THE ISLAND directed by Michael Bay, written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Caspian Tredwell-Owen, with Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Steve Buscemi and Sean Bean. A DreamWorks release. 127 minutes. Opens Friday (July 22). For venues and times, see Movies, page 80. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The Island is Michael Bay's first movie for grown-ups.
It's got all the action and intrigue we've come to love and laugh about from the director of such overblown summer opuses as Armageddon and The Rock.
But there's way more to sink your teeth into here.
It's the year 2019, and inside a white concrete compound, large groups of carefully monitored, white-suited inhabitants are hoping to win the lottery, a seemingly random windfall that gets them instant passage to a pathogen-free paradise advertised on ubiquitous pixelboards and screens.
On the surface, everything seems as wholesome as the inhabitants' well-scrubbed, chemically controlled environments. But why is Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) having nightmares? And why is he prevented from getting too close to fellow inhabitant Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson)?
The film's first half is gripping because you're never really sure about the setting. Was there, as the inhabitants are told, an environmental disaster? If so, how much of the outside world is livable? And where has Steve Buscemi, a technician working in the bowels of the compound, come from?
Bay and his clever screenwriters - all three of 'em - answer those questions and more, understandably withholding key information till later. They've created a believable universe where some of the science is fiction, yet most is current enough to have us wondering what's happening in those big secret real-life research facilities.
Imagine Logan's Run, Coma and Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind all swirling around in a test tube.
The action sequences are as joyfully inventive as ever. One scene on a freeway is a marvel of sound and sight, and another set outside a skyscraper is so insanely implausible, a character's joke right afterwards comes as a relief. Bay knows how ridiculous the sequence is, and he's not above making fun of himself.
Look for another moment when Johansson gets to send up her product endorsement deals as well.
Besides the star turns by Johansson and McGregor - here in one of his strongest performances yet - what gets you over The Island's lengthy running time is its existential theme. No kidding. This film explores what it means to be human. Are we simply programmed for survival? Or is altruism a factor?
Munch on that along with your popcorn.