Bad Boys for Life was something I never expected to happen – even when it was announced – but I was intrigued on what a Bad Boys film would look like all these years later. Surely a film as hateful and outwardly repugnant as Bad Boys II couldn’t exist today, so I anticipated something more tame (especially with the news that Michael Bay wasn’t returning). What I didn’t expect was something utterly regressive – taking the magic of the previous installment and boxing it into mere nostalgia, consequently making it into a generic action movie aimed to momentarily please.
Bad Boys II is practically a monolith of the manic action genre of this century, and my take on it hasn’t changed a bit after all these years. It’s a film that takes the tired tropes of the more famous buddy cop movies, and flips them on their heads, doubling (maybe tripling) down on the excess, and almost refusing to paint our main characters as actual heroes, as most of those films do. It’s essentially a mockery of all the adored films it unashamedly borrows from. Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowery, the titular bad boys, are genuinely bad people – abusing their power at every turn, endangering innocent people and society, invading Cuba, and are quite literally an exact depiction of what the song (used as a theme song in Cops, how ironic) seems to convey. Throw in the trigger happy antagonist, and the hyperbolic captain (played by the hilarious Joe Pantoliano) and in my opinion, it couldn’t be more obvious. So you can imagine my surprise when Bad Boys for Life attempts to add character development to the caricatures Michael Bay so effortlessly created. Not only does it undermine the subtext of its predecessor, but it takes it in a direction that converts it into generic dreck, snatching away the derisive magic flowing through Bad Boys II. It’s lightning in a bottle, so following it up with something so contradictory is outright sacrilegious.
However, I don’t completely hate Bad Boys For Life. There’s one thing it totally gets right: the undeniable chemistry between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Even if I rolled my eyes at almost every attempt at “character development,” I really did enjoy both leads being as snappy and funny as they once were. There are plenty of moments both of them get to flex their comedic chops, proving they’ve still got it, and both characters carry over their big personalities that fans once loved. Martin Lawrence in particular has some really great moments, and I truly can’t remember the last time he was this funny. Be that as it may, I can’t say the same about the new characters (the banter felt so forced) and even the antagonist, who are completely useless and totally uninteresting. The action – while competent – isn’t as frenetic or breakneck as it was in Bad Boys II – in fact it felt way too clean, which ultimately became forgettable. Although there’s rarely shaky cam, it’s still just completely bland visually, which is something I’d never thought I’d say. The forced melodrama just didn’t do it for me either – it’s painfully generic and seemed to be a last resort in order to add some faux depth (perhaps as an excuse to do another film), and it just doesn’t fit into a narrative with these larger than life characters that aren’t supposed to be grounded in any way.
I’m sorely disappointed that a movie that’s such an anti-blockbuster and cynically encapsulates an entire sub-genre will now be a second installment in a soon-to-be franchise (a fourth one is already in the works). It just doesn’t feel like this is the way it was supposed to go, and although I’m not the biggest fan of Michael Bay, his fingerprints and style don’t feel anywhere near this, and it suffers because of it. It’s not really special anymore, and soon won’t be any different than the Fast & Furious franchise, and unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be tuning in anymore. Nevertheless, I’m glad people (even the fans!) are finding some enjoyment in this, and I’m happy that Martin Lawrence and Will Smith seem to be really enthusiastic about it. I should’ve expected this, but I guess I’ll always have Bad Boys II.