite his love for her, he worries that his job will get in the way of their relationship. The mission in Alcatraz causes Mason and Goodspeed to think about the people they love, and are motivated to succeed.

General Hummel also wants to prove that the sacrifices his men went through in war matter, and shouldn't be forgotten. When Hummel's men kill every U.S. soldier trying to sneak into Alcatraz in an intense shootout (leaving only Mason and Goodspeed alive), Hummel feels guilty because he doesn't intend to kill anyone (especially soldiers) or blow up San Francisco. Mason recognizes Hummel's vulnerabilities, telling Goodspeed that Hummel is a soldier and not a murderer. During their only confrontation, Mason calls out Hummel, telling him that his plan won't honor the memory of his fallen soldiers.

Mason's ability to understand Hummel's psyche is intriguing because it displays Mason's own experience as a soldier, and how noble he is in understanding right from wrong, while Hummel attempts to do a good deed but in the wrong way. Hummel's intention to not kill causes many of his men to go against him, resulting in his downfall. Goodspeed also learns how to overcome fear and hesitation, thanks to Mason, and manages to fight back against Hummel's mercenaries.

The supporting cast also provides intensity and a lot of swearing. F.B.I. Director James Womack (the late John Spencer) has Mason released from prison in order to help soldiers break into Alcatraz, but intends on sending him back afterward due to their distrustful feud and the secrets Mason beholds concerning the Bureau. Government official Ernest Paxton (William Forsythe) gives Goodspeed a hard talk about keeping calm and staying focused on the mission because he has faith in the chemist. Major Tom Baxter (David Morse) is Hummel's closest ally, who stands by his friend, even when he knows Hummel is uncertain about his conflicted plan.

Captain Darrow (Tony Todd of Candyman fame) is darkly funny and brutal, declaring that he is a mercenary, not a soldier, who wants his money. Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn from The Terminator) is a good soldier who cares about his unit, even when they face certain death in Alcatraz.

The action sequences are, of course, the knockout in this film, from the massive car chase between Mason and the F.B.I. on the streets of San Francisco, to the loud shootouts and big explosions in Alcatraz where Mason and Goodspeed take down Hummel's men. Hans Zimmer delivers one of his most memorable scores, and is an expert in conveying the horrors of war, since he's also scored other films involving warfare and the military (Crimson Tide and The Thin Red Line). The main theme, "Hummel Gets The Rockets," perfectly sets up the opening of the film, where Hummel puts on his uniform as he remembers his men getting attacked in battle.

While Bad Boys is a decent but predictable first film, its sequel is overdone, Armageddon is a very loud and overly melodramatic sci-fi film, and the Transformers pictures focused more on action over the characters. Pearl Harbor is a disappointing war film because it is more about elaborate battles and romance rather than on the history of the attack itself. The Rock remains Bay's best film because it has the perfect balance of intense action, military drama, and dark humor, filled with hard-edged characters played by a great cast of actors. Perhaps Bay could make more action thrillers like this one in the future.

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