Back in 1996 Micheal Bay was and up and coming Director, with only the 1995 credit Bad Boys to his name, and pension for blowing things up. He had not yet sullied his name with predictably bad sequels like Bad Boys II or the Transformers movies. In fact, the movies he did in the 90’s, though now a bit cliché, were some of the decades best action epics.
The brightest spot on his resume has to be The Rock. This was a movie about a group of Marines who steal 15 chemical weapon powered rockets. They then threaten to launch said rockets against the city of San Francisco from Alcatraz Island, where they are holding 81 hostages. His demands require that all the men that has died under his watch, on Black Ops missions, be recognized as heroes and their families be rewarded a million dollars a piece from dirty money seized from weapons sales. His motives are actually noble which sets him aside from most antagonists in the genre. An honorable man pushed too far, the character is relatable and for that this movie is more than your run of the mill Dwayne Johnson/Vin Diesel movie. So in a joint operation, the FBI and a group of Navy SEALS must get onto the island and squash the threat. In 1996 I was all of 13, and when I walked into the theater I found my self thoroughly entertained for the entire 136 minute ride. Here we are now, 15 years later and the movie still holds up.
Our old buddy Nic Cage is our hero. He plays a chemical weapons specialist with the FBI named Stanley Goodspeed, and Sean Connery is basically an old James Bond. Ed Harris and David Morse play our missile thieves, and there are a slew of other recognizable faces as the movie goes on.
When we met Goodspeed, he is in the lab with Todd Louiso (High Fidelity, Snakes on a Plane) and Xander Berkley (24, Terminator 2) attempting to disarm a poisonous gas bomb. After succeeding he goes home to then learn that his girlfriend is pregnant, which only adds to his desperation to survive later on.
General Hummel (Harris) then makes the threat to launch the stolen rockets into the Bay Area. It is then that Goodspeed is called to San Fran because of his knowledge of the VX Gas used in the rockets. Once he arrives he meets John Mason (Connery), and we learn that Mason has been held, nameless and with no trial for over 30 years. Because however, he is the only man to ever escape Alcatraz, he is to be sent in with the SEAL team to guide them through the tunnels of the former prison. He is however told nothing of the rockets.
Once on the island, the SEAL team is led by none other than Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens, Navy Seals, Tombstone) who promptly get his entire team killed. Nice job Mike! You can see Hummel takes no joy from having to kill more soldiers, but some of his men don’t seem to share his pain. With the destruction of the SEAL team, this leaves only Mason and Goodspeed to diffuse the rockets. And it’s only after Mason is let in on the real threat that he decides to help Stanley complete the mission. Thus truly begins The Rock as Connery delivers one of his greatest quotes ever…
So Mason and Goodspeed continue on in hopes of saving the day and are able to disable 12 of the 15 rockets before the John C. McGinley (Platoon, Se7en, Scrubs) led Marine team interrupts them. Things don’t end well for Dr. Cox however, as Mason lights his ass on fire. Booyah.
General Hummel then announces over the Island PA system that if the guidance chips removed from the rockets are not returned, he will execute a hostage. Upon hearing this Mason sends Goodspeed after the rockets and he heads to confront Hummel. This is the first time either of our heroes come face to face with the General, and it is not a battle of fists, but of minds as Mason and Hummel banter…
After this Goodspeed is able to take out only one of the remaining three rockets before being taken into custody. This now leaves Mason and Goodspeed prisoners, with the Marines still controlling 2 rockets.
Mason however did escape once, as it turns out, he still remembers how and they free themselves from their cells. Not in time however to stop the launch of one of the rockets. Luckily Mason’s instinct was right and Hummel is not a mad man, thus refusing to kill innocents. He diverts the rocket so it detonates underwater and causes a mutiny among his own men. The revolt, let by Tony Todd (Candyman, 24, Platoon) results directly in the deaths of Hummel, Major Baxter (Morse) and Crisp (Bokeem Woodbine). From here its a race to the last rocket and a question if Goodspeed can signal in time to call off the impending Air Strike. He does of course win the race and signal in time.
After this he is able to give Mason a give – his freedom. Goodspeed informs FBI Director Womack (John Spencer) that Mason has been vaporized. A lie that is helped along by Special Agent Paxton (William Forsythe). So Mason is free and all is good in the world.
I don’t feel that it would be a stretch to call this one of the best action movie of the last 20 years. I think this is before Michael Bay became so self-aware and you’re reminded of how he built his name. The pacing is good, really no lulls. The cast is great, and the dialogue, though often simplistic, is both powerful and memorable enough to quote. It’s a shame Bay hasn’t done anything of this quality in so long, but this is one of the movies that helped redefine the genre for the 90’s.
For what it is, I give it a strong 4.5 Bears.