- Director: Michael Bay
- Writer: Chris Fedak
- Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González, Jake Gyllenhaal, Garret Dillahunt, Keir O’Donnell, Olivia Stambouliah, Jackson White, A Martinez, Cedric Sanders
- Release Date: April 7, 2022
It seems that the more we evolve, the more Michael Bay remains the same. If stealing a car from Dan Marino naturally leads to our mass-murderous buddy cops, Marcus (Martin Lawrence) and Mike (Will Smith), swerving between naked corpses tumbling from the back of the bad guys’ truck—Marcus desperately whining, “This is unnecessary!”—then logically there is nowhere else to go, the indulgence of a legendarily indulgent director manifesting itself entirely in Bad Boys II almost two decades ago. Perfectly. Since then, he has directed five Transformers movies, 13 Hours (in which he regrettably encouraged John Krasinski), The Island, 2019’s Netflix fodder 6 Underground, and Pain & Gain, which is arguably his second film that somehow epitomizes his style (the first being The Island). In the same way that Bad Boys II feels as entelechy as Ambulance, Bay’s 15th feature, currently basking in a gleeful critical reappraisal of his canon, it can only be because Bay has found himself in the absolute best time to be Bay.
Ambulance is about as tidy as a Michael Bay film can be, despite the fact that it features an ensemble cast of Angelenos as it races toward what is essentially the only conclusion it could possibly have. Due to the lack of an overly complicated plot and the fact that it is mostly self-contained, the film succeeds in feeling retroactively fresh; any online discussion of an ACU (Ambulance Cinematic Universe) spoils just how invigorating it can be in 2022 to see an action thriller from an old hand blockbuster director that reads as untouched by—if not downright disconnected from—any hyper-liberal marketing machine. But it is nostalgia for a subgenre of kinetic filmmaking in which Bay established himself more than two decades ago, not for the rest of the world. However, he is the new Bay, which we have only recently realized is simply a better version of the old Bay. We miss the old Bay, but he is the new Bay. He, on the other hand, does not appear to be paying attention to what we are saying. Alternatively, what we don’t.
Within ten minutes, we’re engulfed in the Ambulance service: Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is desperate for money to pay his wife’s mounting medical bills, let alone provide for their infant son. So he agrees to join his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal, who is always a pleasure to watch) on one final big score, a bank heist that goes disastrously wrong. Following that, they shoot a cop (Jackson White) and commandeer the cop’s ambulance, which is also occupied by Cam Thompson (Eiza González), who is just another disgruntled soul in the grand gray tapestry that is Los Angeles. As Danny loses control and Will comes to terms with his destiny as the son of a fabled bank robber, their bank-robber father only mentioned in hushed tones and unbelievable stories, the entire militarized might of the Los Angeles Police Department descends upon the stolen ambulance, led by Captain Monroe (Garret Dillahunt), a man who fetishizes the police to the point that Bay doesn’t have to. However, even after FBI Agent Clark (Keir O’Donnell) becomes involved, he is only invited into Monroe’s inner circle because he attended the same college as Danny.
Police officers must be psychopaths in order to survive in today’s psychopathic world, according to Michael Bay in Bad Boys and the fever dream that is Bad Boys II, according to Michael Bay. Even as his vision of the LAPD includes sophisticated surveillance and world-killing artillery to rival the most elite military power of the United States government—all while making sure it all looks really fucking cool—he also makes sure to interrupt an especially destructive chase sequence (as he once had Martin Lawrence declare the events occurring on-screen mandatory and nothing else) among so many especially destructive chase sequences, to have Monroe’s left hand, a hammer, slash through the middle of the screen. Later, a large number of police officers are killed in explosions and hails of gunfire, with bodies strewn across the landscape. In these scenes, there is a palpable sense of glee, as if Bay is responding to Monroe’s dismissal of so many flagrantly abused tax dollars by blowing up half of the Los Angeles Police Department in a spectacle that practically begs for applause. Although it’s possible that Michael Bay no longer sees the benefit of unleashing psychopathic cops on an equally psychopathic world, it’s also possible that he never did.
After all, it’s impossible to separate the propaganda from a seminal work like The Rock or to separate the John Krasinski from the 13 Hours, and it’s not like Marcus and Mike are ever punished in some way for the mayhem they cause on a regular basis. Bay appears to have emerged in 2022 as someone who is not particularly “woke” (his comment about the ridiculous budgets of police departments is the most politically charged he expresses), but who is more concerned with depicting the immovable forces closing in on a person who is simply trying to survive.
In response, Bay’s action is awash in a kind of coke-addled luxury painterliness, cubist cuts (why show a man walking through a door when you can show a man walking through a door from three wildly different angles and also show a close-up of Jake Gyllenhaal’s eyes?) and cubist cuts (why show a man walking through a door when you can show a man walking through a door from three wildly different The images blur into sumptuous bundles of color and motion as the subliminal speed of the images accelerates, our brains scrambling to keep up with the images. There is “nothing,” avoid, outside our view, as in a Seijun Suzuki gangster film, and Bay never settles on a coherent point of view besides that of the camera (juxtaposing the absurd confines of the ambulance with the absurd sprawl of Los Angeles, his characters beholden to the reality of what we see). When Danny can wield a large gun while hiding behind a thin yellow vest, and when a man can survive with four hands deep in his stomach, as long as we don’t actually see the gaping maw in his torso, we know he’s got something special. The apocalyptic nature of Lorne Balfe’s score is demonstrated. How Bay’s abominable needle drops function despite the fact that they do not function at all.
With its scattershot approach and disregard for physics (one swooping drone shot down the side of a crenelated building exists only for itself, but tonally dislodges the viewer from the slipstream of the chaos unfolding, leaving unease and not a little horniness in its wake), Bay’s action obliterates nuance. The fact that cinematographer Roberto De Angelis has only worked on one other film—JR and Agnes Varda’s Faces Places, to be precise—and here appears to have such a seamless understanding of the director’s visual taste leaves little doubt that Bay has a distinct voice. It’s a thrilling experience. This is exactly the type of blockbuster that we crave. It’s worth it to burn for it.
The rest of the cast responds in kind. They appear to be developing their characters as the film progresses, despite Bay’s fantastical cityscape. They are also rarely unnatural. Or maybe it’s just a reflection on us. Gyllenhaal, in particular, makes the most of the whites of his eyes, filling the screen with the manic negative space created by his face’s manic negative space. Even though he’s not a bad guy, he’s a psychopath in disguise. It is impossible to take sides in Bay’s Los Angeles, and there are no good guys and bad guys; instead, there is only a person who “saves my life” or does not—just people with holes punched into their bodies and people without. Bay makes the following distinction between the “haves” and the “have nots”: There are people who have suffered a fatal trauma and people who have not. In the words of Randazzo (Randazzo Marc), the disposable blue-collar Italian lump who appears in the film: “Los Angeles drivers! “They’re all a bunch of mamalukes.” This urban wasteland swarming with struggling mamalukes boasts more style than we’ll ever be able to appreciate in our lives.