In the year 2019, most of the Earth is uninhabitable, having been choked to death by a newly toxic atmosphere. Everyone must live indoors, in a city-sized underground bunker where the air is clean and where everyone yearns to win the weekly lottery, where the prize is a one-way ticket to The Island, “nature’s last remaining pathogen-free zone.” As I say, this is 2019, only 14 years from now. So we’d better get crackin’ on that toxic atmosphere thing unless we want to make Michael Bay a liar.
Bay is the director of “The Island,” his sixth film and without question his best. Of course, coming after “Armageddon,” “Bad Boys II” and “The Rock,” “best” is not a superlative with a great deal of impact. But despite all of Bay’s best efforts, which he recently outlined in Entertainment Weekly — firing the screenwriter immediately and bringing on two action-oriented re-writers; openly renting out the film for product placement; re-shooting endings based on test screenings — despite all that sabotage, he still managed, through sheer dumb luck, to wind up with a cracking good sci-fi adventure that doesn’t falter until the second half. (Ironically, the second half of his “Pearl Harbor” was the GOOD half.)
In this great subterranean safehouse, made of futuristic glass-and-steel, everyone dresses alike and is carefully monitored for health and fitness deficiencies. They remember the great disaster that precipitated their coming here, and the “decontamination” process that rendered them fit for society. Occasionally new survivors are found, brought in, decontaminated, and slowly introduced into the general population. Everyone lives in contentment, not questioning the way things are done.
Everyone except for Lincoln 6 Echo (Ewan McGregor), that is. He starts to wonder why everyone dresses the same, and why he has the particular job he does, pouring nutrients into tubes. Where do the tubes go? What are the nutrients for? What’s the world like on the outside? Is it really uninhabitable? He is friends with Jordan 2 Delta (Scarlett Johansson), and she shares some of his curiosity. But curiosity, as you might expect, is frowned upon in this environment. Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), who runs the facility, subtly urges Lincoln to direct his energies elsewhere.
The truth, which the film’s trailer reveals and which I will tiptoe around, is that Lincoln, Jordan and the others are not exactly who they think they are. Cloning is involved, and The Island is a bit of a misnomer insofar as “going to The Island” really means “being killed,” and the outside world isn’t nearly as toxic as they’ve been led to believe (though parts of L.A. are still pretty bad).
With help from an outsider named McCord (Steve Buscemi, funny as always), Lincoln and Jordan wind up on the run, fleeing Merrick’s bounty hunter (Djimon Hounsou) while searching for answers. The film up to this point is solid future-paranoia “Soylent Green”-style hi-jinks, full of intelligent discourse and other surprises. But then Bay’s baser instincts kick in, as do the contributions of re-writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orco (both of TV’s “Alias”), who revised Caspian Tredwell-Owen’s original script, and we get not one but two car chases, explosions aplenty and, earlier declarations that clones have no sex drive notwithstanding, a sex scene.
But the film’s rather pedestrian latter scenes merely tarnish, rather than ruin, the finished product. Sleek and stylish as if made by a real filmmaker, “The Island” is good summertime fare. Never mind if it seems to have been cloned from the DNA of countless previous sci-fi flicks; did “Logan’s Run” have not one but TWO Ewan McGregors? I didn’t think so.
B (2 hrs., 7 min.; )