Cue absolute Bayhem. Time for another original film from film critics’ favourite punching bag, Michael Bay. Whether you admit to his films being a guilty pleasure or you can’t bear the sight of his films, there’s no denying that he has at least made a huge impression in the world of cinema with how successful his films are commercially. Having not reviewed a film of his since Transformers: The Last Night, I thought it would be a good idea to catch up on whether his style had changed. Ambulance is a step up from what we have seen from Michael Bay in the past, but unfortunately, it isn’t enough to change how divisive he is as a director with added annoyances to his style.
Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II are at the centre of the action in Ambulance as two brothers, Danny and Will, whose brotherly love is tested when a bank heist goes wrong and end up in a chase that takes up 2/3 of the films’ run time. Both these men are very talented actors, the latter of which is having an incredible career run as of late, but I wonder if Michael Bay put a little “something something” in their coffees because the two give very testosterone filed performances with lots of shouting and stress, the energy levels of the two never dropped a second. I was more impressed with the acting of Eiza González as Cam, a paramedic taken hostage by the two brothers, who is also trying to save the life of Officer Zach (Jackson White) who was shot accidentally by Will. The film establishes Cam as someone who has two sides, one can handle herself under stressful situations, but once the job is done, she becomes very stern and poker-faced. Aside from his film style, another reason Michael Bay is looked down on by audiences is for treating his female characters as sex objects. Luckily, he seems to have toned down a significant amount. Sure, they still may be lit the same and they always appear to have perfect makeup, but at least Eiza isn’t purposefully shot provocatively.
Bay can maintain high-octane energy in his films, but most times than often, he lets his pace dictate this but his films never know when to slow down. Ambulance is littered once again with these moments, however, there is one moment when the film moves away from the intense car chases and instead shows us some genuine suspenseful drama. This scene involves Cam performing delicate surgery on Zach whilst receiving instructions from a facetime call whilst also being the hostage in a police chase. This is great pressure building and when things go wrong, the suspense and the “against the clock” situation is very intense. This is how you create stakes without having mindless action, you put characters out of their comfort zone and into high-pressure situations.
Michael Bay employs many cinematography techniques that have made him stand out as a stylistic director, for both good and bad. Telephoto lenses, low swoops, lens flares, you can’t deny these techniques have made him an auteur of Hollywood. Now, with Ambulance, he adds another technique to his arsenal, FPV drone shots. As a drone pilot myself, I have to say that these are some of the gutsiest drone shots you will ever see, masterfully piloted by Drone Racing League pilots Jordan Temkin and Alex Vanover. However, by god, do they make this film nauseating to watch. Almost a third of the film will be drone shots, and you would think that they make the action look great. To an extent they do, but when you use them so much, even in scenes where there is no action at all, it actually works against Ambulance. In an attempt to make the action look better, it instead draws attention to how ugly the film is.
Make no second guess, there are only three characters that matter in this film, Danny, Will and Cam. Of course, you have additional supporting characters that have connections to our leading three, but the script for Ambulance treats them as expendable, even though their connections to the characters could have led to somewhere more interesting. For instance, the FBI agent Anson (Keir O’Donnell) reveals that he was a friend of Danny’s back in college, so you’re thinking what this is leading to, a cat and mouse game where one character knows what the other will do? Maybe he’ll use that fact to somehow appeal to Danny? Nope, the moment it’s brought up, it’s instantly forgotten about. “Supporting character”, the clue is in the name, Ambulance does not have supporting characters, it has “other characters”.
Essentially, what Michael Bay has created is an hour and a half long police chase stretched out to an average film runtime. I look at the story of Ambulance and think to myself, in the hands of someone passionate, this could have been an interesting short film that takes place entirely in the ambulance. Think about it, how interesting would it be if instead of starting as a traditional film, it begins the moment Danny and Will steal the ambulance with Cam and Officer Zach? You’d be asking so many questions like, how did we get here? How did Officer Zach get injured? Who are these two robbers? What’s their story? One, it grips you from the start. Two, you would learn about characters on the go. Three, the setting of an ambulance is claustrophobic, making the drama unfolding more intense. I could go on and on.
At the end of the day, Ambulance is another Michael Bay film, and if you love his work, you’ll love this. I do appreciate that he has taken some steps forward to evolve his craft, but as someone who loves film action to speak for itself, some of these steps do more harm than help. There is little to no CGI that can help Michael Bay create carnage in Ambulance, but he carries on like there is. I was hoping that Ambulance would be the turning point where critics of his would have to admit Bay has changed, but they’ll have to wait longer to say that.
Final Result: 3/10 – Poor
Have you seen Ambulance? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Sonic the Hedgehog 2