It’s the end of the world as we know it, but Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton have a plan and it involves Ben Affleck being tall, space shuttles and Aerosmith. But is it any good? Accepted wisdom is no, but is accepted wisdom wrong? Let’s hear the opening arguments.
Case for the prosecution: “Armageddon isn’t just a bloated monstrosity of a movie it’s arguably the bloated movie monstrosity. Self-indulgent, killingly dumb, nauseatingly patriotic and the damn thing seems to last for days . It’s like a Patient Zero, a perfect, or perfectly awful, example of Hollywood excess. God knows I wanted to like it, but I just… just no. It should have been a towering piece of popcorn SF and instead it’s a bloated Ragnarok for populist storytelling, a story so obsessed with its scale it forgets to be a story. It’s a weapon of stupidity designed by Hollywood’s very worst”
Case for the defence: “You mean like JJ Abrams?”
Case for the prosecution: “I’m sorry, what?”
Case for the defence: “JJ Abrams is one of the scriptwriters on it. Mr Alias , Mr Lost , Mr Fringe , Mr Good Mission: Impossible movies? Him? He wrote some of this.
Case for the prosecution: . “That changes nothing.”
Case for the defence: “Kind of takes the edge off your whole ‘written by Hollywood’s very worst’ thing though, huh?
Case for the prosecution: “In your massive, slow motion, over blown Bayhem-filled dreams. No my point is that Armageddon is rather like being shouted at for two and a half hours, even if the esteemed JJ Abrams is one of the ones doing he shouting. “ASTEROID! NASA! WILLIS! AFFLECK! HILARITY! PATHOS! BOMBS! ASTEROID! PATHOS! COMEDIC RUSSIAN! SACRIFICE! AEROSMITH!” is actually a pretty accurate depiction of the movie.”
Case for the defence: “True, but you could argue that it’s a similar case for most blockbusters.”
Case for the prosecution: “I know, and it’s true too. But most films don’t go to the extremes of Armageddon .”
Case for the defence: “Okay, firstly it’s a movie about the end of the world and yes, I know, some of the best end of the world movies are tiny, like Last Night and Melancholia . But sometimes? Sometimes you just need to see a planet get hit in the face and no one is better at mass chaos than Michael Bay. It’s the same reason why the characters are so stock, because they have to be beholden to the story.
“Secondly – it’s a Michael Bay film. If you wanted something small and subtle, then you’re in the wrong place. Why would Michael Bay ever do anything small or subtle? Ever? Unless…
“What if he directed an episode of Downton Abbey ?”
Case for the prosecution: “Yes, well, with that piece of nightmare fuel well and truly in place let’s move onto my final point: the science. Or lack thereof. It’s ridiculous! The space shuttles handle like fighter jets, the Russian space station is huge and somehow still decrepit and the entire world’s fate ultimately rests on a professional oil driller pushing a button that may as well be marked ‘Big Climactic Explosion’.”
Case for the defence: “Also all true.”
Case for the prosecution: “Seriously?”
Case for the defence: “Yep.”
Case for the prosecution: “You’re letting me have that too? Did you sleep in or something? Did the dog eat your closing statement? Possibly in slow motion? Whilst the camera rotated around it?”
Case for the defence: “Oh you’re funny. No, I said that point’s true. I didn’t under any circumstances say that sealed your case. The science in the movie is so bad, a new word, ‘hilari-bad’ may need to be coined to describe it. Orbital manoeuvres are conducted in seconds rather than days, the shuttles as you say are handled like fighter aircraft and the basic science of the thing is, being kind, a tad – ahem – rocky.”
Case for the prosecution: “Did you just make an asteroid joke?”
Case for the defence: “I believe I did. Or maybe it was a Michael Bay one…? Whatever, my point is this: the science is a loose frame around which the story is hung. The science in Armageddon is no more wacky than it is in something like Fantastic Voyage and – let’s face it – considerably more sensible than the science presented in Source Code.”
Case for the prosecution: “Hey I liked Source Code !”
Case for the defence: “I liked it better 20 years ago when it was called Quantum Leap .”
Case for the prosecution: “Touché.”
Case for the defence: “The point isn’t that the science is bad, because it is; the point is the science being bad is a means to an end, a part of the journey. One step closer to the edge.”
Case for the prosecution: “And I’m about to break. So, Mr Citizen Kane with Space Shuttles, what’s this journey towards?”
Case for the defence: “A celebration of the NASA spirit and the love of parents for their children.”
Case for the prosecution: “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.”
Case for the defence: “Hush. The key moments in Armageddon both hit early. The first is the point when Truman is talking to the group of scientists, all with their wacky ideas about how to solve the problem. Professor English Character Actor suggests something and it becomes clear they can’t do it alone and that’s the point. These guys are the direct fictional descendants of the people who worked out how to make new air filters for Apollo 13 to keep them alive on the journey home; the same people who spent months studying the deaths of some of their dearest friends in the Apollo 1 disaster to make sure it never happened again. The true hero of Armageddon isn’t any of the characters singularly; it’s the characters as a group. Together, humanity’s unstoppable, and we can triumph over everything, especially where the desire to secure our children’s future overtakes the desire for self-preservation. Yes, it’s huge and bombastic and contains entirely too much Aerosmith, but it’s actually a big-hearted movie about the sacrifices we make for those around us and how we’re better together than we are apart. Or… ‘Live Together, Die Alone’ as JJ Abrams might put it.
“That’s why Harry gives AJ his mission patch to give to Truman, because the astronauts, the oil drillers? They’re just the point of the sword, like every astronaut who’s ever lived. They are the literal embodiment of the effort and will and time of the hundreds of thousands of people who built the Mercury, the Gemini, the Apollo, the shuttle. Everyone’s important, no one gets left behind and everyone is remembered and honoured.”
Case for the prosecution: “And then Ben Affleck seduces Liv Tyler by putting biscuits in her pants.”
Case for the defence: “You know what? That one you can have.”
Case for the prosecution: “Thank you. You’ve conceded a lot of points here, you know.”
Case for the defence: “I know. It’s not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination but it is good, and good-hearted and there are moments that really, truly fly. I can never watch the kids playing with space shuttle boxcars without tearing up, even now.”
Case for the prosecution: “I will concede, grudgingly, that the movie’s heart is in the right place. It’s just that that heart is buried under miles and miles of cheese.”
Case for the defence: “Sounds like you need the world’s best drill…”
Case for the prosecution: “Oh HUSH!”