Review of The Island

The Island (2005)
Dopey action thriller
23 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Big budget action flick about a young man and woman in a Utopian society whose only purpose is to be as healthy and fit as possible before winning a lottery to go to a paradise called the Island, the last inhabitable place on the planet is for all practical purposes a remake of the low budget thriller Parts: The Clonus Horror, which had an identical premise and many of the same plot twists. Strangely, The Island supposedly isn't a remake of Clonus, which means a lawsuit is likely. I'm generally skeptical of plagiarism suits in Hollywood--everything has already been done and there aren't any truly original stories left to tell, but in the case of The Island the thievery of Clonus is so blatant that the people who claim this is an "original story" deserve whatever they get. How is it possible that The Island got approved and filmed and marketed and released without a single involved party noticing that their movie bore a troubling resemblance to another film that was previously released theatrically, shown on television (and ridiculed on MST3000) and even released on DVD? Didn't people who make 120 million dollar Hollywood B movies watch B movies themselves as kids? Well, somebody involved with the story and script for The Island clearly did, because the similarities between The Island and The Clonus Horror are too great to be a coincidence.

Of course, that doesn't address whether The Island is actually any good. Clonus had a clever premise but lacked the budget and talent to pull it off. The Island has all the money and talent anyone could hope for, but as a movie it really isn't any better.

The problem is that while the premise is perfect for a provocative and intelligent thriller, the director is Michael Bay of Armageddon and Bad Boys 2 fame. Bay doesn't make intelligent or provocative thrillers. He makes mindless big-budget crap where stuff gets blown up. Lots and lots of stuff.

The Island starts off great, even if the early scenes feel like they've been largely lifted from the earlier film, but as soon as the action leaves the confines of the facility where the clones live and enters the outside world the action scenes kick in and the movie gets dopier and dopier, leading to a happy ending so cringe inducingly awful you just know Steven Spielberg had to have a hand in this somewhere. Who wants to bet that if Spielberg had produced or directed Armageddon Bruce Willis would have somehow gotten off the asteroid alive? Spielberg could never resist a tearful reunion between Willis and his daughter. The botched endings to Spielberg's War of the Worlds and Minority Report provide all the proof anyone could need. The ending for The Island isn't just bad, it's Spielberg bad, it's the kind of happy ending that ignores all of darker implications of what came before for superficially uplifting images that make little narrative sense and completely insult the intelligence of the audience.

In the case of The Island we have one character who spends the entire film causing mayhem and killing innocent people changing sides (that's going to make me forget all about the civilians and police he and his men killed in pursuit of the clones) while the clones themselves escape to freedom at the top of a mountain. End credits. Hurray. Everyone leaves happy. No wait, the cold-blooded mercenary looks at the clones escaping to freedom and smiles, suppressing a tear in his eye. Now everyone leaves happy. (Unless like me you leave nauseous).

Of course, none of the clones knows anything about the real world and it would be interesting to find out how the world reacts to the news of what was going on in the lab, particularly since the clones are all of people who are rich and influential, including the president. Would there be a scandal? Would the government cover everything up? Would the government hunt down the clones or leave them be? Would the clones try to find their sponsors or take over their sponsors lives since they are identical and have many of the same memories? There are so many interesting directions that The Island could have gone in, the fact that it ultimately turns into a mindless explosion fest is more disappointing than usual. Bad Boys 2 never really had the potential to be anything other than what it was, a mindless big-budget action comedy destined to make money but be forgotten as soon as it left theaters, but The Island could have been a classic. Instead it just feels like another Michael Bay movie.
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