Of the many blockbusters on Will Smith’s list, Bad Boys is one of the stranger franchises. He and Martin Lawrence kicked it off when both were high profile TV stars. Each sequel has arrived several years after the last (8 years for Bad Boys II and 17 years for Bad Boys for Life). They are also aggressively R-rated films, with no toys or other kinds of movie tie-ins beyond hit soundtracks. And the storylines tend to balance police procedural, shootouts, and some really hokey ideas that are ridiculous enough to work. All of that said, people have been pestering Smith and Lawrence about doing more Bad Boys movies for over a decade, and somehow, they delivered the goods. Even without the third bad boy, Michael “Boom Boom” Bay, in the director’s chair, I was more than a little impressed with how things turned out.
Bad Boys for Life once again throws us into the world of Detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence). The two are lifelong friends, growing older and beginning to reckon with there futures. Marcus is ready to retire. Mike sees himself wanting to keep fighting the good fight. Drama strikes and the stakes increase when it turns out Mike is being hunted as part of a vengeance plot. As things take more turns, the veterans eventually find themselves teamed up with a younger squad (including Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton), to take down whoever is after “Bulletproof” Mike.
This movie has been in development for the better part of a decade, and I am pleased to see the effort in constant rewrites, and new filmmaking teams coming on board paid off in delivering a movie that attempts to do more than just rest on the standard tropes of the series. Yes, there are plenty of jokes and some callbacks, but it’s not offensive to feature fan service in a series that has always been about balancing a level of seriousness with the comedic chemistry shared by Smith and Lawrence. The film is actually closer in spirit to the first Bad Boys before Bay decided to let off a bunch of steam and take a deep dive into all the excess possible for a larger-than-life, action-packed cartoon, for the sequel.
Yes, Bad Boys for Life still takes a heightened road as far as the kind of over-the-top action Mike and Marcus get themselves involved with, but there’s an effort to make a real movie as well. Much like the previous films, which involved having the characters posing as one another, and Mike secretly dating Marcus’ sister, this third entry has some silliness to work with as far as driving factors in the plot. However, there’s a striking level of melodrama that finds the actors tapping into some significant areas contending with their status as these kinds of men.
Smith, in particular, continues this interesting run of leading roles where he’s the best at what he does but is then punished for his actions, and forced to reassess how he’s been going about things (Gemini Man, Suicide Squad, Collateral Beauty, Focus, and even Spies in Disguise all seem to have the actor working through something). It allows for a surprising amount of nuance and intensity that ultimately pays off, based on where the story takes the audience.
Similarly, Lawrence finds his own way to balance the comedic schtick of being a father and husband that’s dedicated himself to managing a family properly and being someone who sees where his actions will take him if he doesn’t keep his head straight. While the joy of the Bad Boys films largely relies on watching Mike and Marcus bicker and yell at each other, while also having each other’s back in a fight, Bad Boys for Life does inject some authentic drama between them, reflecting the fact that these two are getting older, and “riding and dying together” is a mantra that could become all too real.
But this is an action movie, right? Well, fortunately, the Belgian duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have managed to do something few can – a decent job of replicating Michael Bay’s signature style. That’s not to say this has the look and feel of a Bay feature, but Arbi and Fallah have done enough to maintain the feel of these movies, injecting their own sense of style in the process.
The Miami setting still looks vibrant. There’s always a level of high gloss grit to the gunfights. A mid-movie car chase delivers in the wild ways one would hope. And the big, explosion-heavy finale is impressively staged in a variety of ways. While a movie about two cops in Miami doesn’t need $200 million like a film in the MCU, there is a lot to enjoy in the budget afforded for this feature.
It all happens in believable stages too. There’s more character focus and threatening scenarios in the front-half (the villains in this film are a trip in more ways than one), while the latter half is packed with crazy action. The slow-mo, circle shots, last minutes saves, and more populate the frame and allow for a particular kind of action satisfaction that almost has the audience forgiving how easy it is for some of these characters to pick up a gun again, after saying they wouldn’t. Not hurting is Lorne Balfe’s solid score to help keep things moving, while calling back to the 90s fun of Mark Mancina’s original compositions.
Does all of this equal out to a terrific action-comedy? Not necessarily. It’s still ludicrous. The jokes an be a bit hit or miss at times. Analyzing the plot won’t take a viewer very far in terms of realistic logic, but the film isn’t striving for this either. I’m happier seeing a returning Joe Pantoliano play the exacerbated Captain, as opposed to looking at a more authentic take on how crime scenes are handled. That said, a good chunk of the middle portion of the film could have been tightened up, even if there was a refreshing idea of the film showing why going in guns first is not always the best idea, even in a movie like this.
Ultimately, Bad Boys for Life is far more successful than it should be. Not unlike Men in Black 3 (another surprisingly superior sequel), the effort is there to not only deliver on rekindling a winning team of characters but evolving them for the better. The action looks great, the stakes and drama are believably high, and the chemistry and banter shine once again. It’s also not an aggressively mean-spirited film like the previous entry, while still maintaining a certain level of edge (it is still a hard-R-rated feature, after all). I don’t know what these bad boys are gonna do next, but if things stay on this path, I’ll still come for them.