I am an enormous fan of the first Bad Boys (1995) movie. The action, comedy and kinetic vibrancy of the movie were so frenetically executed, when watching as a youngster I just couldn’t get enough and as an adult, through nostalgic eyes, I love it just as much. The central relationship between the two police detective best friends, Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett (Will Smith and Martin Lawrence) was simple buddy cop gold. They provided laughs and a lot of heart as they quipped from scene to scene and poked fun at one another with clear affection.

The belated sequel was released in 2003, and personally I was rather disappointed. Returning director Michael Bay dialled up his whip-pan edits and pyrotechnic explosions to eleven and failed to drill down on what made the original so enjoyable, the relationships at the heart of the story. The tone of the movie especially was all over the place. The comedy relied on crass and borderline offensive jokes and, as also seen recently in the Bay directed 6 Underground, he has a dark disregard for innocent civilians, and it makes many of his movies tonally odd. However, the sequel was still enjoyable in places and the Ferrari highway chase scene in particular was exciting and over the top.  So then 25 years after the first movie a second sequel has arrived and in a market now saturated with massive franchise juggernauts and wacky race action such as John Wick and Fast and the Furious, how will the Bad Boys stand up against their cinematic competition? The short answer is, surprisingly well.

Opening with a fantastically choreographed car chase that was also shown in the trailer for the movie, it will not take long for viewers familiar with the previous movies to notice that the visuals have far less lens flare and nonsensical explosions. This is due to Michael Bay handing over directing responsibilities to duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. Gone are multiple edits and hyperactive visuals and instead we are given competent direction and engaging action set pieces that stand toe-to-toe with anything Bay offered up in the previous movies. The plot of Bad Boys for Life is simple, yet beautifully executed. When a viciously violent prisoner escapes from a high-security prison, Mike Lowrey must fight for his life after he is hunted by the unknown enemy that places himself and all those he knows at risk. To go any further into the plot would be a disservice to the movie, there are many twists and turns, as well as big-hitting emotional gut punches. We follow the central duo as they face a life that ‘has more years behind than it does ahead’ and as Marcus embraces his quieter lifestyle, Mike pushes back hard against his ageing and fights all the harder because of it.

There is a chemistry between Smith and Lawrence that is not often achieved to this level in movies of the action genre anymore. They click so wonderfully and watching their back and forth banter as well as the more emotional side of their long-surviving collaboration is an absolute pleasure. It seems as though the OG team from the buddy cop movies of yesteryear have come back to teach Hobbs and Shaw a thing or two and show the Fast and Furious team what family really means.

Smith and Lawrence are once again joined by Lawrence’s long-suffering onscreen wife Theresa Randle and the always great Joe Pantoliano as the very vocal Captain Howard (there is also an amusing wedding cameo in a blink and you’ll miss it appearance). There are new additions to the characters roster, however, as the central pair are teamed up with a crack team of young Police officers collectively named AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations). Headed by Paola Núñez’s gloriously badass Rita and featuring recognisable names such as Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical and Spring Breakers) and Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games and TV’s Vikings), these new characters bring a breath of fresh air to proceedings and even though their screen time is limited to only a handful of scenes, they add to some of the better action set pieces. Namely the rather ambitious finale that sees a fantastic action sequence set in a burning building and dozens of red shirts to dispose of.

As the new team members use an array of new technologies to survey and catch criminals, Mike and Marcus’ more draconian methods are exposed with humour and the young troop poke fun at the pair and their aged approach to police work. This humour is one of the movies few failings as the banter between the new younger cast members is a little on the nose and at times feels forced. It is easy to forgive however as the back and forth between Mike and Marcus hits the mark most of the time, making up for jocular missteps.

The action sequences are large in scale and full of spectacle as each set piece is clearly big budget and well considered. One scene, not unlike the recent John Wick: Chapter 3, sees a high-octane motorbike chase through streets and tunnels. Mike and Marcus begin their chase in an SUV and end up in a high-powered motorcycle and sidecar combo as they are shot at by cars, motorcycles and face fire from a helicopter. It is an immensely fun segment of the film and whilst not up to the enormous lengthy scale of Bad Boys 2’s Motorway chase or the first movie’s hanger shoot out/runway showdown, it still hits the right action beats.

Bad Boys for Life is the complete package. An exciting action flick, a laugh-out-loud buddy comedy with heart and it also features a gentle dose of nostalgia as a reward for fans of the original movie. Subtly added throughout are musical cues and shots that mirror the previous two films, especially the 1995 original. What is great to see is that these are delicately executed and not sledgehammered home, for example, the Miami sign, sun-bleached and shot at a jaunty angle whilst a jumbo jet flies overhead had me grinning from ear to ear in memory of the Bad Boys’ first outing. The nostalgic elements are earned due to the quality but also as a direct comparison to its forbears, this is the better movie.

An unusual notion then, to have the third movie in a popular franchise be the best. It is not by a small margin either. Bad Boys for Life embraces the time passed since the first outing and runs with it, the introduction of new recruits and technologies that make Mike and Marcus the dinosaurs of the police department are genuinely funny and do not feel forced or unnecessary. Marcus especially, always feels one line of dialogue away from uttering Sergeant Murtagh’s immortal line ‘I’m too old for this shit’.

Bad Boys For Life is an extremely welcome surprise, especially in terms of its emotional heft and solid plot. When first seeing this movie was greenlit, I was apprehensive to say the least, but now the Bad Boysverse is invigorated and as rumours of a sequel are already circulating, I am keen to watch Lowrey and Burnett ride together at least a couple more times.

Rating: ★★★★

Directed by: Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah

Written by: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan

Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Paola Nuñezm Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Joe Pantaoliano