Published Dec 18, 2012During the opening moments of Michael Bay's Aerosmith-driven, hyper-excessive, phallic ode blissful cultural deterioration, Armageddon, after a voiceover narrates a pornographic visual effects shot of global destruction, an African-American bike messenger, and stereotype, walks his dog down a crowded city street littered with vendors. Fighting with a large Hawaiian man after his dog attacks a Godzilla toy, he utters something about throwing his "fat pineapple eatin' ass through the window" just as a meteor comes crashing down, killing the Hawaiian man and blowing up his store.
Meanwhile, a black, extremely animated, cab driver rationalizes the explosion to some Asian tourists who respond to the destruction by stating, in a heavy-accent, "I want to go shopping." And because we learn later that the little dog is okay, hanging by his leash in the hole where the Hawaiian man has been obliterated, we can laugh at the silly Asians and their tourist stereotype, much as we can take comfort in the bike messenger's (Eddie Griffin) unrealistic, entirely offensive, Buckwheat impression.
If this were a film by anyone else, these broad stereotypes in the face of destruction could be interpreted as a morality play, or witty metaphor about racial disharmony in urban centers. But in the hands of Michael Bay, this sequence literally reads as, "Explosions awesome! Minorities funny! Dogs cute!"
And as the rapid editing and constantly moving, directionless camerawork maneuvers itself through an abundance of expository, yet discomfortingly corny, sequences without a tone or visual trajectory beyond—"Fuck yeah!—we learn that the world is coming to an end and can only be saved by a troupe of overly idiosyncratic blue-collar oil rig goofballs. Planning to project them into space, indicating that the advent of American technological excess will be the Earth's saviour—an assertion stated with crotch firmly in hand and without a smidgeon of irony—the presumption is that the gearheads will be able to land on a moving asteroid, drill into it and blow it up.
Because no tone or establishing aesthetic exists within this text, it vacillates between bizarre humour about statutory rape and painfully strained melodrama involving Grace (Liv Tyler), the daughter of oil rig lead, Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), and his colleague A.J. Frost (Ben Affleck), whose looks and demeanor suggest that Grace is going through some sick variation on the Electra complex (something exacerbated by the Aerosmith soundtrack).
Seemingly, the mythology here, amidst the atrocious one-liners, laughably bad acting and weird depiction of a long-isolated Russian astronaut as plum silly rather than nutrient-deprived and Schizophrenic, is that middle-American muscle is what heroes are made of. There's even the occasional insert of people in foreign lands—folks in the Middle East sit around a temple and pray (all of them)—cheering on the awesome Americans and their inexplicable mastery of aeronautics.
And while it's cruel to mock the ignorant, there's something so insular and terrifyingly solipsistic about absolutely everything displayed in this glowing testament to the boundless self-importance of the male ego that it's difficult not to respond with sheer awe. Michael Bay, a man that comes from the world of Playboy videos and car commercials, puts absolutely no thought into his direction beyond the philosophy that bigger is better—a compensation tactic surely. It's like watching the cinematic equivalent of the American Psycho sequence where Patrick Bateman screws a prostitute in the doggiestyle position while looking in the mirror and flexing.
Resultantly, it's hard to be offended by the overt racism, casual comedy about rape and the ridiculously patronizing storyline. It's coming from someone that just doesn't know any better.
It's just unfortunate that films like Armageddon point out just how dangerously limited the undiscerning general population can be. Paying money to see this is the equivalent of handing someone a twenty-dollar bill to call you an idiot to your face and then thanking them for it.
Armageddon screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Countdown to Armageddon screening series at 9pm on December 20th, 2012. (Buena Vista)