WELCOME TO THE ROCK
The Rock (1996)
Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, William Forsythe
Release date: June 7, 1996
Running time: 136 minutes
Number of cutaways to black extras saying things like "aw hell naw:" at least 40
This is the beginning of the greatest film trilogy of all time. Not Mad Max, not Lord of the Rings, not Star Wars, not even The Mighty Ducks. Nicolas Cage is the star of the greatest stretch of 3 movies ever witnessed by man: The Rock - Con Air - Face/Off. The only way any trilogy could ever compare is if Return of the Jedi was replaced with Godfather 2 and Michael Corleone switched faces with the fat girl from Hairspray. Enough foreplay, let’s get into the Fellowship of the Rock.
This review is spoiler filled so if you haven’t seen it yet…
Watch this movie if: You want to see a buddy cop movie where Nicolas Cage and the original James Bond save the world from the bad guy from The Truman Show and his minions Dr. Cox and The Candyman. Basically, watch this movie if you like good movies.
As this cinematic tour de force begins it's made apparent Brigadier General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) has seen some shit. Hummel donning his uniform is interspersed with a military funeral ceremony. He visits his wife's grave and tells her there's some serious shit he has to do he couldn't do while she was still alive. He hopes she understands he's doing what he has to do and just hopes she forgives him one day and blah blah blah sympathetic villain nonsense. He places his Medal of Honor on the headstone as a final goodbye before he departs to begin his mission.
Later that night Hummel and a group of rogue Force Recon Marines raid a Naval Weapons Depot. They steal a stockpile of rockets armed with a deadly chemical that's introduced with an absurdly long name to sound scientific and scary and subsequently referred to as VX gas for the remainder of the movie despite there not being a v or x anywhere in the name of the actual chemical. In the process of stealing the rockets, one of the canisters carrying the gas is dropped and a green sphere containing the chemical shatters, forcing them to seal an exposed marine in the chamber with the gas as his skin boils and he dies resembling The Thing.
|It's Clobberin Time|
After the elephant man dies we are introduced to our hero: Nicolas Cage as Stanley Goodspeed aka "Nic Cage," the FBI’s top chemical weapons specialist specializing in chemical warfare. He is called away from some ham-fisted character exposition to inspect a package (heh) shipped to a Bosnian refugee camp.
He and an accompanying trainee don chemical hazmat suits that look more like alien suits from an Ed Wood movie than something actually found in an FBI lab. Inside the package (heh) they find some nudie mags, a gas mask, and an Antonio Banderas blowup love doll. Somehow not seeing an issue with this combination the trainee begins playing with the doll, which of course sprays the entire chamber with a ~ deadly poison gas. ~ OBVIOUSLY the gas isn't just a deadly poison. No, that's for pussies. It's also corrosive and starts eating through their suits. Oh, and the doll’s also strapped with enough C4 to kill every single person in the building. It kinda feels like overkill, almost as if just one of those would be enough to raise the stakes and create a tense atmosphere. I don't see why you ne-
The sprinklers installed in the super special government bomb defusing chamber specifically for this exact scenario aren't working so the trainee is being ordered to stab himself in the heart and inject himself with atropine before his suit melts and he dies an agonizing death. All of this is happening, of course, while Stanley GoodCage is disarming a bomb set to detonate in one minute. Agents are screaming at Cagespeed to inject himself because if the suit melts he dies and the bomb goes off. The sprinkler isn't working, their suits are melting, there's a bomb being defused, there are needles as long as my arm needing to go directly into their hearts in one try or they're fucked and oh my god there's only 20 seconds left they're not gonna make it, Jesus Christ everyone in the building is going to die; wives will be left without husbands, sons without fathers, dau-oh he defused it. Nobody had to stab themselves after all. It's like the Hurt Locker but without any tension or excitement or attachment to any of the characters considering only 2 of them are even given names and they've been on screen for less than five minutes. But they were yelling loudly while the shot quickly cut back and forth so it was probably totes intense. I sure hope a situation doesn't come up later in the movie where Cage has to stab himself in the heart with a needle to survive a deadly poison similar to the one seen in the beginning of the film.
There's only one good way I can think of to come down from such an intense sequence: introducing a forced romance between Cage and his plot device girlfriend. There's back and forth banter that I guess is funny or something and she reveals she's pregnant! And she proposes! Oh jeepers I hope nothing happens to fuck this up!
