Bad Boys For Life finally reunited the iconic cop duo of Will Smith’s Mike Lowery and Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett, and it was so much better than anticipated – getting a lot of things right in the process. The film was a long time in the making, arriving 17 years after Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II. The first two films, though a lot of fun, were never groundbreaking, and the franchise seemed like it had little relevance for any new material almost two decades on.
The original Bad Boys was Michael Bay’s feature directorial debut, and the film that introduced Smith and Lawrence’s iconic bromance. It was an entertaining reinvention of the buddy-cop genre, and Bad Boys 2 was an explosive, testosterone-fuelled sequel eight-years-later. Part of what makes those first two films so appealing though is that they’re very old-school in their nature – quintessential 90s and early 2000s action spectacles. They’re products of their time in the most admirable, nostalgic way. Until just recently, even Will Smith was no longer a bankable box-office draw. So a contemporary spin on the Bad Boys franchise always seemed like an idea that wouldn’t work with a more modern update.
Almost two decades later, this time without Michael Bay directing, and after a lot of production troubles, the odds were not stacked in its favor. However, with fresh directors in the shape of Adil El Arabi and Bilall Fallah came a renewed energy, and Bad Boys 3 proved to be a big surprise. Not only is it a good movie, but it’s arguably the best film in the Bad Boys trilogy, getting a lot of things right along the way.
THE ACTION IS MORE CONTAINED THAN ERRATIC
Michael Bay is a filmmaker who has become known for his Bayhem style – explosive, chaotic action set-pieces. While he was still coming into his own as a director with the first Bad Boys, Bay’s direction of action – even back then – was not necessarily tight. But the action in the original wasn’t good because it was overdone, but rather because it was just generic and choppy. Bad Boys 2 notably ups the ante in the sequel – Bay was given more free rein and started to find his voice as a storyteller here. Bay’s movies are notorious for their explosions, and Bad Boys 2 had more of the trademark Bay-isms viewers have come to know him for. But the sequences, while competently helmed and certainly entertaining, were often erratic and messy.
Bad Boys 3 improves on this by having action that feels more fluid and contained. For starters, it’s actually coherent. You can see what is going on because the camera movements aren’t frenetic and incomprehensible. The choreography is a lot tighter too, with a motorcycle chase that particularly stands out. The action here feels a lot more dialed down; while the film had a $90 million budget, this was smaller compared to the $130 million of Bad Boys 2.
In an interview with Slash Film, directors Arabi and Fallah talked about the smaller action set-pieces and sticking to practicality for them when possible. They wanted the audience to “feel the danger”, saying “we didn’t have the budget of a Marvel movie, so we had to be very creative also with the resources we had.” The action certainly echoes this with zippy, contained sequences that don’t feel as erratic or sprawling as the first two films. Every sequence has a purpose and helps further the narrative in some way or another and is done in an efficient, entertaining manner. It’s also creatively helmed, with every set-piece throwing something new into the mix to make the combat more memorable. The ending of Bad Boys 3 is set in a single location, which keeps the tension and stakes all feeling much more intimate.
IT GETS MARCUS AND MIKE’S STORIES RIGHT
While the action and humor of the Bad Boys films are great, it’s the dynamic between Smith and Lawrence’s Lowery and Burnett underpinning the whole trilogy that really makes it soar. Their playful camaraderie elevated the first film, and the script for Bad Boys 2 made them an even funnier pairing – thanks in part to Seth Rogen’s touching up of the sequel. The screenplays always understood that their contrast as people was what made their banter so snappy and special.
Bad Boys For Life continues that trend. Considering the film takes place so long after the last two, the characterization could have felt contrived. But it appreciates their lives 17 years on. They still have the same qualities that made them so likable in the first place, though it also understands they’re older and different. The narrative focuses on Mike’s arc, in particular, as a person caught by his past and trying to hold onto his glory days as much as he can. Marcus has moved onto retirement and a lot of Mike’s personal battle is in coming to terms with the fact he has more time behind him than in front. The grappling with his mortality is the perfect route to take for his character in Bad Boys For Life.
Bad Boys 3 is a much more personal story and going deeper with that adds humanity to Mike that his character was sorely lacking previously. Marcus was always the sensible one; he’s enjoying retirement and his arc mainly focuses on coming back into the job to help protect his best friend. It’s also the right story for his character, who has always been the straight-man of the pair. A lot of time is spent focusing on themes of friendship, family, old age and mortality and, for these two cops that have been through hell in the past, it’s an appropriate direction. After all, they can’t be young forever. The film respects this and gives them very human, very personal stories this time around that offer a much more nuanced look at who they are. In doing so, it also gives the film a real emotional backbone.
IT DOESN’T FORGET WHAT MADE THE ORIGINALS SO SPECIAL
Despite Michael Bay not being involved in the project – creatively, anyway, as Bay still cameoed – Bad Boys 3 understands what made his first two films so special. This is the franchise that started his whole career. But new blood was needed, and it’s part of the reason the film has been received so positively. Just as he needed to move on, so did the franchise. That being said, the original films were beloved for their fun action, silly humor, and the interplay between Lowery and Burnett. Bad Boys For Life takes those elements and embellishes them: the action is slicker; the interplay is sharper; the humor is funnier.
Arabi and Fallah, as well as screenwriters Joe Carnahan, Peter Craig, and Chris Bremner, clearly understand this world. They’re fans. They know what makes Bay’s originals so successful. They pay homage to Bay’s first two films whilst ensuring this film is special and fun in its own right. In their Slash Film interview, they talked about wanting “to have that nostalgia feel in the movie and at the same time, we wanted to put more emotion in those characters. They’re now older and there’s more conflict between them, with the fact that they are on different paths. Just going deeper; that is the thing that we added new to it.” Bad Boys For Life is still very much a Bad Boys film, through and through. It just takes the best parts of those first two films and elevates them further. With a fourth Bad Boys film in the works, let’s hope the franchise continues this strong.