1996 was a younger more naÃ¯ve time for the film-going audience. Transformers was still a cool kids toy from the 1980s, Nicholas Cage had some acting credibility and no one had really heard of an up-and-coming director called Michael Bay. His first film, Bad Boys had kindly introduced the world to the next big superstar in Will Smith. There was some excitement about where this ‘bold’ director would go next. It turns out the rarely shy Bay decided to cast the only legitimate action hero left in the world (Cage) with an ex-James Bond (Sean Connery), pit them against a crazed Brigadier General (Ed Harris), frame the action in an iconic American locale (Alcatraz) and let the sparks fly. What he was left with is a little action film called The Rock.
A group of rogue marines and their fanatical leader, Brigadier General Francis Hummel (Harris) take control of ex-prison Alcatraz in the bay of San Francisco. Threatening a biological attack on the city unless their demands are met, they force the Government to enlist the services of biological weapons expert Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Cage) to disarm the bio-rockets the marines have in their possession. Aware that Goodspeed is not trained for combat, they assign John Mason (Connery) to help him, being that he is the only man to ever successfully escape the prison known as ˜The Rock.’ Together the two men have to break into Alcatraz and stop the Brigadier General before he can wreak havoc on the citizens of California.
As with many action films, its success of failure relies on the chemistry between the lead characters and The Rock boasts one of the most unlikely pairings in film history. Connery and Cage fizz one-liners off each throughout and build a genuinely warming and entertaining relationship that the audience can get behind. When you pit them against a Brigadier General whose motives are not necessarily evil and a selection of muscle-bound henchmen to be dispatched in a variety of humorous ways and you’re well on the way to action film heaven.
Michael Bay has developed a reputation in recent years that implies he is a hack whose overt displays of guns, babes and cars suggest a 12-year-old given the keys to the kingdom. With a back catalogue including Bad Boys, Pearl Harbour, Transformers and Armageddon it is obvious why he has developed this reputation, but with The Rock he really has absolutely nailed it. Everything is shot in the perfect hour, as is to be expected with a Bay film, and the editing is as frenetic as the banter, but somehow it all works and more the sum of its parts.
Unlike late ˜Bayhem’ films, The Rock knows exactly what it is, an over-the-top action-fest with three charismatic, if uneven leads actually having a good time. It hits all the right notes and delivers time and again with fantastic action and hilarious interplay.