Endless action kills premise in “Island”“The Island,” the latest summer action-fest from Michael Bay (“Pearl Harbor,” “Armageddon”), tackles a contemporary dystopia in which the richest men and women in the world pay a corporation to maintain an illegal colony of clones in an abandoned missile silo, in case they ever require transplants. Though of course this scenario would never happen in reality, it is still more realistic than we would like to admit.
Therapeutic cloning is every day becoming a more realistic and practical possibility. Scientists have discovered that embryonic stem cells are actually of more limited usefulness than they previously thought. Researchers are now saying that cells from clones, developed into the embryo stage, would provide differentiated “primordial germ cells” that would allow doctors to repair damaged organs with no chance of rejection. Technology is also being developed that would allow clones to grow outside the womb, much as they do in “The Island.” Of course that means therapeutic cloning and, if the artifical womb technology doesn’t work, therapeutic abortions.
It also means that these issues are too heavy and ethically loaded to be treated in a shallow summer blockbuster by a man who learned filmmaking from Jerry Bruckheimer.
The clones in “Island” are not embryos, but are instead fully grown to match their clients’ age, generated in clear baggies. The clones begin life in the belief that the world is contaminated by some disaster, and that there is an unpolluted island to which they can move if selected in a daily lottery. Of course, the lottery is just a charade to mollify the population when people disappear to be killed for their organs.
In an obvious nod to Huxley and “A Clockwork Orange,” the clones begin to be implanted with this knowledge through television screens as they develop.
The film’s focus is on Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), the rebel who first discovers the nature of the colony, and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), his naive “friend” (the clones are conditioned not to think in sexual terms, a limit that is predictably overcome later in the film). When the two manage to escape the colony, they have to make it through hordes of high-tech bounty hunters and police to reach their clients, in the hope that their real-world counterparts, who are unaware their insurance policies are conscious, will help them.
It’s at this point, about halfway through the film, that it loses its way. The scenes in the colony are now-formulaic but well-executed science fiction, but after the escape the film suddenly forgets its pretensions to thematic complexity and becomes a relentless string of increasingly implausible action sequences leading up to the uninteresting conclusion.
“The Island” does have its moments. McGregor the clone coming face to face with McGregor the original is a well-acted scene, and the brutal “product recall” scene, in which the evil corporate head orders the developing clones killed, has disturbing and no doubt polarizing similarities to real-life abortion procedures.
But these flashes are not enough to sustain the film, and ultimately the endless action sequences numb the viewer to the rest of the story.
by Ben Applegate