The Island is a film that has two distinct storytelling methods, one of which gets about a quarter of the 136 minute runtime, and the other takes up the rest. The first portion is set in a society where everyone wears white clothing and receives their meals at the same time. This is a science-fiction movie, and the first part of the film emphasizes that. The second half is a standard action film that is essentially just a really long chase sequence.
The year is 2019, so we’re told, although I’m not sure if that was reality. Our lead is a character named Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), who wakes up one morning to a really bad dream. He then proceeds to eat breakfast, have a boxing match, and visit the doctor (Sean Bean). He’s dressed in all white, just like everyone else in this place. There is a contamination on Earth, and this place, and the island from the title, are the only places free from it. There is a lottery held every once in a while, and the winner gets to move to the island and live a happy life.
Lincoln has friends in this society, although they end up just serving to fill time while Lincoln thinks about stuff. He begins to question his reality, and wonders why things happen the way that they do. At one point, he finds a bug inside the “contamination-free” zone, and ponders how it could get there, and why it’s still alive. There’s one friend that does matter, a female that goes by the name Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson). At one point, she gets picked to go to the island, although she’ll never make it.
It turns out that the people in this facility had been lied to, but the extend of those lies will not be included in this review. Suffice to say that the pair escape and end up in a chain of chase sequences that are populated with explosions, gunfire and more explosions. This is a film directed by Michael Bay, after all. This is a film that starts out as a fairly high-minded science fiction story, but turns into a nonstop action film where the only science fiction is the twist near the middle, and the fact that transportation has come very far, with many vehicles being able to fly.
The Island ends up not coming to the conclusion I figured that it would. It’s incredibly difficult to talk about these questions without spoiling the circumstances involved with them, but there are moments in the film where characters give looks to other ones, and I figured that they were questioning what their purpose was in life. I wondered if they were willing to sacrifice themselves for someone else, but the issue is sidestepped completely. There’s too much action going on to bring up things like this, so even though we think about it thanks to specific shots of characters, the film avoids it like the plague, or, “contamination.”
Since the action scenes end up taking up three-quarters of the final runtime, you need to expect them to be good. For the most part, they are. They are not inventive in the least, with almost all standard action/chase clichés on full display here, but they’re well-made and entertaining enough that we don’t care all that much. I didn’t find myself bored, and since an action film just needs to entertain, it does that job just fine.
Even though 136 minutes is a fairly long time for an action film to fill, I felt that it could have been even longer and I still wouldn’t have gotten tired of it. In fact, I probably could have had more of the opening moments, when Lincoln is beginning to question his reality. This isn’t a new premise, and there have been films that take far more time exploring it in the past. But here, it’s used mostly as an excuse to set-up some big set-pieces. It’s a strong start, but after you come to this realization, you wonder what more could be done with this premise, and why it wasn’t used better.
This also makes it hard to care about the rest of the plot, twists included. The reason that these people were held inside of some secret facility ends up being the topic of discussion whenever we get a two-minute break from chase scenes, although I found myself not caring about it. I didn’t feel anything for these characters, I didn’t care whether or not their true purpose would be fulfilled, or if they get to live out their lives like normal people, and I didn’t care about Sean Bean’s doctor character, because his character is a stereotype there solely to drive the plot.
That’s not to say that our lead actors don’t put in a lot of work, because they do. They’re both good actors, and while they’re not given much to do apart from running and running some more, every now and then giving each other orders or demanding information from someone, they still give their naïve and fairly unintelligent characters some charm. There are a couple of funny moments to the film too, although these moments are so hollow and empty that I couldn’t remember them even moments after I saw them.
The Island is a film that would have been better off sticking to one of its two means of telling a story. Did it want to be a straight-up action film, or did it want to be a science fiction picture about what “real” is? The result is a mixture of both, neither working quite as well as it should, and the film never comes together as a whole. It’s still entertaining, but its forgettable and pretty easy to ignore. I had a decent time with it, but I doubt I’ll remember it in a few days time.