Explosions, female eye-candy, and ‘MURICA! All of these aspects have become stereotypes with Michael Bay’s way of filmmaking, just look at the Transformers franchise (2007-2017) for confirmation. Although many of his recent attempts at movies have been more or less critically panned, they’re capable of making an enormous chunk of change. I mean, look at Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)! It was torn apart by critics yet made over $1 billion at the box office! That doesn’t mean every movie he made is bad, look at Bay’s films in the late 90s. Some of those are beloved action classics, like Armageddon (1998), Bad Boys (1995) and my personal favorite The Rock (1996).
Alcatraz is seized by rogue marines and are holding the on site tourists hostage. The marines, led by the highly decorated General Francis X. Hummel (played by Ed Harris), demands a ransom of $100 million paid to families of deceased soldiers that died during covert missions, which the government denies. If the ransom isn’t paid, the marines will be forced to use missiles with deadly nerve agents on the city of San Francisco. With a ticking clock, the FBI and State Department turn to chemical weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed (played by Nicolas Cage), and Alcatraz escapee, SAS Captain John Mason (played by Sean Connery). They must lead the charge in infiltrating the island prison to stop Hummel and his men before any of the deadly nerve agents are released in a populated area.
Michael Bay always seems to use the same type of cinematography when shooting a movie. Like the camera spinning and low-cut angle hero shots that are synonymous with action movies. He used both these techniques in Bad Boys (1995) and Bad Boys II (2003), and he also uses it in The Rock (1996) right after a thrilling and explosive-heavy car chase across San Francisco between Stanley Goodspeed and John Mason. And of course, EXPLOSIONS! It wouldn’t be a Michael Bay movie without an explosion every 15 minutes or so. However, I do believe they serve more of a purpose in this one, as many come from either hand grenades in confined spaces, or an air strike in the climax.
Where this film truly differs from all other Bay films is its villain. General Francis X. Hummel is not motivated by greed or craziness, rather a disillusionment of the government. Since the government failed to properly compensate those that died under Hummel’s command during covert missions, Hummel decides to hold the government accountable and ransoms them for reparations. It isn’t as personal to him as a single government hack that wronged him, rather several hacks that wrong his men, men that followed orders.
All Hummel wanted was government accountability, he showed great remorse when NAVY Seals showed up in Alcatraz and were forced to kill them. Heck, he even retargeted a rocket with nerve gas to detonate in the bay rather than a populated area. He had no intention of taking innocent lives. In fact, once Hummel was mutinied by his own men near the end of the film, he managed to give the location of a rocket with his dying breath. He may have been a war hero turned criminal, but it was a last ditch effort to give those soldiers who died something more than a burial. So they didn’t die for nothing.
There were also film fan theories out on the internet that The Rock (1996) is a secret James Bond sequel. There’s some merit to these theories as well, the obvious being Sean Connery playing a former SAS Captain for Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Since Connery originated the role of 007 back in the 60s, the timeline sort of adds up. Plus, the skills of Mason are similar to those of Bond even if he is 30 years older since the release of Dr. No (1962). While I personally do not believe these theories, I think it's a neat piece of movie trivia that links some similarities between two completely separate films.
All-in-all, 1996’s The Rock is a fun popcorn action flick that can actually stand with some of the best action films of the 90s, and is still a well liked action film 25 years later. Connery and Cage have enough chemistry to carry the film through it’s ridiculous plot and explosion-centric action. This film shines bright with its 3 dimensional villain as he isn’t truly evil, just misguided. Ed Harris portrays that conflict terrifically, using a good man/bad solution character type as each decision made carries weight and struggle. This separates The Rock (1996) from other Michael Bay movies, even some of his more recent efforts. Is The Rock (1996) the most popular of his films? I doubt it. But it is arguably his best film to date.