The Island

3 stars


13th August 2005

Choose life. Choose a fucking big television. Choose a flash new car. Choose a yacht. Choose a clone. It looks like Renton's got into a bit more trouble than a skag habit this time, as he joins director Michael Bay for the big no-brain blockbuster of the summer. The Island marks Michael Bay's first attempt to tackle an important issue - that of human cloning - while somehow still managing to fit his trademark car chases and explosions into the story. Unsurprisingly, the results are mixed; as far as mayhem and destruction are concerned, Bay is still head of the class, but when it comes to putting his thinking cap on and knuckling down with the topic at hand, he's still left scratching his head and chewing his pencil with the remedial kids. It makes Arnie's The Sixth Day look like a Robert Winston documentary.

Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) is just your average citizen of the near-but-not-too-near future; dressed up to the nines in a quasi-futuristic jumpsuit, he lives in a quarantined complex along with thousands of other residents, all 'survivors' of a disease that supposedly almost wiped out humanity and left planet Earth all but inhabitable. Mankind's last hope is the mysterious paradise known as the Island, which is where the lucky buggers who win the regular lottery will be headed. However, as those ungrateful moaning twats you see in the paper will tell you, sometimes winning the lottery isn't all it's cracked up to be. Turns out, the inhabitants of the facility are all clones, harvested and grown straight into adulthood, perfect genetic copies of rich clients on the outside world who fancy an extra kidney or two, in the event of an accident. A ticket to paradise therefore, turns out to be a one-way ticket to deathsville for our Miracle-Gro clones.

Bay, never the most tactful director, starts off quietly enough, introducing us to Obi-Wan and his lovely friend Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) along with the rest of the clueless masses, all seemingly content to live within the constrictive walls of the complex, living their perfect lives, taught to be happy that they escaped contamination. But when Six Echo begins to get a little stir crazy, he rumbles the whole shebang and whisks off lucky Lotto winner Jordan in a daring escape to the big bad blue outside. Once the duo stretch their legs in the real world the tempo certainly speeds up, but your IQ will start to fall away like sand through your fingers. Any possible hope of an interesting and thoughtful approach to a controversial topic is slowly destroyed by a series of high-octane stunts and eye-boggling set pieces.

Yes, the visceral car chase scenes are fantastic, even trumping the scenes from Bay's own Bad Boys II. Sure, it's a pretty amazing sight to see a huge neon sign fall from a fifty-story skyscraper, with our heroes clinging on for dear life. And I don't hear anyone complaining about Ms. Johansson's rumpy scene. However, the important and divisive issue of cloning is never in danger of being explored properly - subjects such as faith and morality are merely toyed with, brushed past briefly on the way to the next explosion or chase scene. There's also some pretty lazy plotting to be found - at one point, our escapees are but a few seconds ahead of their pursuers, but still somehow manage to escape the entire complex with one low-level access key, and on foot at that. Surely in the future, guards should have funky jetpacks or cool-looking helicopters to chase them in? Plot strands which at first appear to be important - Johansson finding out her original has a child, for example - are left to dangle ungracefully, and the inevitable ending doesn't go any way to resolving the story (at a bladder worrying 136 minutes, you expect some sort of coda).

One more bone of contention - I simply can't sit through another film that's awash with blatant product placement. When you're trying your hardest to immerse yourself in the slightest of storylines, you don't need a Nokia close-up or a Michelob logo in your face to yank you back into the crummy old 21st Century. The few odious appearances of MSN and Xbox logos go some way to confirm that Microsoft will indeed be a few steps closer to ruling the world in the not-too-distant future. Great.

Ewan can do better in more ways than one (his American accent is shown up by Scottish Ewan who shows up in the latter half, possibly the first occasion an actor has out-acted himself) and although Scarlett looks super fine in her jumpsuit (and even better in her bra), she's not being tested. Sean Bean plays the doctor in charge of keeping the inmates from the cruel outside world, but suffers a strange character arc where he goes from a serene character (the kind that offers you free minutes and 100 texts a month) to a rampaging bounty hunter in the final act.

If you expected a thoughtful and meaningful take on a genuinely debatable subject, then not only will you be disappointed that the movie's more concerned with guns than genes, but you'll be upset to discover that you're a moron - this is Michael Bay territory, the man's about as tactful as a drunk performing an abortion. Unfortunately, it's not much more than your average popcorn movie; a shame, as it had the potential to explore areas not usually afforded to big budget fare like this. Ironically, The Island is little more than a clone of the rest of Bay's back catalogue; it might look just as pretty and share an uncannily familiar feeling, but it sure as hell ain't got no soul of its own.

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