I touched down in San Francisco on Wednesday morning for a couple of months. One of my life ambitions is to take a trip to Alcatraz; I’ve been fascinated by The Rock for some time now, mostly due to the early 90s educational PC game, Mario is Missing. Maybe in some weird twist of fate, Michael Bay was captivated enough by the pre-school geography game to make his, hands down, best movie, set on and around the stony island prison.
A dissident commander of the US army and his merry band of mercenaries take over Alcatraz in an attempt to shock the US government to the very core. How? By destroying San Francisco, a notoriously aggressive, backward thinking city, with a terrorist attack of chemical proportions. The only people that can save the citizens of San Francisco are Nic Cage, a chemist, and Sean Connery, the only man to ever escape from the sea prison.
Much like Con Air – another Cage classic – The Rock requires you to check your brain out at the front door and just enjoy the sweeping crane shots, worm’s eye views and homoerotic characters for which Bay is notorious. Fortunately, this movie was made when Bay could tell a decent story, and regardless of some questionable facial expressions from Cage, this is one of the standout action movies since the late 80s. Soaked in rich colour, saturated with rip-roaring action set pieces (one of which inspired a level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare) and replete with one liners, The Rock has a fun, pacey and self-aware tone that hasn’t been matched since in Hollywood action films of its type.
Cage, Connery, Ed Harris, and even the merry band of aggressive wankers absolutely nail their parts; the shift in character arc in the third act gets extremely patriotic, but it’s done in a completely knowing way, so it doesn’t feel like Bay is trying to deliver a message, which he has proved he cannot do. Without being too nice, this movie is an example of how Michael Bay, when on top of his game, can make something that doesn’t make you want to ram a pencil into your temple.
The Rock is not a guilty pleasure of mine. I am proud to say that it’s one of my favourites, maybe even favourite pure action movie since Die Hard with a Vengeance. Michael, please put down the $200m you made from Transformers and get back to making some proper movies.