If you’re looking for some 1990s escapist entertainment, then Michael Bay’s Armageddon never lets you down.
Spoilers lie ahead.
I know. I really do know. There are plot holes in Michael Bay’s 1998 juggernaut Armageddon that you could throw the explosions in every other Michael Bay film through, and still have room for all those nuns he oddly threw into 6 Undergound.
And I know. I really know. Why are they training drillers to be astronauts, when surely – even though the film makes a topic attempt to explain it – it makes more sense the other way around? Why can’t Michael Bay move his camera away from a woman’s arse when he sees one coming? Why do they have massive clocks on stand-by and ready to go when there’s a planet killer heading to Earth? Why is the Russian man on the space station such a dick? Why do they end up pretty much blowing the space stat… (checks director’s name) … no, scrub that one.
And yes yes yes: I know. It’s silly. It’s daft. It makes little sense. It’s full of itself.
Yep: I love Armageddon. It’s the last Michael Bay film I really, really liked, and in hindsight, it may even eclipse The Rock as my favourite of his (I hear the Ba Boys argument come up, but it’s worth noting that even Bay had his problems with that one).
Here, then, is just why I find the film such enormous fun. Between you and me, I’m not surprised it lost out to Best Picture at the Oscars. I do think it’s one of Bruce Willis’ finer leading man performances, but again, I’ll forgive the Academy Awards oversight.
Yet every time I put the film on, I’m thoroughly entertained. And sod it, yes: moved. Judge me.
Here, then, because I gather lists are quite popular on the internet, are 12 of the things I thoroughly enjoy about the film. I shall don my flame suit and meet you in the comments…
The opening gravitas introduction
I may as well start here. What I love about the opening – aside from the delicate way the credits appear on screen until the word Armageddon appears from behind a planet – is this is a movie that knows how to kick off a disaster film.
Deathly serious narration, the authoritative tones of the late Charlton Heston (taking a leaf out of Hal Douglas’ opening voiceover for Waterworld), and the scene set for what could be a dark, sombre drama. If stakes could be raised through serious people talking over special effects alone, well Armageddon is damn well going to try. I love it for doing so.
The taking time out to troll another movie
When I first saw Armageddon, I groaned a bit at the moment where a little dog goes and tries to destroy a Godzilla toy. As I wrote about here, it’s a cheap shot at another film, that in turn had taken an expensive cheap shot at another film. But on multiple repeat viewings, I have to admire how committed it is to the gag. It goes on much longer than I originally remembering, before segueing into blowing some shit up.
The evaluation sequence
This this this. The whole psych analysis and physical exam section of the film I could have watched for an hour and still wanted more. Not least Michael Clarke Duncan, given a little bit of space to have fun in a clearly small role on paper. But his emotional psych session and his comedy timing? Real highlights. I thought watching it then and think now that Michael Bay should try directing a $20m comedy. I reckon he may be a little bit better at it than people expect.
I love too how Clint Eastwood’s Space Cowboys came along a year or two later and mined similar unlikely astronauts in training for equally amusing effect.
Michael Clarke Duncan again. In a film full of scene-stealers, the moment where AJ starts singing Leavin’ On A Jet Plane as the drillers-turned-into-astronauts head towards their shuttles could have been a little bit cringe-y. The magic of it is that it turns into an ensemble sing-song, and it’s the deep dulcet tones of Clarke Duncan that really starts to sell it.
Off the back of his work in Armageddon, Bruce Willis infamously recommended Clarke Duncan for his Oscar-nominated role in The Green Mile. He made be laugh in this one, he broke my heart in that one. He’s very sadly missed.
I think my favourite ensemble negotiation scene in a Hollywood movie may still be Sneakers, going spoiler-free. I have to say that Armageddon gives it a run for its money. The simple framing – Willis in the foreground, his motley crew on the level above – is remarkably unfussy. As such, we get to see the outlandish demands play out, and Willis is savvy enough to play it straight. As a consequence, I laugh. Again.
A few issues back in Film Stories magazine, the mighty Jason Isaacs – hello! – told the story of how he ended up working on Armageddon for months, because Michael Bay was hugely impressed by his accent. He thus beefed up Isaac’s role of the most intelligent man in the world, although it primarily involved him standing in key scenes not saying much, but looking clever. Fortunately, he’s very good at that.
But! What I also love is that whilst a sophisticated computer graphic by late 90s standards is wheeled out to explain the mechanics of blowing up the film’s asteroid and splitting it two ways, Isaacs gets none of that. Firstly, he has to demonstrate this using his hands and intelligent face. Then, he gets to explain the idea of a slingshot around the room using a globe hanging from the ceiling and two shuttles on sticks.
And you know what? He aces it.
The seduction of Gracie
Hmmm. Michael Bay, even within the limits of a PG-13 rating, misses no opportunity to leer his camera towards female flesh. The moment where Grace and AJ are thus having one last night together before he goes off to, y’know, save the world. Bay is obviously more interested in Liv Tyler’s bra here, but I personally can’t keep my eyes off Ben Affleck’s potato snacks. Snacks that he decides to chat about on the eve of him potentially leaving the planet, to head off for his doom.
I want a separate romcom all about those snacks please.
Travor Rabin’s score
We’re not quite at the Hans Zimmer Crimson Tide level of back end of the 90s action movie scores, but Rabin’s music – with additional support from Harry Gregson-Williams – firmly earns its place on the same shelf. It can go near Mark Mancina’s Con Air score. And that’s praise indeed.
I’ve never been much of a music expert really, having spent my early years listening to film scores rather than songs. Again: judge away. As such, as I explored music more and more, I found myself liking a song, and then being told it was rubbish and I have no taste.
Chums: I still really long the song. Come at me. I really like Everything I Do (I Do It For You) as well. I never got the memo that I wasn’t allowed, and have no intention of reading it should it arrive. Its playing over the expensive wedding sequence at the end of the film is the icing on the film’s very, very expensive cake.
In a film where deadpan and understated delivery consistently contrasts with the, er, ‘less subtle’ visuals at work, Will Patton not only gets a surprisingly moving subplot of sorts, he also works magic with the killer line “Harry, the clock on that nine-foot nuclear weapon is ticking”.
Never mind the massive ticking clock never far away from Bay’s camera, Patton takes his time to slowly, carefully, diligently deliver the line. Comedy gold.
Steve Buscemi’s descent into marvellous cowardice
If Patton gets perhaps the standout line, everyone can still take a place in line behind Steve Buscemi for the Best Supporting Character in Armageddon Oscar. Fuelled by his Con Air work, Buscemi is one of those characters where I find myself thinking I could happily watch a whole film just about him.
His slow descent into madness and brilliant cowardice is quite something, and his dry, cutting disappointment at not being able to see the end of the world from his place of choosing is sublime. But then Buscemi is, of course, majestic throughout. You know you’re in safe hands when he wryly observes that “you know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder”. And who better to zing out lines like that than Buscemi?
“Miss Stamper? Colonel Willie Sharp, United States Airforce, ma’am. Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met”. Gets me every bloody time…
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