Michael Bay has directed some big budget action adventures that have an over-the-top feel (like Pearl Harbor and Armageddon). He tones it down a bit and, despite borrowing from a myriad of past films, his latest effort, The Island, is an intelligent, entertaining adventure with science fiction as its source material.
In the not too distant future, there is a segregated world of men and women who function with a limited view and knowledge of their antiseptic world. Their only way of life is that they must work, follow the rules and dream of being selected in the lottery to go to The Island, the ultimate destination of happiness and fulfillment. One of the populace is a male, Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), who begins to question his existence and role in the world even as he develops a friendship with a female, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson). He also experiences nightmares about an outside world and expresses doubts about the validity of his surroundings including the lottery. He relates these concerns to a friendly doctor, Merrick (Sean Bean) and later to an outsider, McCord (Steve Buscemi), a computer geek. As he explores the floors above him, he stumbles onto another level where he discovers a terrible truth and lie. Realizing that their world is only part of something much more, Lincoln and Jordan make a break to the outside with McCord's help and find themselves pursued by bounty hunters led by Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou). It seems that Merrick works for a cloning corporation dependent on enormous outside funds, and it is involved in secretly cloning humans for individual sponsors. The problem is that the corporation has gone too far in its experiments with tragic consequences. Searching for answers, Lincoln and Jordan eventually find themselves face to face with Lincoln's sponsor whereupon they decide to stop Merrick's evil plans and expose his horrifying activities to the world even as Laurent closes in.
This film is engaging from the very start with its interesting premise, and it does a good job of maintaining a steadily building mystery until the startling revelation which spins our protagonists in another direction. And if it seems the storyline is derivative of a multitude of other film plot lines, it's because concepts such as duplicate humans, memory loss, corporate societies, and the pursuit of individual freedom and identity in a futuristic setting have been visited before. There are strong echoes of Coma, Logan's Run, Minority Report, Total Recall, and especially George Lucas' early THX 1138 and John Frankenheimer's Seconds. And savvy viewers may recall an older made-for-television movie along the same lines called The Resurrection of Zachary Wheeler. Yet by liberally borrowing from these stories, The Island reinterprets familiar themes into a reasonably entertaining story unto its own with a nod to science fiction author Philip Dick.
Adapted from his own story by Caspian Tredwell-Owen and Alias alums Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the narrative takes a deliberate path, and its exciting action scenes, particularly the numerous chases on foot and by car, are in service of the plot. Michael Bay has been notorious for filming elaborate, 'shoot 'em up' and 'blow 'em up' set pieces that resemble a massive video game. Here, he holds back a little and concentrates more on staying true to his storyline. 'The play's the thing' and events move so rapidly, you don't notice the credibility gaps that strain logic at times.
Sean Bean (who is making himself quite the first choice in movie villainy as in Goldeneye) is quite good as the sinister Merrick, and Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator) registers in a role that could have been one dimensional and without heart. Ethan Phillips (late of Star Trek: Voyager) lends able support as a resident of the clone world. And let us not forget the wonderful Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs) who gets some of the best lines and exits much too soon. The leads, McGregor (Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith) and Johansson (Lost in Translation) are quite photogenic and work together quite well. One wishes they have future screen pairings.
The special effects are effective and especially impressive when Lincoln meets his dead on double. Those scenes are so good, they are seamless. The world of the near future is realistic in its depiction in much the way Blade Runner integrated futuristic vehicles and technology with older, existing buildings and settings. The pace is well edited, and the film never feels slow and boring.
Again, there are a couple of scenes which really strain credulity, but they come and go so quickly that you are on to the next scene. One obvious complaint is the product placement that becomes a bit self conscious and annoying after the third or fourth product logo is conspicuously shown. You'll see what I mean. It's also hard not to have a slight feeling that the film's main theme has controversial, political implications with the debate over cloning, stem cell research and the abortion fight in recent headlines.
Although it is ironically a clone of other film plots, The Island delivers legitimate action and thrills without sacrificing its linear storytelling. Let yourself go and don't pay too much attention to the occasional plot lapses, and you'll find this a reasonably diverting adventure.