“Bad Boys for Life”

Jackson McMurray, Staff Contributor

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“Bad Boys II” (2003) is a story that comes from the darkest, most terrifying recesses of the mind of Michael Bay. The film is a nihilistic, misanthropic fever dream; it’s the loudest, fastest, and most violent film of the 21st century. 

“Bad Boys II” is a punishing 150-minute nightmare as visually beautiful as it is ideologically ugly, a garish monument built to the heavens for the gods of pornographic destruction and gay panic. And it kinda rules.

In “Bad Boys II” Will Smith plays a police officer with a genuine lust for blood, who states in no uncertain terms, many times over, that he just loves to shoot people. Martin Lawrence, his co-star, argues that maybe lethal force isn’t always the solution, and that police work should be more precise, less violent. 

At the end of the film, in an action sequence set outside Guantanamo Bay, Martin Lawrence shoots an MDMA kingpin square in the forehead, leaving his body eviscerated by a nearby landmine. Will Smith laughs and says I told you so, and his unique brand of police brutality wins the day.

To quote Roger Ebert’s review: “Everybody involved in this project needs to do some community service.”

Teagan Kimbro

Imagine my surprise then, sitting in a theater in 2020 slowly realizing that Bad Boys three is… Thoughtful? Intelligently written? Sympathetic towards its characters? Dare I say… a wholesome film about family??

“Bad Boys for Life” (2020) is a genuinely well-made, well-written, exciting and tense action movie. Going in with low expectations I was pleasantly surprised in just about every possible way.

It tells a story about a pair of police detectives who are reckoning with the consequences (a word that never crossed the page in a Bad Boys script previously) of their younger days, and pondering their legacies. It’s got strong theming around smart, non-lethal police work, and morality as it relates to the job, as well as friendship and family.

When Will Smith’s character is nearly assassinated by a shadowy figure at the beginning of the film, he’s chagrined to find that the team heading up the investigation is an uber-modern team of agents working on the cutting edge of humane and non-lethal police work. The crew is led by Smith’s love interest: an appropriately aged female character played by a woman who was at no point in her career a Victoria’s Secret model. 

Obviously Michael Bay wouldn’t touch the script with a 10-foot pole, so the movie is directed by a pair of young Belgian directors, who shoot the movie economically and reasonably, a first for the franchise. There are some attempts to recreate Bay’s nauseous spinning camera and his hyper-saturated color palette, but they’re not done with the same delirious glee as films that came before.

The movie is in many ways indebted to the “Fast and Furious” franchise: it’s an exciting, POC-led ensemble action flick set in a tropical city, with a sincere tone and an emphasis on non-romantic relationships. 

“Bad Boys for Life” lacks the balls-to-the-wall action setpieces of “Fast and Furious”, but it makes up for it with exciting R-rated action, genuine, intelligent character work, and of course, Will Smith. But for what it’s worth, “Bad Boys” is following in F&F’s footsteps, complete with a sunset balcony family dinner and a post-credits teaser for a future sequel.

If you, like me, were hoping for a hedonistic thrill ride that’s bad for you, I might suggest staying home and checking out 6 Underground (2019) on Netflix, which is almost as pure a reflection of Michael Bay as “Bad Boys II” is. But if you show up for “Bad Boys for Life” you’ll find it to be a surprisingly heartfelt and well-made flick, and a better movie than you can usually find in a theater in January.