By Stacey Richter
I'M EXCITED ABOUT the end of the world! I'm especially pleased by the comet/asteroid last-moment scenario. I love the idea of everybody knowing that the end is coming, and that we're all going to die together. I love trying to figure out how to spend the last days. Could we still use our credit cards? Get arrested? Unfortunately, despite the year 2000 looming on the horizon, the odds are depressingly low that we'll suffer a hit. Why should we be so lucky to have a communal deathfest when the rest of mankind has had to plod along, dying of plague or gunshot wounds or smallpox one by one? That's how it always goes. No last party/riot. No end-of-time sex. No candlelight vigils. Just the same old, lonely dying.
Still, every time I glanced at my address book last week, I was thrilled by the entry: Armageddon, Monday, 7:30 p.m. So imagine my immense disappointment when I came to understand that the world was not going to be destroyed by a comet after all in Armageddon, the new Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay explosion film. To set things straight: Armageddon is about saving the world, not destroying it. What a rip-off.
As a consolation prize, at least a lot of places are destroyed in Armageddon. I thought it might be fun to count the explosions in this movie, but after the first 30 seconds I was up to eleven and exhausted. Suffice to say: Everything explodes all the time. The best part is when Paris is vaporized by a meteorite. Shockwaves spread across the city as it turns into dust, while an ancient gargoyle on Notre Dame surveys the scene with evil glee. Then even the gargoyle himself is destroyed. This is indisputably the best part of the movie.
Another good part is when New York City explodes. I also enjoyed the sequence where the giant asteroid itself explodes. I was entertained when the space shuttle exploded, though this happened rather slowly. The only explosion I didn't enjoy was that of a Japanese fishing village, because it made me think of nuclear bombs dropping on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and it seemed rather crass to allude to warfare and actual human suffering in what had managed to be a completely apolitical, amoral view of cool, impersonal destruction at the "hands" of a wayward space rock that didn't mean any harm.
One problem with this movie is that it's hard to concentrate on the explosions with all the distractions of plot--an elaborate one, as it turns out. Armageddon clocks in at close to three hours, and by the end of the evening I felt like my brain had been removed, put in a blender, then replaced. And this plot is so familiar! Apparently movie technology and science have both progressed to the point where they can actually clone movies now. Remember Independence Day? Armageddon is the same, except instead of space aliens as villains there is a rock. As in Independence Day, we see the same group of misfit men overcoming their personal limitations by one act of heroism; same end of world thing, blah blah, same all of it.
So the only fun we can have, besides explosions, is in seeing the big movie stars do their stuff. I'm going to go out on a limb here and declare myself a Bruce Willis fan. As Harry Stamper, a big lug of an oil driller, Willis shows the same self-conscious charm he brings to all his roles. It's like he's a frat boy who can't believe he's actually made it into the movies and he's about to start giggling. More convincing, and similarly charismatic, is Billy Bob Thornton as the earthbound astronaut Dan Truman. Thornton seems like a real person, despite the silliness of some of his dialogue and the ridiculous iron brace on his foot (don't ask).
The younger actors don't fare so well. Ben Affleck is a cross between a psycho and a robot in his role as the bad boy A.J. He gives a spectacularly unsympathetic performance, as does Liv Tyler (as Stamper's daughter and A.J.'s girlfriend), due mostly to the fact that their little love story is completely embarrassing and weird. Tyler calls A.J. "baby" in a fake southern accent and giggles as he puts an animal cracker in her panties. Later, her father watches them making out. All this gets pretty hard to watch, especially when you consider that one well-timed explosion could have saved us the pain of hours plot development.
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