In 1995, many millennials were entering the worlds of Toy Story, Batman Forever, and Jumanji. Simultaneously, however, another world was forming under the direction of Michael Bay, who was then unknown. Bad Boys, starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, spawned a franchise and fandom around this buddy cop action comedy. Now, Bad Boys for Life marks the third film in the franchise. It arrives after a long hiatus since the first sequel in 2003. Luckily for viewers, especially those new to the franchise, there’s plenty to be happy about.
Watch it: If you can handle some graphic violence and wish to see an action comedy with both heart and humor.
Skip It: If you’re hoping this a modern version of previous Bad Boys installments. Also skip if you want something strictly serious like, for example, The Bourne Identity.
Bad Boys for Life, though problematic at times, is a vast improvement since the first two films in the series. This wasn’t necessarily difficult to do for professionals. Quite plainly, Bad Boys and Bad Boys II combined as quite miserable films. Still, some have seen director Michael Bay as an industry gold mine. Others, however, still wonder why he didn’t stick to making TV commercials. (Yes, he did this before jumping to the big screen!)
Now directed by young directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Bad Boys for Life pops on screen. It pops like an action comedy should where care pervades. Action sequences in cars, choppers and bikes play out as though inspired by last year’s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. The cinematography also shows creativity and experimentalism, giving us twists and turns, not simple frames from scene to scene.
Another win is with the score. In this case, the composers salvaged one of the best elements from the original film. Tyler Bates and Joel Richard skillfully placed the main title track from 1995 into this sequel. That and they’ve also added music that complements the more earnest and heart-felt story that plays out.
The film is not without its misfires, however. Although Will Smith seems perfectly fit for the latest in the franchise, Martin Lawrence struggles to keep up. His character at one point is someone overweight and in a robe, reclining at home with the television on. Detective Marcus Burnett is often there for comic relief, and at times, Lawrence reaches for jokes that don’t always land.
The screenplay still inherited some of the poor dialogue that so strongly polluted the first two films as well. Thankfully, this is more hit-or-miss and not rampant as was felt previously. What offsets these occasional misses is a great supporting cast and a story with far more heart and topics that shine.
El Arbi and Fallah struggled to blend elements of humor and poignancy at times in a clean and rhythmic fashion. As a whole, however, audiences must commend them for leaning into humanity. They’ve steered away from the macho tone of the previous films that Bay brought. Such macho films, that regretfully, bled with objectification of women, racism, and obnoxious violence.
Bad Boys for Life is a surprisingly fun action comedy. Centered around Will Smith, the supporting cast of Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Paola Núñez all lift the film greatly. They give fine performances and adhere to their characters. It may be a bit of a reach when it hints at future installments in a post-credits scene. Still, with heart, humor, and care given to this genre-specific franchise, I’d be open to more adventures with the bad boys.