I admire Michael Bay for his second major film, The Rock. His first film, Bad Boys, was OK, but nothing spectacular. Armageddon marks the third time Michael Bay has taken to directing a major motion picture. The thing to remember about Bay is that he is one of the few directors that have successfully taken the leap from directing music videos to directing feature films.

Armageddon is a standard fare action/sci-fi movie. It is also the second half of this year’s objects-from-outer-space movies, the first being Deep Impact. To get the question out of the way, I though Armageddon was better than Deep Impact. Armageddon was easier to sit through than Deep Impact, there was more action and fewer tries at characterizations, characterizations that just didn’t seem to work for either film.

During a routine day in New York a sudden roar is heard. From the sky comes flaming objects the size of tennis balls and Volkswagens. These small meteors are just an early warning for the impending impact of an asteroid the size of Texas. Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thorton) of NASA is heading up a project to stop the asteroid from wiping out humanity. Truman’s first and last option is to send up a crew of men to drill into the asteroid and plant a nuclear bomb to blow the asteroid into two pieces.

The men chosen are the world’s best deep core drilling team. They are lead by Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), an angry and rough-around-the-edges man. One of the subplots is about crew member A.J. Frost’s (Ben Affleck) relationship with Stamper’s daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler). This creates some superficial and sometimes lagging conflict between Stamper and Frost.

Armageddon is unlike Bay and Bruckheimer’s last teaming, The Rock. The Rock was a mindless summer film, but had better characters that the audience could identify with. I found it hard to identify with the three main characters of Armageddon. Willis’s Stamper starts off on the wrong foot and never really gets back onto the right one until near the end of the film. Affleck’s Frost is too wild and unbelievable to latch onto, though I did find myself hoping that his character wouldn’t perish.

Thorton’s Truman was a bit more likeable and I did identify with him a lot more than Stamper and Frost. In comparison, The Rock had three strong likeable characters all being portrayed by good actors (Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, and Ed Harris).

I was saddened to see that Liv Tyler was pushed back to the crying-woman-waiting-for-her-men-to-come-home role. Other supporting actors are not given much to do either. Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, William Fitchner, and a few others are all wasted. Buscemi does get a few funny lines and Patton gets to act like a tough guy but it’s not enough.

As for acting, there are quite a few surprises. First off, Bruce Willis gives one of his best performances in recent memory. He is quite believable and doesn’t have to fall back on his John McClain character. I loved Willis’s performance in Armageddon. If anything, see Armageddon for Willis. Affleck, who performed well in Good Will Hunting, doesn’t do too hot in Armageddon. His cocky young I’m-always-right act wears thing after a while. Billy Bob Thorton does an admirable job with his part.

As for Bay, he’s not improved much since The Rock. In my review of The Rock I talked about Bay’s obsession with the Shaky-Camera Technique that he brought over from his music video days. I thought that after a few years, he’d learn a bit more about the differences between music videos and feature films. He has, but he has not learned enough. Armageddon uses a heavy dose of the Shakey-Camera Technique to try to get and keep our attention. My note for Bay Michael, you have our attention. Stop shaking the camera and putting in flashy camera angles! Just tell us a good story.

Armageddon runs a bit long, clocking in at two and half-hours. With this sort of time allotment, there shouldn’t be too many loose ends, but there are. And they are quite noticable. One includes a scene where a few of the drillers are arrested after a brawl, and straight after that they are readying for take-off. What happened in jail? How’d they get out of jail?

An early meteor shower tears up New York City, but as quickly as the meteor shower ends, all news of the event disappear. No one questions what happened in New York City. Some of the time is also spent telling a hokey love story the one between Frost and Grace which includes a cheezy scene using animal crackers.

Don’t see Armageddon for real physics. There are loud explosions in space, there is selective gravity on the asteroid, and there are other physics anomalies throughout the film.

I really loved parts of Armageddon. The opening destruction was spectacular, with meteors punching holes through skyscrapers as if they were made of Popsicle sticks. The training portion of the film gives a good look at what astronauts get to do during training. The pool scenes were amazing.

And the launch of the two shuttles was exciting. With all these complaints though, I still had a hell of a time. Armageddon might be a dumb movie, but it’s also a movie that works well being superficial. If you don’t expect too much from Armageddon, you’ll walk out of the movie theatre happy. I liked Armageddon and I recommend it.

There are flaws, some significant, but they can be overlooked. Strangely enough, as hokey as some of the scenes are, I found myself somewhat teary- eyed at the end of the movie. If you want to see true space heros, rent Apollo 13. If you want to see real action, rent The Rock. If you want to see real sci-fi, rent Contact. If you have two hours to burn and want to see a fun movie in an air-conditioned theatre during matinee, catch Armageddon.

Edited by Cher Johnson.