The Island Movie Review
The Island stars Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, and Sean Bean and was directed by Michael Bay. It tells the story of Lincoln Six Echo, played by Ewan McGregor, who lives in a futuristic compound society because the outside world is contaminated. Each week, a resident of the compound gets selected to go to the island: the last remaining uncontaminated place on the outside. Lincoln, along with his friend Jordan Two Delta, played by Scarlett Johansson, makes a shocking discovery that will forever change their perception of life and the world. Today is the future. July 19th, 2019: the day Lincoln was missing a left shoe, the day Jordan got extra bacon, and the day they both learned the truth about the island.
There’s always something so satisfying about watching a ìset-in-the-futureî movie on the day it was set. At the same time, it’s always a bit of a disappointing experience cause you see all these futuristic things that somebody envisioned we’d have by now that we don’t actually have. And, The Island‘s no different: trackless Amtrak hover-trains, Fifth Element-like city dimensionality, MSN search kiosks, and, of course, the science that lies central to the plot (which I can’t get into if I want to keep this spoiler-free). It’s only been fourteen years since this movie was released, so the writers were certainly a little unrealistic and overambitious when it came to most of the futuristic stuff, but they did come close on a few things like virtual reality gaming and wristbands that can unlock and pay for things. I’m gonna have to be fairly vague at points in this review in order to avoid spoilers cause there are a number of twists and reveals in this movie.
If you haven’t seen The Island before, this review is safe, but I’d definitely recommend that you avoid reading up on this movie, so you can get that first-watch experience. This movie’s actually set-up really well. We’re introduced to our main characters and very quickly learn about this futuristic society that they’re a part of. At that point, we know as much as our main characters do, but when Lincoln starts to ask questions and wonders about certain aspects of his society, we do too. It sets up this whole mystery and gets you interested in finding out answers.
There are a series of reveals that progressively provide us with just a little bit more information each time until we finally understand exactly what’s going on. Unfortunately, I think that the final revelation comes a little too quickly.
It’s not that it feels rushed, it just makes the rest of the movie feel way longer than it actually is. That sci-fi mystery thriller section of the movie is basically over after the first forty-five minutes. Aspects of it definitely still drive the underlying plot after that point, but most of the final two-thirds of the movie essentially devolves into a big action blockbuster chase movie. That’s not to say it’s bad, but it definitely does get pretty repetitive and it feels like such a strange shift, especially since that genre change is so sudden. You know, I had totally forgotten that Michael Bay directed this movie until I was about five seconds into rewatching it.
There’s no doubt that this is a Michael Bay movie and it features all of the hallmarks of his particular style of filmmaking. You’ve got the over-the-top action sequences, the extremely quick-cut editing, the very noticeable teal/orange color grading, the LOUD-quiet-LOUD audio mixing, and even his signature spin-around-the-main-characters shot. Now, I don’t have anything against Michael Bay. His movies definitely lean very heavily towards the bombastic entertainment side of the film spectrum and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, rewatching this movie, I couldn’t help but feel like it was a very weird fit for him. Like I said before, his style is all over this movie and the action elements are right up his alley, but I don’t think the premise and the actual story mesh very well with his particular brand of filmmaking.
The Island is certainly a film of two distinct halves or I guess, more accurately, one third and two thirds. And, I really wish it spent more time on the front end and maybe made it more of a half and a half movie. The sci-fi compound setting and mystery surrounding it were both far more compelling than any of the chase scenes that come later in the film. And that first part of the movie introduces so many interesting themes and ethical questions that never really get touched on, let alone expanded upon, during the action-heavy rest of the film, so some more time spent on that aspect could’ve been really satisfying. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one is the premise.
The set-up and world-building during the first third of the movie are incredibly interesting. And, as the mystery gets explored and the progressive revelations answer our questions, it becomes something even more intriguing cause it makes you think about the themes that are introduced. That whole first third of the movie was great and I wish it made up more of the overall film. Cause, even though the premise was fantastic, it never felt like it ever got utilized to its full potential. The second pro was Ewan McGregor’s performance.
He had an interesting task with portraying the character of Lincoln Six Echo and I think he did a pretty good job with it. We’re introduced to this world through Lincoln and most of the revelations also come through his eyes. McGregor did a good job of embodying the curious innocence of somebody living in this sheltered society and also had some pretty good comedic timing with the fish-out-of-water, comedy-of-errors stuff as the film progressed. Scarlett Johansson also did a good job, but I think McGregor’s performance felt a bit more natural and compelling. On the con side, my biggest issue with this film is Michael Bay’s direction.
Like I said before, I have nothing against Michael Bay. He gets a lot of flack for his style, but I think many of his movies fill their particular niche very well. You know, the big kinda dumb, action-heavy popcorn movies. Unfortunately, I don’t think that that’s the kinda movie The Island really is at its core. That premise and the first third set-up a fantastic sci-fi thriller story that, if helmed by another director, could’ve been a compelling and thoughtfully thematic social commentary movie along the lines of something like Ex Machina or Moon.
But, it was given to Michael Bay instead and his style just obnoxiously clashes with that more cerebral core of the film. The chase elements and bombastic action-heavy nature of the last two-thirds of the movie fit Bay, but that part’s definitely the weakest section of the film and had the potential to be something much more thought-provoking than it ended up being. My second con jumps off from the first one and is the writing in the second half of the film. The chase sequences get extremely repetitive and most of the character decisions make very little sense by the end in that dumb action movie kinda way.
You know, stuff like characters trusting people they clearly shouldn’t trust, the main villain personally going after the protagonist with no backup, extremely convenient sudden change of heart stuff like that. Basically, that second half abandons most of what made the first half unique, in favor of turning it into a pretty generic action movie. I’m gonna give The Island 3.5 out of 5 paws. I know that’s probably a bit higher than it really deserves, especially with all the glaring issues it has, but that premise and first third really save it for me. I think it’s such an interesting set-up and, even though its execution is a bit dumb, it’s undeniably entertaining at least. I would recommend The Island to people who like sci-fi action movies.
It’s a bit of a weird mix; it’s got some high-concept sci-fi roots and a thought-provoking first third, but then the rest of the movie is really just a big chase story with lots of explosions and action set pieces. So, I think a lot of people will find themselves liking one part of the movie far more than the other. Thoughtful sci-fi fans will like the beginning, but will probably find the rest of the movie a bit dumb and tedious. Action fans will love the second half but might be a bit bored with the beginning. If you liked The Island, I would recommend In Time for another sci-fi thriller that utilized a wrist-based identification and payment method in an interesting way.
If the visual aesthetic and certain elements of the plot were what you enjoyed, I’d recommend that you check out Oblivion for a more consistent movie. And, if you liked the futuristic utopia and dystopia aspects, combined with the action, then you might like The Hunger Games. It’s a very different kind of story, but somehow still has a sorta similar feel to it. Alright, a couple of questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen The Island? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s a movie that you think could’ve been so much better had it been directed by somebody else? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.