Release Date: April 8, 2022
Director: Michael Bay
Runtime: 2 hours 16 minutes
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
There are a few key eras that define the growth of the modern movie fan. The first is when they see action blockbusters like Michael Bay’s "Transformers" and are wowed by the special effects and crude humor.
The second is when you mature a little and realize Bay's films don’t follow classic cinematic language — he isn’t particularly interested in developing character or narrative. The special effects and frantic editing start to become more of a nuisance, and one begins to resent his films.
There's a third step to this evolution, I've found. This third level is learning to just respect Bay for what his films are — genius-level technical achievements through nihilistic expressions of excess and commercialism. It's hard to blame anyone for disliking his films, but he is undeniably an artist with a vision.
"Ambulance," his latest action thrill ride, is unmistakably this artist with a vision. It's the type of action that makes you reconsider a dislike for Bay's films.
The script is filled with crass jokes, every character is always glistening in sweat and every shot is two seconds long or less. It's maximalism at its finest.
In "Ambulance," however, the care given to each of its main trio of characters is surprising.
After spending more than a decade making the thoughtless but endlessly profitable "Transformers" franchise, giving each of the trio of main characters a well-developed backstory and motivations feels like a left turn.
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, a pair of L.A. bank robbing-brothers that target a $32 million score as their way out. Abdul-Mateen II plays the broke veteran that agrees to help Gyllenhaal to obtain enough money for surgery for his wife. Along the way they kidnap an EMT, played by Eiza Gonzalez, to use as a hostage.
It takes about ten minutes for the film to set up this plot and motivation. The remaining two hours of the film are a non-stop car chase that involves on-the-move spleen surgery, drug cartel shootouts and sudden character introductions that upend the entire story. It still succeeds in maintaining its fast-paced escalation and momentum throughout.
It is an absolute ride of a screenplay that matches perfectly with Bay’s style of filmmaking. His stylistic speedy edits are present, but the action is comprehensible.
Bay uses drone cameras to create incredibly dynamic shots that put the viewer right in the movie. Seeing this in a theater was a breathless experience. Every gunshot and explosion had impact and weight.
It’s a marvel that a film where every shot looks this beautiful reportedly only cost $40 million to make.
The action sequences are ultimately effective because they aren’t just there to look cool — "Ambulance" doesn't have a grand message, but its action scenes place the characters in tough situations that test their morals.
My opinions on each of the three main characters changed wildly throughout the film.
Eiza Gonzalez steals the show as Cam, a paramedic taken hostage by the Sharp brothers to keep a police officer alive as leverage. The aforementioned spleen surgery scene is her standout moment. It literally made me gasp out loud in the theater at one point.
It’s hard to get that kind of reaction out of an audience, and few filmmakers understand how to frame action and tension in the way that Bay does.
Most action and adventure blockbusters today look flat and colorless compared to the high contrast cinematography of Bay’s films that make the action pop off the screen.
Despite all these strengths, "Ambulance" is not a perfect movie. The dialogue is mostly ridiculous in a fun way, but there are times when it becomes plain absurd.
But, all the crazy elements feel earned, like incongruous pieces of a puzzle that somehow fit together. The cheesy dialogue suits the over-the-top action, which works with the thundering score and fast cutting. Once the ambulance chase kicks off, it blends into a wild but beautiful symphony of action filmmaking.
Once upon a time, this film could’ve been written off as another cheesy Michael Bay film trying to recapture his 90s magic. Today, we should appreciate it for the incredible filmmaking craft and undeniably good time it provides at the theater.