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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'Bad Boys: Ride or Die': Will Smith and Martin Lawrence Ride Again and Exceed Expectations in Action-Packed Sequel

For many years, Will Smith has been one of our most successful and most recognizable movie stars. He had such a great reputation during this time, but this all changed when he slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars. This moment, dubbed "The Slap" by many, caused a seismic shift in his career, as it challenged everyone's perception of him, and we saw everything he had built up to this point come crashing down in real time. This caused Smith to lay low for a while, as he picked up the pieces and figured out his next move. This brings us to his first major theatrical release since "The Slap": Bad Boys: Ride or Die. From a PR standpoint, it is a good choice for Smith to make his comeback with, as the previous Bad Boys movie was one of his last big hits pre-Slap, and it gives him a chance to return to making big action blockbusters again. Furthermore, this installment finds the titular Bad Boys in need of redemption, seeking to clear their names, and the name of their former Captain.

But beyond the possible implications of how this film intends to repair Smith's public image, this film also represents an interesting evolution in the Bad Boys franchise. It is hard to believe that it has been almost 30 years since the first installment was released, and that Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are still up to the task of making them. But it seems that the two truly love working together, and if nothing else, it is exciting that Ride or Die is coming out much quicker than the other films in the franchise have. It is clear that Sony is wanting to capitalize on the success of the previous film, Bad Boys for Life, as they brought back directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah and gave them a slightly larger budget to work with. On top of this, it allows Adil and Billal to further solidify their style, and mix their take on the series with what director Michael Bay established in the first two films. The result is a film that is not afraid to get a little weird, and takes some creative risks that mostly pay off. It is the type of fun summer blockbuster that is hard to resist, and is fascinating both as a continuation of the franchise and the meta-narrative that surrounds one of its stars.

Picking up some time after the events of Bad Boys for Life, the film sees Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) appearing to settle down after getting married. His partner, Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) is undergoing his own major life event, as he survives a near-fatal heart attack and has a new perspective on life. In the midst of all this, a plot to make it look like Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) was involved with helping drug cartels is afoot, and it is up to the Bad Boys to clear his name. This is easier said than done, as they find themselves facing some of their biggest challenges yet, and are up against one of their most dangerous foes in cartel leader James McGrath (Eric Dane). Despite this, Mike and Marcus do their best to redeem Captain Howard, even as the stakes get higher and higher.

While the Bad Boys franchise has always had a distinct level of style, every film manages to stand out in various ways. The first film lays the groundwork for Michael Bay to go completely nuts on the second one. While the first has some of his recognizable style, Bad Boys II cranks it up to 11, leading it to be one of the most acidic big budget films ever made, and arguably stands as the perfect encapsulation of Bay as a filmmaker. Bad Boys for Life, on the other hand, feels more like the franchise is going back to basics. It has a little bit of the energy Bay brought to the first two movies, but more or less comes across as a more accessible action film meant to reach a wider audience. This isn't a bad thing, but it does take some of the franchise's personality away a little. Thankfully, Bad Boys: Ride or Die reconciles this by establishing a more unique identity, with a distinct sense of humor, flashy visuals, and of course, some excellent action sequences. It manages to have enough of what the previous films did well, while also fording its own path a little and helping the franchise develop further.

I wouldn't say that this film reinvents the wheel in any way, but I really appreciate that it has such a confidence in how it goes about everything. It makes moments that could have been cheesy or painful to watch land better, and allows for some interesting directorial choices that pay off big time. Some of the gags actually hit pretty well, which I wasn't fully expecting. Sure, there are some decent laughs across all of the Bad Boys movies, but this managed to make some jokes that seem a bit silly or even lazy feel a bit stronger due to how they are executed in the final product. They can't all be zingers, of course, but they hit far more than they miss. It is clear that Adil and Bilall had a much clearer vision for what this film would be, and that they had a bit more free rein to play a little. It leads to the film emerging as one of the franchise's stronger entries, which is a welcome surprise.

Adil and Bilall really show off in the film's action sequences, which are some of the film's biggest highlights. A earlier setpiece that takes place in an underground art gallery is a prime example of this, utilizing neon colors and blacklights as the bullets fly. A major shootout in the film's final act also is impressive, mainly in how they use the camera. There is a trick they use in this sequence that could have gone poorly in the hands of someone else, but they pull it off so well. The flourishes they bring to the film as a whole are quite effective, showing that they are only getting better as filmmakers, and that they've firmly found their groove with the franchise.

The film does tend to wander a bit, which is perhaps its biggest weakness. I can't say I'm surprised considering that all of the Bad Boys movies suffer from this to certain degrees, but it is especially glaring here. It makes up for this with the pure adrenaline and bravado of its setpieces, but some of the narrative beats slow the film down a little. This is mainly due to the sheer number of characters the film has, and the extraneous plot details the film crams in. The good thing is that these don't completely derail the film, but instead act as slight stumbles along the way. I can't help but wish that the script was a little tighter and focused more on the Bad Boys themselves, as the segments with them are undoubtedly the strongest of the film. But even when the film does venture off to follow other characters, it still manages to stay afloat for the most part.

Of course, the main attractions of this film have got to be Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. The two have proven themselves to be a great duo, and this film has a bit of fun with their dynamic. In the first three films, Smith is more of the action hero and Lawrence is the comic relief. While these roles are still in effect, this film sees Lawrence let loose a little more and Smith having to be more of a voice of reason. It is a slight reversal that both actors handle extremely well, and yields some of the film's funnier moments. Both are playing to their strengths, with Smith coming across as cool and electrifying, and Lawrence being hilarious and charismatic. The two really know how to play off each other, and are the driving force of this film. If they want to continue to make Bad Boys movies until they can't anymore, I'm all for it, as they are so entertaining in these roles.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is a huge surprise for me, as I wasn't expecting much going into it. But it ended up being one of the most fun action movies I've seen all year, and is one of the better entries in the franchise. It has some great action, clever direction, and a pair of solid performances from its two leads. It is the specific type of big, loud action movie that I can't help but like, and it is an absolute blast. In a way, the film is a bit of a resurrection, both for the franchise and for Will Smith as a movie star. In both cases, the film reminds us why both have achieved their place in pop culture, and recontextualizes them ever so slightly for modern audiences. After watching this, I can't help but hope that we haven't seen the last of the Bad Boys movies and that this ushers in an exciting new era for Will Smith's career.

Rating: 3.5/5

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