This review includes full spoilers. Proceed accordingly. For other movie reviews from me, click HERE:
Comment: Do you think it’s possible that anyone else in the world is reading this very same blog at this very same moment?
Dusty: I hope so, otherwise, what am I doing with my life?
Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Jonathan Hensleigh (screenplay) and J.J. Abrams (screenplay), Tony Gilroy (adaptation) and Shane Salerno (adaptation) and Robert Roy Pool (story) and Jonthan Hensleigh (story)
Stars: Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, William Fichtner,
Release Date: July 1, 1998 (United States)
Run time: 2 hours, 31 minutes
A massive meteor shower destroys the orbiting Space Shuttle Atlantis, before entering the atmosphere and bombarding New York City. The meteors were pushed out of the asteroid belt by a rogue comet that also jarred loose a Texas-sized asteroid that will impact Earth in 18 days, causing an event that will wipe out all life on the planet. NASA devises a plan to have a deep hole drilled into the asteroid, into which they will insert and detonate a nuclear bomb to destroy the asteroid.
They recruit Harry Stamper, a third-generation oil driller and owner of his own oil drilling company. Harry agrees to help, but on the condition that he bring in his own team to do the drilling. He picks his best employees for the job: Chick Chapel, his best friend and right-hand man; geologists Rockhound and Oscar Choice; and drillers Bear Curlene, Freddie Noonan, Max Lennert, and A.J. Frost (who has been dating Harry’s daughter Grace despite Harry’s objections). Over twelve days, they are trained to become astronauts with astronaut Willie Sharp, who will pilot Freedom — one of the two shuttles to fly to the asteroid, the other being the Independence. Before leaving, Chick apologizes to his ex-wife for wronging her and sees his son, who is unaware of his parentage. Grace accepts A.J.’s marriage proposal, much to Harry’s reluctant dismay; she later has her father promise to return home safe with her fiancé.
Following the destruction of Shanghai by another meteor strike, word of the massive asteroid becomes public to the world. Both shuttles take off without incident and dock with the Russian Space Station Mir to take on fuel. During fueling, a spark causes a fire. A.J. and Russian Cosmonaut Lev Andropov manage to board Independence before the space station is destroyed.
Approaching the asteroid, Independence is damaged by debris and crashes, killing all on board except Lev, Bear, and A.J. They embark in the shuttle’s Armadillo to find the Freedom crew, which lands 26 miles from its intended landing site. When the drilling goes slower than predicted, Sharp reports to Mission Control that it is unlikely the team will reach the depth necessary to destroy the asteroid before “Zero Barrier”, the point after which detonating the rock will not save Earth. The President of the United States decides to remotely detonate the bomb from Earth immediately, which will cause total mission failure. Sharp and Harry have a vicious argument, but agree to defuse the bomb and work together after Harry promises Sharp that he will accomplish the mission. They make progress on drilling, but a missed gas pocket causes the Armadillo and Max to be blown into space. Just as Harry, NASA, and the world believe the mission to be a failure, while another meteor devastates Paris, A.J. and the others arrive in the second Armadillo.
A.J. succeeds in drilling the hole to the required depth, but a rock storm kills Gruber and damages the remote detonator, forcing someone to stay behind and manually detonate the bomb. They draw straws; the responsibility falls upon A.J. Harry takes him down to the asteroid’s surface, and disconnects A.J.’s air hose, forces him into the shuttle’s air lock and tells A.J. that he is the son Harry never had and he would be proud to have him marry Grace. Using the Armadillo, Harry tearfully gives Grace his blessing to marry A.J., and Grace says that she is proud to be his daughter.
After some difficulty, Freedom takes off, but then a second blowout causes Harry to lose his grip on the detonator. Just before Zero Barrier, he detonates the bomb and saves the planet. The astronauts land on Earth safely. A.J. and Grace are reunited and Chick reconciles with his ex-wife and estranged son. Later, A.J. and Grace are married with the portraits of Harry and the others lost on the mission present in memoriam.
Armageddon is an awesome movie if you can just ignore the science details (i.e. 1) a nuclear bomb can cleanly separate an unstably composed asteroid, the size of Texas, into two separate parts that both avoid the earth, when detonated *between* the moon and the earth? and 2) 800 feet beneath the surface of an unstable asteroid that large is barely beneath its surface at all – why not just drop it into the asteroid’s grand canyon feature and fly away without the drilling fuss?) Most of us are not astrophysicists, though, we’re just a bunch of Johnny Moviegoers, so let’s just set those details aside and assume that the details make sense.
As is typical of a Michael Bay movie, Armageddon starts at a breakneck pace and continues on that way for two and a half hours. In fact, there were a couple of actual broken necks along the way. The movie opens with the ominous meteor shower that blows up the Atlantis shuttle and then heavily damages New York City. It gave me a strange and ominous feeling to see the Twin Towers so damaged an on fire. But from there we learn the plot. A global killer asteroid is on its way to earth and the only way to stop it is to send a motley crew of blue collar Americans up into space to blow it up.
If you pay close attention, though, most of the blue collar crew had ridiculous academic credentials of their own. Steve Buscemi’s “Rockhound” was probably the smartest guy on the mission, and Bruce Willis’s Harry Stamper personally designed a drilling rig, from which NASA stole the blueprints, but failed to assemble correctly. The movie tells us that Owen Wilson’s Oscar is one of the best geologists in the world. Ben Affleck’s “A.J.” is second in command, above many older and more experienced men, with long work and academic resumes, and his qualifications are never really spelled out. However, based on everyone else we should assume those qualifications are substantial. Bay is sending a subtle but potent message that a preference for style over substance can be detrimental to civilization. Ultimately, it is the rough-behaving men of action who save the day when the more polished but softer men at desks nearly doom us to oblivion. Something about that message rings true with audiences, even if the critics bristled. (The Rotten Tomatoes audience score for this film was 73%, while the critics scored it at 38%.)
The movie is filled with action sequences. Twenty-five years after its release, most of those scenes – meteors hitting buildings, scenes in space, explosions on an asteroid, etc. – still look really good on screen. My favorite action moment, for for how it looked, is probably when the Armadillo jumps the asteroid’s grand canyon. It is difficult to pick just one thing. Michael Bay and his team deserve a ton of credit for how good everything looks from start to finish.
The power of this movie is not in its action, though, its power comes from the unrelentingly effective way it pulls at the emotions of the audience. The script does an incredible job moving back and forth between delivering genuinely funny comedy, and shortly after following that up with heart-tugging dialogue. The back and forth has the effect of unbalancing the audience emotionally and that in turn makes Armageddon‘s big moments at the end all the more impactful. The raucous celebrations all over the world, Chick’s son greeting him at the landing, Col. Sharp shaking hands with Grace, the look Truman has when A.J. gives him Harry’s patch, the big dramatic embrace Grace has with A.J., well, if you say you got through that without feeling anything, I say you are lying (about your reaction, or about being a human.)
Overall, this is still a tremendous popcorn flick and it remains possibly Michael Bay’s best movie. I fully endorse a re-watch, or a first watch if you somehow missed this one in the 1990s. Bring a box of tissues.