There are certain film franchises that are iconic: Star Wars, Back to the Future, James Bond, etc. We can think of many fantastic series such as these and the impact they create. However, many are more spectacle than substance; they’re simply popcorn flicks and silly romps to have some dumb yet simple fun for a few hours at the movies (or nowadays the comfort of your own home with Netflix).
Bad Boys is a troubled and complex action franchise. Starting with its first film in 1995, this series was something that had always been shouted from the mountaintops from many film buffs as a must-watch movie franchise. They are some of my dads’ favorite movies, and I tend to trust his movie knowledge as well as share many of his opinions. (After all, he was the one who got me into movies in the first place.) When I heard about the new film in the series, Bad Boys for Life (BBfL), I figured it was time to catch up on this beloved series.
I did not think the first film was that great. Maybe with a little sleep deprivation, but still, it was just alright. Strangely, it almost feels like a sequel to an already existing movie, yet it is not. Filled with cliché 1990s tropes and hit-or-miss humor, I was overall underwhelmed with the first film. For example, in the opening of the movie, the protagonists are distracted by some skimpily dressed woman in front of the overly orange sunset of Miami, using low shots and far too many cuts. These cliches are continuous throughout the movie. However, that did not deter me from pushing onwards. I had always heard the sequel was by far the best anyway– and I agree with this sentiment. The second movie, Bad Boys II, is considerably better than the first. The villain was far more interesting, the action was a lot more insane, and the humor landed much better. Even with all this though, I was still left unsatisfied. Maybe my expectations were too high; maybe it just did not hit properly for me, but my dissatisfaction with the first two films dampened my excitement for the newest entry in the trilogy.
Now having viewed the newest film, I have various criticisms from a filmmaking perspective, breaking it down into three categories: production value, characters, and plot.
Let me start with the production value of BBfL. The difference in consistency is heavily noticeable compared to the previous films, especially due to the budget and Michael Bay’s directorial absence. Bay’s films are notorious for his over-the-top action set pieces, incredibly crude humor, and, most famously, explosions which are very much toned down here. The budget sits at 90 million dollars, 30 million less than its predecessor which was released in 2003. This gap in funds is clear when watching. Most of the high-octane action sequences that Bad Boys is known for are simply subpar in this installment. Remember when they crashed through an entire favela in Bad Boys II trying to catch Johnny Tapia? Nothing like that is present in BBfL. I am unsure if it was directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi’s intention to mellow out the action intensity. Among the plethora of reigning action franchises, such as John Wick, Mission: Impossible, or even Fast & Furious, BBfL is just unremarkable. The movie’s budget is used at its best during a thoroughly entertaining motorcycle chase sequence and the final battle, which feels tried and true to the series.
Strangely enough, I believe this movie shines more with its character and plot much more than the series’ traditional shoot ‘em up gunfights and car chases.
What shocked me the most about BBfL was the character development and heart of the movie. The relationship between Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett and Will Smith’s Mike Lowery is absolutely at its best. These actors have always had great chemistry on-screen from the get-go. Their witty, comedic banter and loving brotherhood make you believe they are “bad boys for life,” as they famously say. In the movie, we see two drastically contrasting protagonists: Mike, who still has not settled down and continually itches to be the hero, and Marcus, who is long ready to retire and settle down as a grandpa (props to the filmmakers for bringing back Reggie from Bad Boys 2 as Marcus’ new son-in-law). For someone who has not acted in quite some time, Martin Lawrence handles himself well. There are some truly grounded and emotional scenes with his character, and he works well with that. A shining example is when Marcus prays and weeps to protect Mike. This shows the audience how much he cares for Mike. In fact, it was genuinely surprising to witness the level of emotion in both characters. The film’s plot also greatly helps build up Mike as a character. Making the main villains directly tied to Mike makes him much more believable as a character. It is apparent that the filmmakers wanted to focus more on the relationships and story of this movie rather than the flashiness, and for that I commend them.
Moving on to the story, I mentioned earlier that this film has by far the best plot in this franchise. The time gap of 17 years helped them for the most part (although this gap was far too long for a sequel). The older Mike and Marcus have truly grown together as men. The audience witnesses a wiser Marcus trying to influence and mentor Mike. Mike, even at his older age, thinks he is bulletproof, not needing to settle down. However, the series of events that unfold give him a serious wake-up call. One of the most shocking moments is early in the film when Mike is gunned down in cold blood at an unexpected time. It is a subversive yet well-written tactic that genuinely throws the viewer off-guard. Marcus’ pain at nearly losing his best friend is powerful and assists in propelling the plot forward. Furthermore, the inclusion of AMMO, a younger and more refined team of police, added a lighthearted and enjoyable dynamic to the duo. Undoubtedly the most important and fascinating plot point was making Mike’s ex-lover the main villain and the mother of his son, the very son who also nearly killed him earlier. This connection helps hammer in the overall familial theme of the movie. The major revelation of Mike’s son forces a change in his point of view of always wanting to be in the action. He is haunted for not being there for his son. He could have been had he known the truth. In the final act when his son decides to save Mike and turn from his wicked ways, the film gives the message that is prevalent in many stories: love and truth triumph over hate and deception.
In the end, Bad Boys for Life was an enjoyable time at the movies. While it is decent at best, it still was a solid follow up to the movies that came before, possibly even surpassing them depending on the viewer. If you prefer non-stop action and comedy, you probably won’t be wholly satisfied, but there are still enjoyable thrills. If you’re more attached to the characters of this series, you will find there is a lot to love. Now we simply wait another decade and a half for the next Bad Boys movie.