Hummel and a group of marines seize control of Alcatraz Island and take 81 tourists hostage, placing them in prison cells. Among the marines are Major Baxter (David Morse) who served with Hummel in Vietnam, Captain Hendrix (John C. McGinley - Dr. Cox from Scrubs) and Gunnery Sergeant Crisp (Bokeem Woodbine) in Desert Storm, and Captains Frye (Gregory Sporleder) and Darrow (Tony Todd - Candyman), whom he never served with but who organized the raid from the beginning of the film.
|Baxter, Hendrix, and half of an extra's face|
|Frye, Darrow, and Crisp (Fake Dave Chappelle)|
Hummel gathers all these men, the same men who raided a military facility, took hostages, armed themselves with machine guns, set traps, armed 15 missiles, and are about to call the Pentagon and ransom the fucking government for millions of dollars at the cost of millions of civilian lives, and explains to them what the plan is. Seriously. In one giant exposition dump he calls all these men into a cramped room and explains why they're all about to commit treason.
When marines are chosen for and subsequently die in illegal black ops missions their families are lied to and denied any sort of compensation. No medals awarded, no benefits paid, not even a military burial after dying for their country. Apparently the nameless, faceless soldier from the funeral in the opening credits really set him off to decide to finally take action. Or he waited for his wife to die even though it’s unclear how long she’s been dead.
That's it. That's literally the reason they've taken hostages and stolen missiles. Hummel will not allow this injustice to stand so he must honor the memories of fallen soldiers by taking hostages in an abandoned prison. Whatever we’re all just waiting until Sean Connery shows up.
They recognize that after what they've done today they will be branded as traitors and most likely put to death, but Hummel lifts their spirits with an inspiring speech straight from a high school anarchist's rousing speech after watching Fight Club the night before about how once Washington, Jefferson, and Adams were labeled traitors by the British, but now they're called Patriots. Really makes you think, huh.
Hummel contacts FBI Director James Womack (John Spencer) and the Pentagon and tells them the situation: They have 81 hostages and will launch 15 VX rockets towards the San Francisco Bay Area unless the government pays 100 million dollars within 40 hours. The money will be paid from a military slush fund comprised of money from illegal arms sales to an account of his choosing so he can disperse a million dollars to the families of each of the 83 marines who have died under his command in these operations. Fuck all those other marines and their families.
If all goes according to plan each of the marines leaves with a million dollars and a helicopter ride to a non-extradition country. You see, when you spend your entire adult life fighting for your country and the citizens who live in it and going on suicide missions into the asshole of the Earth a million bucks is all it takes to convince you to launch a fucking poison gas missile on those same people. Whatever.
We saw what one broken sphere can do to a nameless extra wearing fatigues and goofy face paint, and just one of these rockets detonating in the atmosphere will kill every living thing in an eight block radius. There’s only one man for the job...
All this mumbo jumbo about thousands of innocent lives being ripped away in agonizing pain like come kind of Lovecraftian nightmare as a way to draw attention to immoral acts by our government using our own best and brightest men to further their agenda and brush them aside when they’re dead is totally snoozesville. Luckily we get away from snore central to Stanley Cage having awkward Nick Cage-ian sex with his plot device girlfriend fiancée. He's going to be a husband and a father and after the bomb defusal just hours before he is overwhelmed with happiness and excitement; nothing could ruin this perfect moment.
|You might as well just throw away whatever you're sitting on because it's fucking soaked to its core|
A phone call ruins this perfect moment telling him to report to San Francisco immediately. He assures her it's probably just a training exercise because he's a dumbass and promises they'll get marred in San Fran when he's done. He arrives with what I can only assume is the worst case of blue balls imaginable and is greeted by senior FBI “special agent in charge” Ernest Paxton (William Forsythe) and Director Womack. They give him a brief run down of the situation and ask him to act as their consultant.
The best course of action is to infiltrate the prison through its underground tunnels undetected and flank the marines. Blueprints are useless and the tunnels are basically a maze, so they need someone with firsthand knowledge of the tunnels. And there’s another only one man for the job.
America’s top tier military officials aren't enough to neutralize the threat in less than 48 hours; the missing link is John Mason (Sean Fucking Connery), a former secret agent trained by British Intelligence. This sounds vaguely familiar.
Mason is the one man who has ever successfully escaped Alcatraz. The fact that he is a man in his 60s who is supposedly an escape artist but has been in captivity for three decades, and how it was made explicitly clear the blueprints are useless because of how many times the layout has been changed, as well as the fact they're banking on him not forgetting a single detail of the perfect timing and precision necessary to break in or out of Alcatraz - none of these seem to make any difference to anybody. Has he lost his touch? Has he resigned to his fate as a prisoner, being a man with no identity in the U.S. or Britain? Is it just poorly written? It may be short notice but out of all possible scenarios, why the fuck would the Pentagon trust a man locked in prison with no name?
