The Rock

Back in June, during one of my late-night, ‘Let’s see what’s on YouTube…’ nights in front of the TV, I came across, The Rock is DEFINITELY a James Bond Movie. I was intrigued by this and concluded:

  1. 25 years since The Rock came out? Whoa.
  2. Had I ever seen The Rock in its entirety?
  3. Would now be a good time to watch The Rock?

I jumped onto eBay and grabbed a NOS copy of the DVD for a few bucks including postage. Seriously, DVDs – much like CDs – can be had for ridiculous prices these days. You could buy a DVD for a few bucks and literally throw it away once you watch it, and not have lost anything. That’s insane.

The film in a nutshell: A military veteran wants financial justice for families of Recon Marines who perished on illegal missions and were never told the truth. He steals chemical weapons, sets them up on Alcatraz island, and is going to shoot them into San Francisco unless the government dips into a secret slush fund to provide for each family. The government needs to break into Alcatraz, so call up the only man to ever break out… Sean Connery I mean, James Bond, I mean… John Mason.

I had so few recollections of the film, I started to wonder if I’d seen it at all and that any memory of footage from it was based on things like trailers. Beyond that, what struck me was how well-constructed it is. It starts with a military team, led by Ed Harris, stealing some weapons from a base. That’s the first 15m. Then it switches to a chaotic – sometimes funny – scene within an FBI building which introduces Nick Cage’s character. That’s the next 15m. Then we are introduced to Sean Connery. So stop the tape right there. In half an hour, we’re introduced to the three main leads; two of them in big, exciting action pieces and one of them in a more contemplative, but quite funny, scene.

I used the word ‘funny’ twice in that paragraph, and it’s true. While there’s some pretty brutal action in this film – it’s rated R here in Australia – the film has a lot of humour going on. Cage’s FBI agent is extremely quirky, while Connery’s character dishes out some Bond-like one-liners at times.

So onto that elephant in the room. Is Connery playing Bond? Naturally there’s nothing concrete in the film to suggest he’s Bond. The film couldn’t get away with that. Indeed, the character explicitly says he’s an Army man, whereas Bond was a Navy man. But there are plenty of little comments, here and there, which enable you to – broadly – look at Connery as Bond, if you want to. Basically, imagine Connery’s Bond getting locked up in the early 60s on Alcatraz, but escaping (as you’d expect Bond to do), then going on to have all his 1960s Bond adventures, before ending up back in the US and finally captured. MI6, for whatever reason, disavows him… and he’s just left to rot in prison. I can think of worse storylines quite honestly, so it’s kind of a fun thing to have sitting in your head while you watch the film. When the first thing Connery does, upon teaming up with the government to break into Alcatraz, is requests a good suit and a room at a fancy hotel you think, yep, this could be Bond!

Being a (very early) Michael Bay film, you can be sure this is a film you watch to engage the senses, but not so much your mind. Indeed, even when it tries to bring some extra character into the film with a daughter for Connery’s character, she’s literally only in once scene yet becomes his motivation for saving San Francisco. Similarly with Cage’s girlfriend/fiancee, she announces she’s pregnant, and is brought to San Francisco on the flimsiest of reasons, seemingly to just provide Cage’s character with motivation, too. There’s a little more redemption for the Ed Harris character, however, as his plan to kill hundreds of thousands of people seems utterly insane and cartoon villain, but this is actually addressed in the film. So there’s a little behind these characters… just not a lot. It’s an action flick.

The film largely holds up, 25 years on. A few scenes here and there leave you thinking, wow, I don’t think they’d do that today but – broadly – I think the film holds up. A big, dumb, summer, action blockbuster with loads of shooting and things blowing up. Just don’t dig deep for any meaning.

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