It’s been 17 years since Michael Bay’s brash, repetitive, morally repugnant Bad Boys II stole two-and-a-half hours of our lives (well, two hours and 20 minutes – the car chase was ace). For most of the intervening time a third instalment has been planned. Pre-production was, aptly, a demolition derby, but the mantra of narcs Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) has finally been borne out: "We ride together. We die together. Bad Boys for life."
The big surprise is that this is better than it has any right to be. Co-directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah are now behind the wheel, and while their plentiful action sequences are standard, they’ve removed Bay’s bad-taste factor (no homophobic banter or obliterating of shanty towns here) and thrown in some neat hairpin turns to take the franchise in surprising directions.
Plot-wise, Miami’s finest, Mike and Marcus, are again taking on a drug cartel, but this time it’s personal and Marcus first needs coaxing out of retirement. There are plenty of ‘too old for this shit’ gags – Marcus needs glasses and Mike applies Midnight Cocoa Bean dye to his goatee – but more interesting is the questioning of Mike’s superficial lifestyle and violent methods. Bad Boys For Life might be a pleasing throwback to ’90s action movies, but it’s also got enough of a conscience to hold Mike, and Bay, to account.
Of course, the film ultimately wants to have its cake and blow it up, so there’s no stinting on car chases (in a Porsche, naturally) or gunfights. Only this time our boys must work with a new division called AMMO, meaning Mike’s eyes are forever rolling as he’s supplied with rubber bullets and told, "This raid is strictly non-lethal." The team, which includes Vanessa Hudgens, Charles Melton (Riverdale) and Alexander Ludwig (The Hunger Games) has chemistry, while a credits sting suggests the franchise has ambitions to be the new Fast & Furious. As Marcus says, "Family is all that matters."