Paxton interviews Mason but gets nowhere and Womack declines giving it a shot and makes it clear Mason will instantly recognize him and refuse to cooperate. Now you might be asking yourself “Well they’re either in the Pentagon or a government facility of some sort with numerous FBI agents around, who did they get to interrogate him and convince him to agree to help?” Well, if you guessed that instead of even poking their head into the hallway to see if a federal coffee boy happened to be passing by, they threw bumbling lab rat Nicolas Goodspeed into the room alone to interrogate a secret agent.
Cage informs Mason about the marines taking control of Alcatraz and the hostages they’ve taken but for some reason they decide that letting him in on the part about the rockets shitcanning an entire highly populated major city isn’t important. Mason signs his pardon and agrees to help them as long as he gets a hotel suite. I don’t know why, either.
Throughout his interrogation Mason made numerous references to men who were wrongfully imprisoned throughout history. Once it’s over and the other agents leave the room Womack rips up the pardon and tells Cage that he’s “on a need to know basis. and you don’t need to know.” Yes, I’m serious. I guess it’s subtler than the racist robots from Transformers 2.
Included in Mason's agreement was a short stay at a luxury suite in the Fairmont Hotel. This includes a nice meal, shower, and haircut and shave from the gayest gay man to ever be captured on film. Out on the balcony Womack ensures Mason that he can trust him and Mason asks him to 'shake on it.' Womack, despite decades of training, decides that alone on the balcony with this dangerous man who obviously harbors a grudge against him is a good time to get within striking distance. And what do you know Mason slips a rope around Womack's wrist and throws him over the balcony, tying the other end of the rope to a chair. The half dozen agents that were stationed in the suite to guard Mason were distracted by a fucking buffet and Mason is able to escape, leaving the agents to rescue Womack and Cage, the CHEMICAL ENGINEER, to chase after the SECRET AGENT. Hot dog, it’s car chase time!
Mason steals a Hummer from some random hotel patron in a wacky bit of comedy and drives like an asshole through the streets of San Francisco, colliding with cars and other dumb shit to block the pursuit. So of course the lab rat chemist hijacks a Ferrari and follows him. This chase includes swerving to avoid an old lady in the street, a truck carrying nothing but water jugs because they look pretty when they all explode at once, a giant trolley like the one in the Full House intro crashing, a group of people in wheelchairs crossing the street, Connery yelling “I hope you’re insured” as a car goes flipping violently through the air and probably killing the driver, and of course the chemical weapons specialist driving a sportscar through a storefront window, crashing it, and then stealing a bike at gunpoint in pursuit of a man with a license to kill. This shit is absolutely ridiculous, he’s in his 60's and hasn’t been behind the wheel in 30 years how is any of this even remotely po-
Mason arrives at the Palace of Fine Arts to meet his estranged daughter. They reconcile for a bit and she's mad that he abandoned her or whatever stupid bullshit is falling out of her mouth. None of this really matters because within a couple of minutes Cage shows up and tells him they have to rejoin the FBI team. Aw isn’t that cute, he made it look like her father was a part of the team and didn’t just tear up half of the city after escaping federal imprisonment. What a good-hearted guy.
Absolutely no repercussions come from this as in the next scene everyone is in some base somewhere running down the mission. There’s just one problem: Mason can’t just give them directions; after all he spent three days underground in the dark. He can’t just draw out a path on some outdated blue prints but he’ll know how to get around once he’s there. Twist of all twists, the top billed actor is going with them to invade Alcatraz.
Womack doesn’t want Mason going with them for some reason but hey, they didn’t just bust him out of prison for nothing, right. And according to Mason, I shit you not, “You’re between The Rock and a hard place.”
Mason agrees to go but that still leaves the bigger issue: disarming the VX rockets. Whackity schmackity doo in a crazy turn of events Nicholas Goodspeed finds out he’s not there to be a consultant at their base of operations, he’s accompanying the SEAL team led by an elderly prisoner on a mission against a decorated war hero and his personal army of hand picked marines. Cage’s future wife is thrown back into the plot for more mindless bullshit. He’s about to be a father and a husband so he’s not exactly thrilled about the idea of being air dropped into a hostage situation. Don’t worry though, they’ll get her out of San Francisco and bring her to the base that way any time his life is in danger we can cut to her looking concerned. DRAMA.
