Plot: A series of meteors crash down all across the world, causing massive damage and a worldwide panic. But as NASA soon discovers, these smaller meteors were just a preview of the Texas sized asteroid heading straight for the planet. If the asteroid impacts Earth, regardless of where it hits, life as we know it will end and mankind will experience an extinction level event. After a host of plans are dismissed, one final option seems like the best choice and involves a team landing on the asteroid, drilling in to planet a nuclear device, then fracturing the asteroid so that the largest pieces will be pushed clear of our planet. But in order to do that, NASA needs the best driller in the world, who happens to be a roughneck named Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis), who leads a colorful, outlandish band of rig workers. Can this eclectic band of misfits somehow save the world or is it already too late?
Entertainment Value: A lot of bad movies have been made, but few are as summarily trounced as Michael Bay’s Armageddon, which would of course be a huge box office smash and in a curious turn of events, be released as part of the Criterion Collection, of all places. Bay admits he knows the movie makes little sense, but also that it was never supposed to make sense and based on NASA’s later evaluation, Armageddon makes no sense whatsoever. A massive budget, a star studded cast, and splashy visual effects can do a lot, but in the case of Armageddon, all of those elements pale in comparison to a strange, overly patriotic, intentionally off the rails script, which just throws all common sense out the window and goes for broke. This leads to mind boggling situations and logic gaps that children could pick up on, all brought to life by an all star cast and an editing style that rarely spends even two seconds on a single shot. Even small, one scene roles often have a familiar face involved, the production used real NASA locations and launches, and even simple, straight forward scenes are usually treated like crucial action scenes, with brash, frequent cuts. A blend of high polish, low attention span, and vapid, but ridiculously memorable sequences, Armageddon is a beyond curious movie to say the least.
As bad and nonsensical as the script is, you have to credit the cast for being game and embracing the b movie vibes, with some outrageous and melodramatic turns. Willis is his usual stoic, tough guy self, while Ben Affleck squeaks through his lines, and Liv Tyler is photographed with an almost fetishistic lens throughout. The camera’s adoration of Tyler combines with Affleck’s miserable performance to create the infamous animal crackers sequence, which is a cringe inducing, but enduring piece of cinema. The entire thread of Tyler and Affleck’s romance is a hindrance to Armageddon, without it, I think the movie is just a wacky b movie, instead of such an emotional void that pushes and pushes, with no result. The supporting cast is beyond stacked, with Billy Bob Thornton, Keith David, Owen Wilson, Will Patton, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Michael Clark Duncan, and tons of other familiar faces, to the point where as I said, even one shot roles are often well known talents. The dialogue is broad, wild, and melodramatic, with even NASA scientist always ready with a quip, while bizarre and inexplicable things unfold at a steady pace.
Just about everyone involved with Armageddon has distanced themselves or assured us the paycheck balanced out the schlock, but then again, it remains a popular movie on television, home video, and streaming services, even earning a place in the cinephile’s wet dream, the Criterion Collection. Aside from the obvious financial uptick involved, why would Criterion choose this to represent the big budget, overwrought action and disaster cinema genre? I’ve always seen Armageddon as a b movie on steroids, it knows what it is and refuses to give in to science or logic or even basic common sense, if it means a scene is less cool for the effort. I wouldn’t call this a “so bad, it’s good” movie, as it is clear most involved knew it was bad, but also knew it would sell, so it isn’t some happy accident that it found an audience. I appreciate the colorful, outlandish characters and total disregard for logic, as well as the sci/fi elements that make it feel like an expensive b movie, but the emotional beats are so off base and the rapid fire, never still approach just grates on me. The destruction and spectacle and ridiculousness are on such an epic scale, though. And no matter what, much to the distaste of countless film buffs, Armageddon will always be part of the Criterion Collection with Kurosawa, Hitchcock, Ozu, and other masters and that makes me smile, knowing how much it bothers some people. 🙂