The late nineties were a weird time.
Nicolas Cage kept being cast in ridiculously overblown action movies (Con Air, Face/Off), Michael Bay was about to work with J.J. Abrams on Armageddon, dogs and cats living together: mass hysteria.
Back in 1996, The Rock came out and combined the acting talents of Mr Cage and Mr Sean Connery in what seemed like an odd pairing, and, I suppose, in what was an odd pairing, but which also worked surprisingly well. Knowing what we now know about Bay, The Rock is an interesting film to revisit because it's both very much his style and yet nowhere near as irritating or cheesy as the likes of Armageddon and Transformers 2. I mean, of course you still get soldiers marching in slow-mo at sundown, insulting comic-relief stereotypes (look out for a gay hairdresser more concerned about hair than he is about bullets), perplexing one-liners ("How do you like how that shit works?") and ludicrous art direction but there's just something about this movie that makes all that a much easier pill to swallow.
First off, Nic Cage is pretty much always entertaining and his character, despite being all over the place, remains likeable throughout. His thing is getting stressed-out constantly and yelling at Sean Connery... a lot. Unfortunately, near the end, the film mistakes him for John McClane or MacGuyver, or a combination of both with an added dash of John Rambo, and he's soon unconvincingly kicking trained soldiers' butts and surviving rocket blasts. Connery is also fun and delivers his lines like a rougher, moodier James Bond. He's good even if he's not quite as convincing as Cage in the more action-packed sequences, of which there are many. The stand-out one being the whole tram/Ferrari mess at the heart of San Francisco which seems to last for hours. The plot sees Ed Harris and a group of rogue army dudes threaten the US government with biological attacks involving a bunch of green, radioactive anal beads (not even kidding) so Nic Cage's expert biochemist is called in to help defuse those bombs. Cage is given a subplot in which his wife reveals to him that she's pregnant and asks him to marry her, it's not particularly fascinating but at least we're far away from any of the misogynistic nonsense we've come to expect from the director so that's definitely a good thing.
Not sure why Michael Bay believes that whenever people get intimate they go on rooftops and light literally thousands of candles, though.
Seems like that would kill the spontaneity somehow...
What follows is like a buddy comedy in which Cage tries to do his job while keeping Connery in line, or trying to, at least. The latter is an ex-super-spy who just wants to see his daughter and disappear from the US's radar altogether. He keeps outsmarting the FBI agents surrounding him and it seems like he's only really helping the government in order to kill time until he figures out the best way to escape but, of course, he ends up helping out the American government just like any foreign spy would... I guess. Most of the fun, though, comes from hearing Connery swear non-stop, there's just something naturally amusing about that. The Rock is by no means a toned-down Michael Bay flick but, at least, its characters are likeable enough and their story is an interesting one you're genuinely intrigued to see play out, even if the ending is a tad anti-climactic. The way the villain's side-plot develops is also compelling and, all in all, you've got tons of explosions, cars crashing into things at break-neck speed and Cage screaming his head off any chance he gets so the film should entertain even the most die hard anti-Bay viewer. Oh, and look out for a booming Hans Zimmer score that sounds suspiciously like a certain other Jerry Bruckheimer-produced, more pirate-themed movie.
Overall, while The Rock is not exactly Shakespeare, it's one of the better and (intentionally) funnier Bay films out there and it can proudly stand next to Con Air and Face/Off as a really fun, if mindless, Nicolas Cage-starring action blockbuster. It's an easy sit which definitely delivers in the entertainment department, just don't expect to feel any smarter by the end of it.