Tom Jolliffe looks at the prospect of Bad Boys 4 after the success of Bad Boys For Life…
Bad Boys For Life, a long awaited third entry in the franchise, came out earlier this year to not only the best reviews of the series, but a surprisingly strong opening weekend on its way to almost $420 million at the worldwide box office. A film that wasn’t feverishly demanded by a baying public, captured a moment and against expectations (particularly considering the questionable bankability of Will Smith) has surprised many.
Now, Bad Boys For Life is a really good action film. It does what many restarted franchises have failed to do. It is a direct sequel but it’s also a reboot at the same time. Such has been the length of time passed, that they effectively needed to revitalise the formula to make sense for 2020. Terminator: Dark Fate was one of many failed attempts at revitalising a franchise. Another failure within a franchise that peaked two films in. Like the third and the fifth, the basic idea was to effectively remake Terminator 2: Judgment Day again. It was yet another half-assed, lazy misfire. If a film had lazy retread written on it before hand, it may have been a third Bad Boys. On the surface one could be forgiven for thinking it was a desperate attempt to find some kind of cash cow that might connect Will Smith to decent box office again (outside of being part of a Disney property of course).
The first sensible thing the franchise did was handing over the creative responsibility to directing team Adil El Arbi and Billal Fallah over Michael Bay (who still appears in a cameo). Secondly, they identified what worked in Bay’s first films, and what was clearly lacking (like characterisation, emotional depth, and irony). Bad Boys was a fun film. The absolute epitome of the dumb action film done well. A lot of the humour rested on the interplay between Smith and Lawrence, even if much of the humour is almost relentlessly foul mouthed and laced with casual racism. Bad Boys II was a horrible film. Great action aside, everything felt overly crude, charmless and loaded with gross out humour that felt nasty over impish. All the effective humour from the first two is back, but it’s laced with more charm, and no small amount of irony. There’s a nod and a wink to Bad Boy-isms and to how dated those two films now are.
I was pleasantly surprised at how well Bad Boys For Life worked. A lot of the humour opts for jokes about ageing, and perhaps on the precipice of hitting 40, I’m getting to the stage of relating to that more, but still, it’s a good go to. Had they just done Bad Boys again, without recognising the passing of time, it wouldn’t have worked. For the first time in the franchise too, and here’s where the film works most effectively…we actually care about these characters. They’re more than banter and quick-fire, quotable dialogue. Finally, Mike Lowrey (Smith) is fallible. He’s mortal, gunned down in the beginning and near death. The relationship between he and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) is given more emotional depth. This reconnection, this acknowledgement of age, the respective careers that also inflect on the characters, actually manage to become touching. Smith hasn’t been this good in years. He’s fantastic. Lawrence hasn’t been this good full stop. It’s a career best performance for Lawrence. Not only is his humour less hammered home, but he shows a new depth of range we’ve not seen from him (particularly earlier in the film). We’re offered the kind of emotional depth (and okay, we’re not talking Oscar level here, but in action movie terms) that we’ll never see in a Michael Bay film.
To come back and make a film this solid, which really effectively says something about old gen coming to the end of their shelf-life in the modern world, is a one time thing. Where do they go in Bad Boys 4? You can’t do the ‘we’re too old for this shit’ thing again. You can’t emotionally engage us again with two characters that fans previously liked without being ‘connected’ to. Lightning doesn’t often strike twice. This was about a moment, a theme, which worked. For me, this film perfectly closes out the misadventures of Lowrey and Burnett. We finally feel for them. We see they’re more than jokes. There was a full circle, so the only way to go in the next one is retread old ground, at which point it becomes tiresome. They could probably make an enjoyable and routine action film and possibly do well financially, but even so, this surprise hit seemed to intrigue and entice an established audience.
For some Bad Boys For Life just happened to be one of few interesting films of the genre out in theatres in January. For others, curiosity or prior fandom brought them in and let them tick a box. Do you want to tick that box again if a fourth one comes out? The film does indeed leave the door open for the next, but I don’t envision this being a new Fast and Furious franchise (which had a Rock-powered resurgence). I think sometimes, when you’ve ended well, going back not only feels needless but can sometimes lessen the impact of that last one. Going back to the world again might spoil some of the good things about Bad Boys For Life.
This is of course the Hollywood problem. Studios get a hit and then regardless of whether there’s a gap for more, they’re driven by dollar signs. When you do unexpectedly well too, there’s no guarantee you can bring in the same kind of returns. Will they remain cautious? Will the budget increase? With the cast themselves it then becomes more routine than inspiration. Smith and Lawrence may not reach the levels they hit in this last one, and they were key in making this an effective action film. I just hope, unless they find a shit hot script to find a new avenue and keep this as engaging, that they leave it alone. We’ve finally had a legitimately good Bad Boys film, we don’t need any more bad ones.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner Kira Reed Lorsch). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.