Classic Intel: Armageddon - Blu-ray Review

'The segments set in space lose all the fun of the film's opening, replacing it instead with false urgency and overblown emotion'.

Being an espoused Michael Bay disparager (just check out my Film Intel profile as evidence), Armageddon holds the dubious honour of being the Bay film to which I've given the most chances to endear itself to me. I really should know better, essentially going through the same cycle each time I watch like some kind of sub-par disaster film addict, relapsing and recovering over the course of two and a half hours.

Armageddon starts well enough, you see. It never threatens to be anything deep or memorable, but the first hour is exactly the type of fun you go into a big budget Hollywood disaster film hoping for. There's a handful of destruction scenes, coupled with Billy Bob Thornton's NASA head honcho Dan Truman making allusions to "the worst parts of the Bible", to establish how bad things are soon going to get for Planet Earth. So far, so watchable.

The driving force behind the first hour's success is the cast however. With such reliable names as Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan and Will Patton on board, you can even begin to overlook the presence of a pre-Benaissance Affleck and Liv Tyler stinking things up every now and again with their nauseating romance. Bruce Willis is undoubtedly the key to Armageddon's opening acts working as well as they do, his character Harry Stamper essentially starting off as John McClane on an oil rig, soon graduating to John McClane in a NASA training facility. It's pure Hollywood blockbuster fodder, but it gets the job done in an effective way by allowing the cast to keep things consistently, if guiltily, entertaining.

It's usually by this point that I've been taken under Bay's spell, believing that I actually might make it through the whole of Armageddon and enjoy it. Then Ben Affleck starts warbling "Leaving On A Jet Plane" and I start having uncomfortable flashbacks to my last viewing. There's around ninety minutes still to go, and as soon as the narrative leaves terra firma in a literal sense, the film is on shaky ground from there onward. The segments set in space lose all the fun of the film's opening, replacing it instead with false urgency and overblown emotion - oh, and Peter Stormare's cosmonaut Lev Andropov, an insufferable stereotype in a spacesuit who grates from the moment he appears on screen.

When the action shifts to the surface of the asteroid, Armageddon truly passes the point of no return in terms of credibility. Affleck becomes more prominent, Willis becomes mawkish, and the whole film becomes a lifeless chore. The asteroid itself looks like a reject from a cheap sci-fi B-movie, with the script following suit. We therefore have William Fichtner as NASA Colonel Willie Sharp actually attempting gravitas when delivering lines about "space dementia", hackneyed action scenes including disarming a nuclear bomb by cutting one of two wires (red or blue - what else?), and Patton's Chick seriously asking Sharp the question: "Why you got a gun in space?". Trust me, Chick, we're all asking the same thing.

The fact that Bay makes the whole thing unnecessarily long - padding the action out on the asteroid with dull scenes about drilling and a ludicrous, drawn-out subplot that feels like an outer space version of The Incredible Journey but much less entertaining than that sounds - just compounds the film's mounting problems. The interspersed scenes back on Earth offer a little respite, Thornton essentially holding things together single-handedly whilst fighting against Tyler's inability to do anything other than irritate.

By the time the credits finally roll, I remember exactly why I vowed never to bother with Armageddon again the last time I sat through it. And then, as time dulls the pain of Bay at his most vomit-inducingly saccharine, I remember the fun offered by Willis and his gang of misfit drillers as they prepare to save the world during the opening acts, and despite myself I give it another go. I suppose I must just be a sucker for punishment.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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