Film * Michael Bay * Asteroid Bay-ocalypse * 1998
Armageddon is the second of two large-item-in-space-threatens-the-very-Earth movies that came out in 1998. Deep Impact, which for my interests is the slightly better movie, came out the gate first. It made some money. Later on, Armageddon came out and made all the rest of the money. I suspect this has everything to do with the fact that this is a Michael Bay movie. Like, it’s not a good movie. But it’s an immensely watchable bad movie. Things blow up real good of course, but honestly Deep Impact paid more attention to global devastation and cool shit like that than this movie does. In fact, Armageddon’s big destruction scenes come off as kind of an afterthought, so if you’re here for disaster-porn, you’ll be disappointed. So no, Armageddon is not a contender for peak-Bay because it’s a big, noisy, explody movie but because it has a broadly appealing, “America, fuck yeah” plot and a likable ensemble cast.
There’s an asteroid, you see, and it’s gonna smack into Earth and kill everyone. This asteroid is called a “global killer” in the film, which is actually a key difference between this and Deep Impact. In that other film, the comet is called an E.L.E., or an extinction-level event, which is a more subtle and way cooler way of saying the same thing. Bay does not do subtle, so “global killer” it is. At least you won’t be confused. So here comes this asteroid, which is “the size of Texas” and is whipping towards us, and nobody noticed until like three weeks before impact. Okay, sure. Yet even three weeks out, some regular-ass meteors blow up Manhattan. Why? No reason, we just needed to blow some things up right away to ensure we have your attention. It’s still marginally uncomfortable to see the World Trade Center with a big, flaming chunk taken out of it, but hey, at least they’re still standing.
After this introductory scene with Billy Bob Thornton as the NASA-man, we never hear about New York again. The Chrysler building is decapitated and Midtown is utterly devastated, but who cares? Never mind that it is specifically stated in the film that the government is suppressing the news of the killer asteroid so that it is presumed the public has no answer for why tens of thousands of New Yorkers are dead. Seriously, whatever, we need to move on to our rag-tag group of heroes here. It’s not like this movie is two and a half hours long and has plenty of time for exposition or anything.
Okay, deep breath, let’s dial back the sarcasm and get through this summary of this thing. Our Hero is Bruce Willis, because why wouldn’t it be? Yet he’s getting older now and presumably isn’t seen as the venerable action star of his Die Hard days because also on board is Ben Affleck, hot off his performance in Phantoms, where I presume he was the bomb. Also in tow are the likes of Steve Buscemi, Liv Tyler, a baby Owen Wilson, and a raft of recognizable, likable character actors. These guys are all deep-sea oil drillers, and guess what NASA needs? Drill experts. For what to drill in the asteroid with. The idea is to drill a big hole in the asteroid, plant a nuke in it, and blow it up before it can hit the planet. If this sounds familiar, that’s because this is the plan in Deep Impact as well. The plan works rather better in Armageddon.
Look, the asteroid doesn’t hit the planet. Not even a little bit, like in Deep Impact. With the exception of NYC, Paris, and the typically Bay-esque broad racial stereotype of the ‘mysterious Orient,’ there is no widespread panic or destruction. I mean, Paris is gone, obliterated, but who cares because they’re French, amirite? (Also, as of this writing, their big soccer team just finished the biggest choke-job in the history of sports, beyond even this year’s terrible, awful, unspeakable Super Bowl, so let’s lay off Paris, huh?) So to call this film Armageddon is a bit of a misdirect. You know what? No. Michael Bay straight up lied to me. There’s no actual Armageddon happening here. I suppose it could be argued that there is an apocalypse. Do I want to get into a linguistic bitch-fight here over the difference between these two things? I mean, yeah, kind of. What, do you want to talk about the thematic overtones of Liv Tyler’s dynamic performance here? Like how Ben Affleck playing with animal crackers in her underpants harmonizes with the penetrating Aerosmith lyrics of “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”? No you don’t, quiet your face.
Armageddon and apocalypse are two terms that in modern usage essentially mean the same thing. It’s the end of the world, right? Also, both terms come from the same place, which is to say the Book of Revelations in your friend and mine, the Bible. The difference is the etymology, or origin. While both words come from the ancient Greek, they refer to vastly different things. Armageddon basically means “mountain range,” and is used because that’s where the armies are supposed to show up for the final battle of the end times. Apocalypse is derived from the Greek of “revelation,” which is a more general, widely applicable term. Armageddon means things are done. Apocalypse means something big just happened, and now we need to deal with the after. The post-apocalypse, if you will.
In Armageddon, the Armageddon doesn’t happen. Bruce Willis and his (eventual) noble sacrifice saves the day, the asteroid is destroyed with apparently no disastrous side-effects, and Earth goes on its merry way. Setting aside the ridiculous lack of actual science, which is expected of a Michael Bay movie, what the fuck, Earth? Oh, New York, Shanghai, and Paris mean nothing to you? Yes, I’m sure you’re all super surprised these massive meteors managed to miss the ocean every time and only impact major cities, but still. That’s a big deal! But hey, Liv Tyler and Affleck get hitched and it’s a fun time and like I mentioned with Deep Impact, the post-apocalypse is not the point with these movies. If you’re looking for proper stories of total devastation, you’re better off reading Lucifer’s Hammer, or better yet, the Last Policeman series.
Oh, I almost forgot the most annoying part of the movie, where we are introduced to Bruce Willis. He owns his own oil-drilling company, of course, because that’s the whole plot of the movie. Anyway, when we first see him, after witnessing the death of many, many New Yorkers, he’s golfing into the ocean. Rather, he’s teeing off against Greenpeace protesters. We’re supposed to be on his side because hippies are stupid, and then he points out the seeming contradiction of people protesting oil drilling from a boat which uses fuel to work. Oh, snap, he got you there! Obviously your larger concerns about the environment are irrelevant because of this glib inconsistency. I suppose this is more irritating in 2017 than it was, oh god it burns, nearly 20 years ago in 1998. This was a throwaway joke then, hardly worth thinking about. Now it’s a fucking worldview. It’s the Michael Bayification of political discourse, in which an entire rationale is dismissed because some jackass focuses on one minor detail that in their mind undermines the larger issue. No, nope, nuh-uh, I’m not getting into this here. If you’ve got two and a half hours you don’t care about, by all means watch this thing. The scenes on the asteroid still look cool as hell.
I just hope you really, really like Aerosmith.