Have you watched the original Bad Boys recently? It’s kind of a weird movie. For most of the running time, Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) switch places. We don’t even really know these characters yet and they start using each other’s names and pretend to be the other person. This is the kind of plot point usually reserved for the second season of some sitcom after the characters have been firmly established. Or, at least, this would maybe make more sense in a sequel. But for most of Bad Boys, it’s Martin Lawrence who plays Mike Lowrey.
But, the first Bad Boys is, at least, kind of fun. We get an early cinematic glimpse at what would eventually make Will Smith one of the most bankable movie stars of the next 25 years. Though, Lawrence gets a better portion of the screentime here. (Also, it’s weird Bad Boys came out 25 years ago. Bad Boys II came out eight years later and is surprisingly grim. The “fun” of the first one is gone and now it’s just an “in your face” action movie that was pretty much hated by critics.)
Bad Boys For Life is a strange animal. Michael Bay, who directed the first two movies, does not return as director. Belgian directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah take over here and breathe new life into a series that, frankly, didn’t have much life to begin with outside of some cool Michael Bay slow-motion shots. And there’s a lot going on here. I mean, seriously, this movie is filled with enough plot for two movies — which was actually the original plan, to make two movies at once. And that shows because the third act of this movie goes a lot of places I wouldn’t have guessed in a million years. I wasn’t expecting it, but this movie is an out and out blast.
Anyway, yes, Mike and Marcus are back, but they are old now. There are a lot of “we are old” jokes, but I found a lot of this endearing. These were two characters who, in the past, just seemed “macho.” Now, for the first time, they seem human. And we meet our new villain, a motorcycle-riding hitman named Armando (Jacob Scipio) who is assassinating everyone involved with the sting operation that brought down his cartel-running father 25 years before. And one of the people involved is Mike Lowrey.
Something kind of crazy happens early in Bad Boys for Life, as Armando guns down Mike Lowrey. It’s here I had one of those, “Oh no, is this a bait and switch and Will Smith isn’t actually in this movie?” moments. Now, I didn’t think he was going to die, but this certainly set up a scenario where Mike is in a coma for most the movie while Marcus and the new young, cool team we just met tries to find the gunman and bring him to justice. So, I have good news: This is not what happens. Instead, Mike recovers (the film jumps forward six months) and we now find this character, who never really had any depth whatsoever, wrestling with his own mortality as he goes on a one-man mission of rage and revenge. (During Mike’s recovery, Marcus, now a recent grandfather, has retired and wants to live a life of peace. But that doesn’t last long and eventually the pair reunite.)
The third act of Bad Boys For Life is off the rails, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s just … kind of nuts. All of a sudden all of the action switches to Mexico, and there are weird twists and turns as Mike Lowrey is given a crazy, sort of retconned backstory that I found both absurd and fascinating. Again, here are these characters that had no depth, and now they are being overcharged with depth. It’s like the filmmakers thought, hmmm, now here’s a popular franchise that hasn’t even tried to do anything with its characters, both played by popular actors, so what happens if we did try?
Also, it’s pretty obvious a huge influence here is what’s happened to the Fast and Furious franchise. I alluded to the cool, young new team that Mike and Marcus work with and, yes, they play a big role in this film and each member has a specialty. So the dynamics here have changed from just Mike and Marcus to that of a team and “family“ (which is mentioned so many times Fast and Furious could probably sue). But, you know what? It works. And if I were in charge of the Bad Boys franchise, I’d be doing the exact same thing: Yes, let’s just turn these into Fast and Furious movies. And instead of Vin Diesel we have Will Smith. And, just like Fast and Furious, this movie ends on a promise of more movies to come with Mike, Marcus, and the cool, young team. And, yes, I’d watch five more of these.
And, again, it works! For the first time ever, I cared about Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett. And for the first time, yes, I hope some more Bad Boys come for me. Whatcha gonna do? Well, I’d watch them! Happily, for once.You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.