A decorated US Army General steals some poison gas rockets, and then takes some tourists hostage at Alcatraz Island. Unless his demands are met, he will launch the rockets on San Francisco. To combat this threat, the FBI send in a chemist, and an imprisoned British SAS Captain to save the day?!
Released in 1996; and directed by Michael Bay; The Rock is an action thriller starring Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. The film also stars David Morse, John Spencer, Michael Biehn, Vanessa Marcil, John C. Mcginley, Gregory Sporleder, Tony Todd, William Forsythe, and Stuart Wilson in supporting roles. The film gets it’s name from the nickname for Alcatraz Island. The film is/was also something of an enigma, as until just very recently; it was the only film by Michael Bay to receive a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This has only just ended, as Ambulance also received a fresh rating (but it should be noted that both Transformers and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi did come quite close to fresh ratings too).
Fun little fact: in 1996; the same year that this film was released; saw the debut of the professional wrestler known as The Rock in the WWE (WWF at the time). It should be noted however that this film was released before The Rock’s debut; and most importantly, The Rock The Wrestler, did not become The Rock until 1997, as originally, he was billed under the name Rocky Maivia, a combination of the names of his Father Rocky Johnson, and Grandfather Peter Maivia.
Back to the film. The Rock is quite a cool action movie with an interesting plot. It involves a sort of siege of Alcatraz island, but instead of it being a group of terrorists like in say Olympus Has Fallen, of by a group of mercenaries in say Under Siege, the people doing the siege of Alcatraz Island are experienced and battle hardened Marines. This creates a real sense of terror as in films like the ones mentioned above, you would expect the marines to be the ones to come in and save the day; but here, they are the bad guys, plus a real challenge for the new would be heroes.
What makes this challenge even more complicated is that it’s being led by a real war hero. A decorated army general. But; this army general isn’t really disillusioned, as the reason behind his motives is incredibly honourable; as he is trying to get justice for the soldiers who served and died under his command, who weren’t honoured by their country, nor whose families received any money. He is very much a sympathetic villain, as he is doing the wrong thing, but for the right reasons. He is also sympathetic in that he is not a murderer, as he is seen doing nice things, and above all is trying not to kill people where possible, and feels the losses deeply, even for those he did not know.
So we have an armed and very well experienced group of solders, led by an honourable and decorated war hero. So how do we solve this problem, by sending in some kind of tandem you’d expect to see in a buddy film. Yes, we have a lethal and imprisoned British SAS soldier, and a chemist. Two very different people, but a mad enough of a combination that it might just work. The on-screen relationship between Cage and Connery is quite comedic as one is serious, and the other is bumbling fool. But the bumbling fool is the specialist, and the serious one is a dinosaur. But together we get this cool tandem of heroes that might just be good enough to save the day.
Much like other Bay films, notably Transformers and Armageddon; the film uses veteran actors to helm some of the more background and serious roles, but as a result, put on near performances of a lifetime. This background characters are serious, but really cool and very well performed, and really help portray the roles they have been assigned to do. Yes their time on screen is short, but they are there to support the film rather than helm it. To this end we get some really cool characters, with some putting on performances that are near Oscar worthy; with particular mention going to the terrific David Morse. It feels like a real shame that he didn’t get to do more films like this, cause in this film; he is absolutely astounding!
Now whilst the cast are doing a thoroughly enjoyable job; one thing that can be easy to miss the first few times you see it; is how rude everyone is! Seriously, what you need in this situation are some level heads, and easy explanations. Not constant rudeness and profanity to explain the situation to an unexperienced chemist going into the field for the first time. It would be nice to hear someone say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ here and then.
The plot to The Rock is nice and concise and is all tightly packed and weaved in to make this film the best it can be, and not open ended to allow sequels. But it does have some continuity issues. Firstly, if it was so easy to use the tunnel system to get to the morgue where the rockets were held, why are the seal team so determined to go through the showers? Secondly, there is the case near the end of the appearing and disappearing sixth fighter jet. In one moment, there’s five, then a couple moments later there’s six; and then finally we’re back to five! But the real continuity issue is the film’s first 50 minutes.
The first 50 minutes of the film is the setup. It creates the situations that the characters need to solve. So we get Ed Harris’s character setup, followed by the stealing of the rockets and taking over Alcatraz Island. But between these moments there are long gaps, where it’s easy to forget all those bits. These gaps are filled with Cage’s setup, and introducing Connery, leading to the car chase sequence. This first 50 minutes of footage feel like you are watching two different films at the same time. When the focus returns to the action on Alcatraz, then it’s fast and punchy, but more importantly, back to the main plot of the film. It just feels off and weird, but also sad, because the film is definitely at it’s best when it’s focussed on the island, and in particular the pure gold scenes featuring Ed Harris. All this other stuff just slows it all down, and takes your attention away from the actual film!
But whilst the cast may often be rude, or for the times the film may direct your attention elsewhere; there’s one thing that never disappoints: the soundtrack. What is possibly one of the first in a long list of memorable soundtracks (alongside The Lion King, and more importantly Muppet Treasure Island) composed by Hans Zimmer; The Rock features a collection of different styles but stays focussed on delivering the right theme for the moment, whilst not deviating too far from its chosen direction. Whilst it may not be as iconic as the themes for Pirates of the Caribbean, or the Dark Knight Trilogy, we do get a taste in those future films, with the car chase in particular sounding like it was lifted from Pirates of the Caribbean, despite not being made yet.
The film’s main theme is hard to define, as there’s sort of two, sounding similar, but ones sombre, whilst the other is fast paced. The sombre sounding tune is used to great effect to highlight the tragedy and horrors of combat, highlighting Harris’s beliefs in the unfortunate deaths of those he’s led, and those who fall both under his command, and those who are trying to stop him. The other theme meanwhile which you hear a lot is more fast paced and is there to deliver energy and adrenaline, and help build the action and tension, and make you feel like you are there in the moment.
Most of the soundtrack stays on these points, but with varying degrees in change. So there’s pieces for chases, whilst others for time to take a breather and just create an edge of your seat level of tension. But then we get the more epic sounding scores, which are used to make un-epic scenes; EPIC. Just like the helicopters taking off scene. It’s just three helicopters, but it sounds as epic if not more, than the Rockets taking off in Armageddon!
The Rock is quite a cool and rather engrossing action movie. Whilst easily not the best action film ever made; it can easily rank itself alongside the popcorn greats like Under Siege. It features a cool list of actors playing some interesting and near thought provoking characters; and whilst it does have some continuity issues, when on point it is concise, to the point, and engaging; and once more is backed up by a terrific soundtrack. Yes, it may no longer be an enigma in Michael Bay’s career, but it was an enigma for a very good reason, in that it was, and still is a really fun action movie!