It’s been a very long time since we last saw detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett tear up the streets of Miami.
17 years, to be exact. 2003 was the last time we saw Will Smith and Martin Lawrence take down drug lords and damn near blow up an entire city. Does the passage of time mean that they’ve slowed down at all? Bad Boys For Life answers that question, but not in a way you might expect.
The plot is nothing we’ve seen before, nor does it really need to be. Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) are still doing their thing, having worked Miami PD’s narcotics division for 25 years. With Marcus recently becoming a grandfather, all he wants to do is retire and chill on the couch. Mike, on the other hand, is perfectly happy living his extravagant lifestyle, arresting/killing criminals as long as he can. However, a brutal attack led by Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), a brutal cartel leader with a personal vendetta against Mike, forcing the pair to team up “one last time” to stop her and her equally brutal son Armando (Jacob Scipio).
It’s important to note that Bad Boys For Life is the first one not directed by creator/master-of-disaster Michael Bay (who stayed on as producer and makes a cameo), but rather by up-and-coming pair Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah. This change is very noticeable. Having experienced Bay’s chaotic style once more in the ridiculously fun 6 Underground last month, I did find myself at times missing the unrelenting insanity of Bad Boys II. By no means does this mean this movie’s lacking in cool action moments or style. There’s a fun motorcycle chase around the halfway mark that beautifully captures Miami (and Martin Lawrence holding a giant machine gun) in its neon-coloured glory. It just never fully reached the all-timer heights of throwing cars onto a freeway or 360-degree shootouts. The same goes for the brief moments where they attempt to emulate signature moments from the series, like that slow-mo 360 degree shot Bay’s made iconic at this point. Those complaints are all relatively minor.
Where this movie does succeed is from the character work. Adil and Bilall dig a surprising amount of depth from its characters. By giving them time to breathe and deal with the ramifications of their lives, their friendship, and their mortality, it allows Mike and Marcus to feel like real characters for the first time. It helps that Smith and Lawrence still maintain their magic chemistry together. They’re still constantly trading hilarious jokes and insults, but in a way that feels much less mean-spirited than the rest of the series. The two clearly love working together and it shows on screen. The same love goes for “Joey Pants”, who manages to once again steal nearly every scene as perpetually-stressed out Captain Howard. Even the new additions to the cast feel welcome. The pair is joined by a skilled tactical squad named AMMO, and each member of the younger cast (Paola Nunez, Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton and Alexander Ludwig) all feel fleshed out and have their own dynamic that fits well.
Overall, Bad Boys For Life is a welcome return to the franchise. I still kinda missed the Bayhem, but holding back on the action and allowing its leads to be actual people for once finally gives the franchise a real sense of growth. It still maintains the best elements everyone loves from the franchise while weeding out some of its worst tendencies, while also carving a potential future for the franchise. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another decade for the next one.