‘Ambulance’ is the ultimate Michael Bay movie
Perhaps even more than his last efforts, Michael BayThe new film is reminiscent of a kid making a toy airplane or, just as easily, a gravity-defying toy car, which goes whoosh, whoosh, whoosh around the room. Ambulance (in theaters April 8) dives, dives, and breaks the laws of physics. It’s not just the titular ambulance that will zoom in. It’s also Bay’s camera, dancing a crazy Nora Helmer tarantella across Los Angeles, often buzzing right past the current action and soaring into the sky. Other times, the camera seems inches from the actors’ faces, peering down from the floor of an ambulance or a bullet-riddled sidewalk to capture the fine grain of a distressed face.
Ambulance is a visual ordeal, but deliberately. Bay wants us to feel the exhausted tension of her characters – two fleeing bank robbers in a stolen ambulance, an EMT hostage working on an injured cop in the back of the bus. But I think he also wants us to consider Bay himself: his glossy TV commercial style. His legacy, really.
characters in Ambulance refer to The rock and Bad Boys, Bay’s early films and those that established him as a crass, hyper-populist poet of the era. But Bay is older now. He has thought about it and he wants to combine this seasoned maturity – and this refined cinematic sensibility – with the verve of his (and some of our) youth.
His new film is just as frenetic as all the others, but there are few ogling shots of young women’s backs, much less jingoistic bombast and ancient humor (although there are still plenty). The film’s politics are decidedly pro-cop — in awe of the quasi-military capabilities of the LAPD — but also sensitive to con artists. There’s even a gay supporting character who’s only lightly teased and returns it straight to the beefheads doing the teasing. The main female character, the aforementioned EMT, actually has talent and the agency and the movie ends on her. It wasn’t your older cousin who uploaded porn to LimeWire’s Michael Bay. He is a more discerning administrator. Ambulance is, in its own way, Prestige Bay.
Sure, wearing pearls was supposed to be just that, many years ago – but it happened too soon, it was too obviously an attempt to make a Titanic specific to Bay. Twenty years later, Bay offers his signature rocket for re-evaluation. Was he a genius all the time?
Ambulance is so whimsical it’s adapted from a European film. And there’s a real theater kid in it: Jake Gyllenhaal like half of a pair of brothers constraining the other, played by Yahya Abdul Matteen (no slouch when it comes to prestige), by robbing a bank in downtown Los Angeles. Will d’Abdul-Mateen is an unemployed Navy veteran whose wife needs expensive experimental surgery, so his motivation is at least noble. Gyllenhaal’s Danny is decidedly less holy; I think he just wants the money. The two tangle with the legacy of their father, a notorious bank robber and murderer who figures prominently in the film despite never making an appearance. (I believe he is dead.) Bay and screenwriter Chris Fedac go for the pathos here. On rare occasions, they do.
The best parts of Ambulance– or rather, only one supported party – are in pursuit, the ambulance racing through the city with the police in strategic pursuit. The film’s endless churning is enveloping, the stakes soar to the point that Eiza GonzalezCrack EMT Cam performs invasive surgery, guided by doctors via videoconference, at 60 miles per hour. But some of the film’s quieter moments are also recorded, small examples of care and detail that add a slight humanistic texture to the film. This is certainly a new pose for this director.
It would be easy to get caught up in the majesty of Michael Bay reaffirming, and perhaps reintroducing, and declaring the movie some sort of garish masterpiece, just as many of us approached with delirium delirious from Bay. pain and gain. But these generous interpretations end up colliding with the concrete wall of Bay’s ugliest fetishes and sabotage impulses. In Ambulance, he gradually loses control of the tight design at the start of the film. Action sequences get heavier; the characters start shouting more and more and making worse and worse jokes; the line between cops and robbers fun and full-throttle propaganda is very blurred. And, perhaps most salient, the chase gets repetitive before coming to a halt just when we think some sort of mega-climax is on the way. I guess there’s not much to do within the confines of an ambulance.
Still, it’s remarkable what Bay can conjure up with just $40 million and a few practical effects. Ambulance feels a lot bigger than its output actually was, a reminder to studios – we hope it does, at least – that maximalism doesn’t need to cost $200 million plus the price of a green screen . In this way, I hope Ambulance is a huge success and spawns others. Other descendants may come with smarter tweaks, smarter, bolder riffs. And so on until we live, perhaps, once again in an age of action less reliant on digital glare. Help us, Michael Bay. He may be, after all this, our only hope. Or, at least, our best.
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