Before Micheal Bay did unspeakable things to people’s childhoods with his robo-masturbation interpretation of Transformers, he was on the way to being the king of action films. A few years before his name became one to worry about and avoid on a list of horror franchise remakes, Mr. Bay made The Rock.
In 1995, Bay teamed with highly respected (back then, at least) action movie producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson and brought us Bad Boys, a high-octane action crime thriller with more than a little bit of Lethal Weapon’s DNA. As a directorial debut, it was a calling card that any director would be proud to say they were a part of. Slick, funny with only one dodgy CGI explosion, Bad Boys came very close to being the subject of this particular article. But a year later the Bruck/Bay/Simpson dream team got back together to bring us The Rock. A film that in lesser hands would be relegated to the too often used “Die Hard But…” label, this time around it’ll be “Die Hard, but on Alcatraz”. But with these three behind the camera and Nicolas Cage joining Sean Connery upfront, something special appeared in the Summer of 1996.
A quick run down.
General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris), a Vietnam veteran who has, after years of running special ops missions for a government all too willing to use his patriotism to get him to do anything they want, becomes disillusioned with his government all too willing to use his patriotism to get him to do anything they want. So after stealing a chemical weapon and enough rockets to give Hummel Doomsday-like abilities, the gruff general and his men forcefully take over Alcatraz island taking the visiting tourists hostage and point said rockets at San Francisco demanding a few million paid to the families of dead and forgotten soldiers’ families.
Stanly Goodspeed, a quiet chemist (Nic Cage) who works for the FBI mainly because it’s a reasonably safe job that pays the bills and occasionally uses his very expensive and niche PhD is called in to assist the Feds in their prison-based troubles. He teams up with a SEAL Team and ageing British Black Ops specialist John Mason (Sean Connery trying very hard to NOT be James Bond), a world-class soldier who not only used to be a guest at the famous prison but was the first and only person to successfully escape. Mason will lead the SEALs and Goodspeed on to the island so a rescue mission can be put together.
Where do you begin with a film like The Rock. the story is great but unimportant. It’s all about the set-pieces with this one, and it’s where the film truly shines. Sure, there’s some funny, snappy dialogue that gives a chuckle, but it pales in comparison to Sean Connery’s ruthless SAS soldier escaping from a locked-down, FBI agent filled hotel and trashing half of San Francisco by driving through it in a stolen Humvee. All while being chased in the most unsubtle bright yellow Ferrari Bay and his producer friends could find. I’ll use the phrase again because it deserves it. In lesser hands, this would be a fun five minutes, but in Bay’s paws, it is an adrenaline-fuelled visual equivalent to a car filled cocaine bump that ends with the destruction of said Ferrari.
“Hey man, you just fucked up your Ferrari!”
“It’s not mine”
Once inside the prison, the action, somehow, just gets better. Gunfights feel not only tight and dangerous but because of where they are, it feels claustrophobic and scary in the tunnels and rooms that the rescuers are chased through. None of this seems to inhibit Bay’s ability to get a damn fine shot wherever he’s got the camera. Creeping around in the dark trying to deactivate rockets and rescue hostages is tense and goosebump-inducing but once the gunfire kicks up again you’re watching some the best action put to film with each frame expertly put in front of you to savour, wide-eyed and drooling.
But the end, The END!
I haven’t mentioned Hanz Zimmer’s excellent score yet. The man who has since done the Batman trilogy and played mentor to Junkie XL set the bar for film scores for a lot of people with The Rock. “Hummel gets the Rockets” is, to this day, one of the most recognisable bits of music from a film that also gives the listener shivers at every listen. Zimmer and Bay bring the end of The Rock to a tense and heartstopping finish. As Goodspeed and Mason look to be failing in their mission, the American government have sent in bombers to stop the incoming chemical weapon flavoured apocalypse. It’s built to a nail-biting crescendo as the hapless scientist finds a way to save the day but must stop the bombers before all the hostages are burnet to a barbeque-like crisp.
“I’ve got green smoke. I’VE GOT GREEN SMOKE!”
What makes The Rock so special is that, like Bad Boys before it, it is almost timeless. The main bad guy has intentions that everyone watching can get behind – even if his platoon of misfits filled with an ocean of “hey that’s that guy from that thing” actors including Bokeem Woodbine, Tony Todd and John C. McGinley aren’t quite so relatable. The good guys understand the bad guys but understand they are also bad guys. A conflict rarely seen in a mid-90’s action film. Fun stories, near-perfect direction and a film that simply never gets old. The Rock is the perfect action movie