The Rock (1996)
Directed By: Michael Bay
Cast: Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, John C. McGinley, John Spencer
Available to Stream (in the UK as of 2/11/2020): NOW TV

Sometimes in life you just need a dumb action movie. The Rock fills all the criteria to be a ‘dumb action movie’ yet to call it that would be a disservice to it. It has everything you think of when I tell you that this film was directed by Michael Bay – inexplicable explosions, dumb jokes and overacting (thank you Nicholas Cage). Yet there is enough substance to the plot with real tension and some brutal violence. The result is that the sillier stuff tends to be a welcome break from the serious plot and that also works in reverse. Everything adds up to make The Rock a very fun and likable movie while having enough to elevate it beyond being a generic 90s action thriller.

The three leads all bring something to the table. Ed Harris is the serious actor, playing General Hummel – a veteran Force Recon Marine who steals 16 rockets full of a VX gas, a deadly chemical weapon. He, and a team of rogue Marines, take over Alcatraz during a tour meaning they have 81 hostages on the island. Hummel demands $100,000,000 to be paid for the families for the Marines who died during black ops that the government refused to ever acknowledge. I like that this isn’t an over the top super evil villain, Hummel has a real motive and has real morals that gets chipped away throughout the film.

Ed Harris and some of his Marines

Nicholas Cage is on fine Nicholas Cage form, chewing the scenery like it’s a two dollar steak covered in bubblegum but it’s so much fun. He plays a timid FBI chemical weapons expert called Stanley Goodspeed who is thrust into a situation he is not at all comfortable with which just gives Cage more chance to ham it up. It really is a classic performance, although I’ve only seen a couple of Cage films before so I’m not sure where this lands on the Cage scale of craziness but I’m excited to watch more.

Sean Connery is clearly having the time of his life playing the roguish John Mason, a former SAS captain who has been held as a prisoner by the FBI without charges after he stole a microfilm containing a bunch of secret information. Connery gets to turn on the old James Bond charm while playing Mason and he has pretty good chemistry with Cage, scenes with the two of them can be a delight to watch.

There is everything you could want out of a good Michael Bay film – there is a destructive car chase throughout San Francisco that ends in a big explosion, there are gunfights but it spaces out the more action oriented scenes really well, meaning the movie has a good pace to it as every time the film threatens to move too slowly there will some sort of spectacle to bring it back up.

There is also some things you might not want from a Michael Bay film in here. Some of his brand of humour just does not stick the landing these days and a couple of characters who should be important end up being too over the top that they lose their lustre and end up not feeling that integral to the plot – the FBI Director played by James Spencer comes to mind.

The Rock is a fun movie that has enough substance to be a genuinely thrilling movie at times. Cage and Connery were clearly allowed to have fun filming this movie while Ed Harris does a good job of carrying the serious side of the plot. It could have been a dumb action movie like Bay would become famous for making, but there is enough substance here to equal the amount of style The Rock has, allowing this film to be a genuinely great film. Some lame jokes and characters are a bit of a blemish but if you wanted a good 90s action thriller that will entertain you while slapping you with some genuinely good intense moments, then I can’t recommend The Rock enough.


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