This series focuses on the one and only Michael Bay. Attempting to deconstruct his filmography, one film at a time. Usually I would say that the ideas explored here may or may not end up in my Dissertation about Michael Bay and Post-Cinema (if I inevitably decide to do my MSc Dissertation on this topic).
However, I am done with my MSc.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about these movies. And to answer the question: Does it ever rain in a Michael Bay movie?
First off… an apology. This movie has been out for months. I saw it in the cinema. It was my first experience watching a Michael Bay movie on the big screen, yet I was not able to even write 2 words on the film (let alone however many this will end up being) as I was too busy wrapped up in my MSc. Which, as you may have read, is now over.
AMBULANCE is a high-concept low-budget action thriller (seriously, this thing cost $40m). It is basically one of those movies that came out post-DIE HARD. You know, DIE HARD on a [insert producers idea here]. This however, is SPEED in an ambulance. With a huge dose of prime-Bayhem in the mixing pot.
Starring Eiza González, Yaya Abdul-Mateen II and Jake Gyllenhaal… my main thought is: what does a Michael Bay movie in 2022 look like?
Sitting in the Everyman in Edinburgh, comfy seats, Peroni in hand, I was overcome with this childlike sense of excitement. It was akin to watching THE FORCE AWAKENS or THE AVENGERS for the first time. It was my first time seeing a Michael Bay movie in the cinema. It really should not have taken this long. I had chances to go see any one of the TRANSFORMERS sequels in the cinema, and I was too far up my own ass at the time to have seen PAIN & GAIN or 13 HOURS on the big screen. And lest we forget, unless you lived in New York or LA seeing 6 UNDERGROUND in the cinema was taken away by the ‘lovers of cinema’, Netflix. This was my first time getting a chance to see a Michael Bay film after my insane decision to study him.
I’d like to say I was ready. But I was not.
Here is a synopsis from IMdB:
Decorated veteran Will Sharp, desperate for money to cover his wife’s medical bills, asks for help from his adoptive brother Danny. A charismatic career criminal, Danny instead offers him a score: the biggest bank heist in Los Angeles history: $32 million.
DISCLAIMER: I have not seen the 2005 Danish film AMBULANCEN, that this film is a remake of.
In my piece about 6 UNDERGROUND (aka the movie where Netflix really tested their ‘open-chequebook’ policy), I spoke about how it was a piece of maximalist cinema. To requote the definition from Google: “a person who favors a radical and immediate approach to the achievement of a set of goals”. I said how this radical immediacy in maximilist ideology certainly applys here to Michael Bay’s direction in 6 UNDERGROUND, which applies again in AMBULANCE. I made the point that it is radical in that, he is the only one doing what he does in Hollywood. 3 years later and countless Hollywood Blockbusters later, I stand by this statement.
Every shot in this has purpose, not a single moment is wasted. It feels as though the immediacy that Bay has finely-tuned in his action sequences is now just the whole film. But even the most well-oiled machine needs a tune-up, an upgrade to stay in the now. And Bay has discovered drones. The drones mean that shots that were impossible, or requiring vast-numbers of crew, equipment or CGI are now at the whim of Bay. All the movement that one would get from a crane shot, or from a helicopter, is just amplified.
If 6 UNDERGROUND was him cutting loose from the studio system, indulging in every single one of his worst impulses, AMBULANCE is restrained, controlled and meticulous. The confines of the concept, the location (inside the ambulance and the city), means he has to be as precise as possible. Which when you take into account that this was shot across 38 days in the middle of the COVID pandemic it just adds fuel to this.
LA is a city that is living and breathing in this movie. The first set-piece is Michael Bay paying homage to the cities greatest of all bank-heist movies, HEAT. In HEAT, LA is drenched in blue, it is cool with the action set-pieces as thoughtful as Mann’s direction and Pacino/De Niro’s performances. AMBULANCE has LA as warm as sunlight, almost like a powder keg is getting ready to be lit. There is a tension underneath everything, so when all the shots are moving as propulsively as they are, you can feel the emergency.
Speaking of powder keg, lets devote a paragraph to Jake Gyllenhaal. Danny is an unhinged creation and Gyllenhaal looks as though he is having the time of his life. With Ryan Reynolds in 6 UNDERGROUND even the serious moments felt as though there was the undercurrent of humour. With Gyllenhaal, he went into the darkest parts of the character and brought them up to the surface. And he clearly was having fun with it. Between his turn in NIGHTCRAWLER, him entering the MCU as Mysterio and now this, he is now in a really interesting part of his career.
I have become a little bit annoyed with modern blockbusters. BULLET TRAIN cost over twice the amount that AMBULANCE did, yet there wasn’t really a moment where the effects didn’t feel as though there was a CGI sheen over them. I get that that was the intention of the film, but David Leitch somehow helped turn a series known for its practical car stunts into slick CGI show (HOBBS & SHAW). I will argue that yes, Michael Bay is as responsible as anyone for the way Blockbusters have become over-reliant on it, but when he has to go practical he doesn’t shy away from it. (There is one shot that doesn’t belong, but it doesn’t linger).
The film goes from one set-piece to another, racketing up the tension wherever needed, but not sacrificing anything for brevity. The standout moment is where Gyllenhaal is hanging out the side of the ambulance along the LA river with Yay Abdul-Mateen II driving. Helicopters chasing them flying low. This was not in the script, it was only when Bay realised he had use of the Helicopters and a couple of hours free that he put the shot together. Just because it was unplanned, doesn’t mean it is rushed. It has as much style as anything else in the movie. Only filmmakers that have been doing this as long as Bay, can accomplish that.
Going back to the moment in the cinema when the credits started rolling. The other patrons in the screening looked either bored, baffled or just disinterested. Almost as though this was just another throwaway blockbuster. Me? I had the biggest smile on my face. In my BA dissertation, I pointed out that after Tony Scott died there was an influx of tributes, with people seemingly only then realising what we had lost. I really hope that it doesn’t take Michael Bay dying for the same thing to happen. AMBULANCE shows that he can do it on a budget, better than anyone on twice the budget. Long may it continue.
Does it rain? No.