Under Mason's orders the jabroni SEAL team successfully infiltrates Alcatraz undetected and proceed through the prison in a series of Crash Bandicoot-ish puzzles (including rolling through timed fire and spinning gears) until everyone but Mason and Goodspeed enter the shower room. One of the SEALs trips a motion sensor and they are all surrounded from above. Hummel tires to talk the SEALs down but Commander Anderson (Michael Biehn - Kyle Reese from The Terminator) refuses to give the order for his men to drop their weapons. A heated exchange continues as the soldiers above and below begin to get antsy but the sound of a rock falling from a ledge causes everyone to open fire and all of the SEALs are massacred, leaving only Mason and Cage alive. Of course.
After this massacre Paxton wants some answers and we finally get the reveal on who Mason is and why he’s been in captivity for so long. J. Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI and between cross dressing and deporting and imprisoning foreigners without trial collected secrets about numerous world leaders and historical events. These secrets were contained on microfilm that was stolen by Mason. When he was detained at the Canadian border the British claimed they had no idea who he was, so the U.S. held him without trial until he agreed to give up the microfilm. Problem is, he never gave it up. Mason knows the deepest and most intimate secrets from America’s last fifty years and he’s been held without trial for thirty years. Everything from JFK to Roswell. He is a trained killer, an escape artist, and fucking pissed. He’s also their last hope. I don’t know about you but I just got goosebumps.
Mason promptly decides "fuck this" and tries to leave, so Cage reveals the true purpose of the mission. Cage isn’t a field agent, he’s a desk jockey. All Mason had been told was they needed his help to free hostages; they had failed to mention the part about the deadly VX gas being aimed at the city his daughter, the only proof that he even exists, currently resides in. Mason realizes his daughter's life is at risk and agrees to stay. Good thing we had such a sweet little reunion between the two of them so this moment holds a lot of emotional weight.
So now the hope of the country lies in the hands of a bumbling, fumbling Nicolas Cage and a sixty-year-old Sean Connery. They begin seeking out and disabling all 15 rockets one by one by removing their guidance chips, this way once they’re fired they’ll sputter out and fall into the ocean after about 500 feet. After 12 rockets are found and disarmed in the morgue, Captain Dr. Cox is ordered to deal with them in a Temple of Doom mine cart sequence.
|OKIE DOKIE DOCTA JONES|
Dr. Cox gets lit on fire and falls to death, Newbie. Cage does my favorite thing so far this movie when marines throw a grenade at him. Instead of panicking or taking cover he just picks it up and throws it right back at them and it explodes. It’s beautiful. It was implied he hadn’t even fired a gun since his initial training at the Academy, but just being in the mere presence of Sean Connery for an afternoon has given him the reflexes and instincts of a trained killer.
Hummel learns Dr. Cox is dead and threatens to execute a hostage unless the removed guidance chips are returned. Mason destroys the chips so Cage doesn't have to make that kind of moral decision and surrenders himself to buy Cage time to disable the rest of the rockets. He was brought along on this mission because he’s the only person alive with intimate knowledge of the layout of Alcatraz but I guess Cage will be fine on his own.
|I don't even have a joke I just wanted to see his face more|
Mason tells Hummel he’s the last of the marines left alive and he destroyed the chips. He also sprinkles in the thought that he's "a fucking idiot" for thinking murdering a million innocent people would honor fallen soldiers. Hummel smacks the shit outta him, but it's obvious he's either beginning to doubt himself or he's known how ridiculous the idea was from the start. Cage disables a thirteenth missile but is captured soon after and him and Mason are locked away in cells.
MEANWHILE AT THE HALL OF SUPER BEST FRIENDS
The Pentagon realizes the entire SEAL team is lost and they ready their back up plan: armed F-18s carpet-bombing the shit out of the island. They are blanketing the entire island with thermite plasma that will neutralize the gas but kill every single living thing there. Is this the same type of thermite used by our government to bring down the World Trade Center? I don’t know, but Jesse Ventura and I are just asking questions.
Back on The Rock (Jabroni) Mason turns the bedding of his cell into a knotted rope. He explains to GoodCoppola that if he ever handed over the microfilm they would've just killed him anyways. Cage screams some dumb shit asking about how he ever escaped his cell in the first place - as Mason throws the rope again and again until it hits a switch to unlock his cell. WACKA WACKA.
