This is a spoiler-free review of Bad Boys For Life.
Our childhood heroes are no longer the same men they used to be. Cinema has spent the better part of the last five years telling us this much. In 2015, we saw Rocky, the man who once ended the bloody cold war by knocking Ivan Drago’s jaws off his stupid face, puke and collapse in a ring then get diagnosed with cancer. Arnold freaking Schwarzenegger in Terminator: Dark Fate not only had grey hair but also a wife and kid whom he had chosen to settle down with, deep in a quiet forest. Even in Tamil Cinema, we saw Rajinikanth, the ageless icon of Indian pop-culture, for the first time ever play an ageing grandpa who dies at the end of Kaala, unable to punch and kick his way out of trouble.
It’s sad. It also pisses off half the internet (there are still people tweeting Rian Johnson for supposedly “ruining” Luke Skywalker). But it’s this grim and beautiful reality of life that has given us the best versions of these iconic characters/actors. Age has added vulnerabilities to them to match their coolness. They have blood underneath their steel flesh. Their faces are often wrinkled with regret. They have flaws. For the first time, our heroes are also human.
Which brings me to BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. Miami hasn’t changed much. It’s the same as it’s always been in these movies, the unholy seeds of Michael Bay’s testicles. The colours are saturated to look like a six-year-old’s pack of crayons. The cops are rockstars who apparently get paid so much, they can afford sports cars and designer jackets. And the women who walk the street only have two types of clothing in their wardrobes — booty shorts and tiny bikinis.
What has changed though, is Detective Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith).
I was worried that Belgian directing duo Adil and Bilall would try to engineer another Michael Bay baby. But they don’t. Mostly because they’re not embryologists at an IVF lab, but also because they know that for Bad Boys to endure, Bad Boys must evolve. And evolve it does. Bad Boys For Life is a mature and current take on what was an enjoyable but juvenile franchise for frat bros.
Marcus is a grandfather now — a high octane car chase that opens the film ends at a hospital with Marcus comedically weeping at the sight of his newborn grandson — and wants to retire. Mike still believes he’s a 30-year-old, but in a shocking scene, gets multiple bullets pumped through his gut by a thug on a motorcycle. Bulletproof Mike is no longer invulnerable. As he lies unconscious on the hospital bed, we catch a glimpse of his exterior without the animal print leather jackets and the swagger to go with. Without a beard dye, his facial hair is grey.
If the first Bad Boys movie was about a couple of hot shots hot shotting their way through everything, Bad Boys For Life deals with the consequences of their actions as past demons come back to haunt them. The screenplay by Chris Bremmer, Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan is really good. Markus saying, “perhaps it’s time we stop being bad boys and start trying to be good men,” isn’t just a funny quip, it forms the central conflict of the film. There’s even a wonderfully edited sequence where we see Markus pulling the lever of his comfy chair in his living room releasing its leg rest juxtaposed with Mike pulling the handbrake of his car.
Markus has come to terms with his age and feels liberated by it. Mike is desperately clinging on to past glories. But they, despite what Mike believes, aren’t who they used to be. They aren’t just vulnerable, they also fail… repeatedly. In fact, they fail so much and mess up to such a degree that they’re given an entire team to help them along the way. The team comprises of chief Paola Nunez who used to date Mike, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig and Charles Melton, all of whom bounce off each other and Smith and Lawrence to brilliant effect.
The best thing to come out of Bay’s first two films is the line, we ride together, we die together. Here the writers and directors explore what that actually means beyond the superficial. It means having to sit by the hospital bed of your best friend and dye his beard with a small brush like a moron because you know that’s how he would like to be seen even if he’s 90 years old in a coffin. Their friendship doesn’t just start at the opening title card and end when the end credits roll. They have lives that extend beyond the frames. Their friendship has festered and grown over the years. So, when Markus sits in a church, wears his heart on his sleeve damp with tears and says “If you save him, I will put no more violence into this world,” you believe him with every fibre in your body. It helps that Smith and Lawrence have dynamite chemistry. In Adil and Billall’s Bad Boys For Life, the line “one last ride” followed by a fist bump actually means something.* The next time Vin Diesel says “family” in a Fast & Furious movie, I’ll be sure to smack his face with the Blu-ray of Bad Boys For Life.
There are other juicy bits of writing. The theme of friendship and family extends onto the villain’s side as well. You get a mother-son dynamic who are trying to avenge the death of their husband/father. I also love how midway through the movie, we get a conversation on the existence of hell and later there’s an action block that’s set in a proverbial scorching hell ready to engulf all of them.
Weirdly enough, the action sequences are the film’s weakest portions. Not because they’re bad, but because they’re (relatively) normal. I guess this is the WTF part of my review where I praise Michael Bay. I mean, what can I say, for all his faults — and believe me, I am not a fan of Michael Bay AT ALL — his action sequences are always injected with a lot of passion and even more steroids, which would’ve worked well in a film like this. That said, even the ordinarily directed action sequences here made me feel more than I did watching the entirety of Six Underground. And that’s because Adil and Bilall understand character. They know that what makes these type of films really work is emotional resonance. And on those fronts, Bad Boys For Life delivers.
This is easily the best Bad Boys movie. Where the film really falters is during its closing moments and the mid-credits scene which betrays the very thesis of Bad Boys For Life.* Scenes that suggest there will be more ‘last rides’ as long the franchise keeps making money.