90's-vember: The Rock (1996) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Nov/111

90’s-vember: The Rock (1996)

"Losers always whine about their best.  Winners go home and fuck the prom queen."

Danny, while praising the great Rumble In The Bronx, decided to take a quick jab at the rest of our picks in a bit of a preemptive assault and deem our selections "cold and calculated".  I'd just like to gently caress my middle finger up the center of my screen while thinking about this line and ponder Jackie Chan at his best versus the attitude and strangely progressive displays of manliness on hand in The Rock.  I'll take the promise of a lifetime of misery after one night of debauched excess in the face of a bit of his martial arts prowess.

A bit harsh, perhaps, but this is Michael Bay we're discussing.  The very same Michael Bay who manages to turn explosions into profits and once called The Island his art film.  It speaks well to a man's frame of mind when an extended hoverbike chase translates into a self-conscious attempt at making an "art film", but such is the nature of the beast.  There was a time when Michael Bay might have made something which confronted the nature of the very films he was promoting, but the time has long since passed and we're left with countless Transformers films.

What promise he showed with this subtextually strange bit of cinema.  Oh yes, don't get me wrong, it has the prerequisite number of Baysplosions you may have come to expect, but they're not delivered without a certain sense of humor.  This is especially true when considering the central conceit of the film is when a cavalcade of homo-erotically charged Marines takes possession of Alcatraz island in the hopes of setting up a California-esque society in another country while the American government sends it's own effete scientist along with an aging and vengeful hippie to destroy their commune.  This is not exactly what people have come to expect from Michael Bay, yet here the subtext is, coming dangerously close to becoming the actual text.

Not that a man on his knees gladly accepting a hard phallic symbol after being threatened by another male has any direct connotation on the plot - regardless it's nice to see Connery in such splendid hardass form.

Nicholas Cage comes unhinged once again as the scientist tasked with neutralizing the poisonous toxins but can't be arsed to get excited about banging his girlfriend.  All the while Sean Connery coo's little words of encouragement to his ears while storming the island.  Then there's the matter of Ed Harris' disgraced general, hoping to build the perfect escape for all of his men.  Marines who have seen Commando one too many times and utter lines like "I don't like soft-ass shit" and "Oh, I'm gonna get you now baby" before getting pierced by other males.  Considering the rampant homophobia of his later films it's interesting to see those same desires play out in the foreground of The Rock.

But even when Bay is less that subtly calling into question the leanings of his characters there is nary a moment where the film let's up.  It's just one ludicrous set piece after another, starting with a suspicious package that combines toxic nerve gas and C4 diffusion into one disarming (hah!) set, and ending on a juxtaposition of images owing debts to Pulp Fiction, Apocalypse Now and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The soundtrack is our equally illuminating friend, presenting so many epic string arrangements it's a wonder symphonies are slowly going out of work when their conductors could start writing the music for the next Bay film.

For Michael Bay, The Rock stands as a promise of what could have been.  For the '90s, it's a ludicrous exercise in stylistic excess with enough progressive politics to toss a few questions into the most discerning critics.

The Rock is also one of the few films where the villain has something of a point in saying the families of dead soldiers and their warrior deserve a little recognition.

How does this film exemplify the 90's?

  • Character brandishing two guns?  Must be the '90s since John Woo just had massive international success with his films.  This was eventually parodied many years later in another Nicholas Cage film, Lord of War.
  • The first Gulf War is a recently wrapped up engagement.
  • Prop touches, car phone is attached by a cord, instant video transmissions come through in America On-Line-esque grainy distortion and color filtering.
  • The steam factory of action films in the '90s (location of battle between good and evil where the only produce seems to be steam) meets its logical end with The Rock.  Not only do our heroes start in the engine, it is blown to simtherenees by the end.
  • Cage comments on Connery's hair as something that would identify him as a certain Seattle grunge singer.

What makes this my pick?

"Do you know how this shit works?  Come on, come on, I don't need the gun.  I'll put it down, come on.  Let's play!  Come on, come on!"

Because Michael Bay made something that contains lines like this and managed to set the tone for action films rounding out the rest of the '90s and well into the new millennium.  The Rock is a smart and taut written film by a bunch of people who knew exactly what they could get away with and to what extreme.

Besides, any film that knows to position Nicholas Cage's o-face in this manner:

deserves an deafening howl of recognition and appreciation.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. I you see this much homoeroticism in The Rock, does your head explode whenever you watch 2 Fast 2 Furious?


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