Summer Movie Showdown: "Armageddon" Review

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Michael Bay directed this science fiction action thriller in the When Worlds Collide tradition. After astronomy students discover a comet-asteroid collision, an asteroid fragment "the size of the Super Dome" threatens. It's destroyed by a secret USA defense in space, but a large chunk veers off toward Singapore.
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Summer Movie Showdown: "Armageddon" Review

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 151 minutes
Release Date: July 1, 1998
Directed by: Michael Bay
Genre: Action, Science Fiction, Adventure

What do you get when you mix a pre-July 4th cocktail of Michael Bay, Bruce Willis, and the end of the world? In 1998, the answer was "Armageddon," an action-packed adventure movie that allowed Bruce Willis to outdo his most over-the-top roles by kicking butt outside of Earth's atmosphere. Although the movie has received a mixed bag of reviews over the years, the pumped-up action and heroic theme of "Armageddon" makes for the type of fare summer audiences crave, so the movie did well in theaters and with subsequent rentals. It's also the type of film you start watching halfway through every time you catch it on television.

"Armageddon" begins when a space station is obliterated by small meteor debris, leading scientists to realize a Texas-sized asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. World governments keep the knowledge under wraps due to fear of panic, but they come up with a possible solution. Someone needs to drill a hole in the asteroid, dump a nuclear bomb in it, and run for cover. Who better to lead the unlikely plan than a team of offshore oil workers with experience drilling in inhospitable locales?

NASA calls in drilling expert Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis). Stamper is dealing with some minor personal issues. Notably, he's concerned his daughter (Liv Tyler) is seeing fellow oil-field worker A.J. (Ben Affleck). Personal issues are soon shunted to the background as Stamper learns why NASA needs him; he puts together a crew of oil-field hands, which includes the aforementioned A.J. Various members of the crew are played by Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Owen Wilson, and Michael Clark Duncan.

The crew works with NASA agent Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton) to train for the mission. The film's action begins to heat up when all systems are go on the shuttle launch. As the rocket full of roughnecks reaches the outer atmosphere, viewers get the destruction they expect from a Michael Bay or Bruce Willis film. Explosions in space occur, cast members are killed by the handful, and a few large cities on the ground suffer their own scars. In the end, the fate of the world and one couple's relationship hang on the actions of Stamper and A.J.

"Armageddon" is one of those films that defies the need for realism, although one of the strengths of the movie is much of the technology present in any given scene is actually real. In fact, the crew worked on, in, and around $19 billion of real technology, including NASA shuttles and space suits as well as oilfield drilling rigs. Although backed with real technology, Michael Bay admitted that the film's premise and solution weren't realistic, but he stated that the point of the film was entertainment. An anecdote even has it that Affleck questioned the plot and Bay told him to shut up.

As with any over-the-top heroic action movie, much of the strength of "Armageddon" is in the clever dialogue between struggling characters. This should probably be expected since it apparently took a team of six writers to complete the story, adaptation, and script. One of the writers was J. J. Abrams, and "Armageddon" is one of his earliest writing credits. In fact, reports indicate that Abrams originally did uncredited work for the film. Bay was so impressed, he called Abrams back to complete more dialogue writing.

Although "Armageddon" and its unlikely plot have become fodder for Internet memes and jokes, the movie is still a favorite for many fans. There's something about a bigger-than-life action hero going up against a bigger-than-Earth problem; the movie was also refreshing because the bad guy wasn't a terrorist, a murderer, or a bank robber. In fact, the villain wasn't a guy at all. Every viewer can get behind an attempt to protect the entire world from an inanimate clump of rock about to destroy humanity.

In addition to the all-star cast already listed, the film also features the talents of William Fichtner, Peter Stormare, Jessica Steen, Chris Ellis, and Jason Isaacs. The entire cast is enjoyable to watch, and the unbelievable circumstances are made more human by the relationship between Stamper and his daughter as well as the romance between Stamper's daughter and A.J.

"Armageddon" is a fun movie that's great for a Friday-night rental. The flick is even a good choice for family movie night, as long as any kids present are preteen or older. The violence and some language in the film may not be appropriate for younger views, so parents should use appropriate caution.

Rating: 3 out of 5