They escape their cells and Mason realizes "No, seriously, fuck this" and attempts to leave the island again as he's convinced Hummel is bluffing. Cage has a fair point however, that it will probably take more than a hunch because he “saw it in his eyes" to call off a fucking military airstrike causing numerous civilian casualties in order to prevent a chemical outbreak leaving an entire city’s population dead. But fuck you I'm Sean Connery and I said I'm leaving. Cage vows to finish the mission alone and is immediately captured and nearly killed. But don't worry Sean Connery is still here. Partially because he doesn't want Cage's child to grow up without a father, but mostly because there’s no way a 60 year old man could make that swim, James Bond or not.
The deadline arrives and no ransom has been paid and Major Baxter demands Hummel take action. Frye and Darrow are way more excited about launching the rocket than they should be while everyone else looks like they’re actually making a difficult moral decision. Hummel orders a rocket to be fired at a football game in Oakland (not that the casualty rate would be higher than any other Raiders game HEY OOOOOOOH) but he secretly reroutes it on so it falls into the ocean. The only other marines with names are furious now that Washington will either think they are weak, bluffing, or idiots and hit them with everything they've got. Hummel tells them the operation was a bluff the government didn't fall for and it's all over. He tells them to take some hostages and leave and he'll surrender and take the blame for it. Frye and Darrow refuse. Once they committed treason they stopped being military (even though they have all followed military rank and order the entire movie), they're mercenaries, and they either want their money or to make good on their threats. A Mexican standoff follows and Mason and Cage arrive just in time to watch the Hummel, Baxter, and Crisp get shot. Mason opens fire as a dying Hummel tells Cage where the last rocket is: the lower lighthouse.
Candyman was right about them hitting them with everything they’ve got because they order the jets to take off as Cage heads to the lighthouse as Mason covers him from the rooftops. As Cage disarms the final rocket, Candyman corners him and taunts him with a combat knife. Aware of the severity of this situation, Cage asks Candyman if he likes the Elton John song “Rocket Man.” My eyes widen, butthole clenches, and I move to the edge of my seat, breath heavy with anticipation. “No fucking way,” I think to myself as I begin to tremble uncontrollably.
“I only bring it up because it’s you. You’re the rocket man.” And he fires the fucking disarmed rocket straight into Candyman, sending him flying out of the lighthouse and plummeting straight onto a post which impales and kills him. If I was the director I would just cut to credits right here but what do I know, I didn’t make Bad Boys or Bad Boys 2.
|Burnin out his fuse up here alone|
Cage handles the final string of VX spheres carefully and after disarming the rocket he hides them and nothing happens. Haha just kidding shitlord one of the spheres drops on the deck and he catches it just before it can shatter, but before he can stash it out of harms way he's attacked by Frye. Frye overpowers Cage and begins to strangle him and Cage does what any bookworm scientist would do when faced with death: cram the sphere into Frye's mouth and kick him in the jaw, crushing the vial and releasing the poison into his body which melts away his flesh as he screams in agonizing horror and pain. Some of the liquid gets on Cage and, knowing the jets are approaching somehow, he acts quickly and grabs the antidote and injects himself in the heart with it to stop survive a deadly poison. It's like poetry in that it rhymes.
He crawls outside and lights off two green flares, signaling the threat has been neutralized. Hurray the day is saved everyone's ok the attack is called off and whoops one of the pilots already released a bomb, which explodes on the rear of the island. It misses every single hostage and nobody is killed but Cage goes flying into the sea with everything exploding and crumbling behind him so it looks hella cool.
Mason reappears a-fucking-gain to pull the unconscious Cage to shore. Paxton calls on the radio and Cage tells him all the hostages are alive but Mason was vaporized with no trace of him left. Cage tells Mason to take the clothes and the 200 bucks stashed in his hotel room. Mason gives him a note with location of the microfilm before leaving and blah blah blah he finally has a chance to live his life. Everyone is happy hurray.
The film ends with Cage running from a church in Ft. Walton, Kansas while his pregnant bride screams for him to hurry and get into the car so they can get away. Cage has a canister of microfilm, and asks Carla if she'd like to know who actually shot JFK. In my head this movie is just a prequel to National Treasure.
"Your "best"! Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen."
There's not much else to say other than the fact that I just flat out fucking love this movie. Everything about it is ridiculous, from its stars to its plot to its unnecessary run time. I picked this movie first because not only is it an endlessly entertaining Nic Cage movie, but it's an endlessly entertaining movie in general. Anytime I flip through channels and see it's on I'll leave it on and watch the rest of it with a shit eating grin on my face. I feel like more and more people only associate Michael Bay with Transformers and Ninja Turtles, but they forget just how much fun his movies used to be. There's nothing else to say but...
5 Cage faces out of 5