It’s perhaps the best Michael Bay film in years and definitely one of the action highlights of the year! AMBULANCE, the US adaptation of a Danish chamber play, shows a bombast director who throws aside (almost) everything that has been (often rightly) accused of him in recent years and shows that it is also possible to break out of entrenched methods. You can find out more about this in our review.
OT: Ambulance (USA 2022)
It’s supposed to be just a quick, clean bank robbery – but it turns into an explosive chase through the streets of LA that will change the lives of three people forever. In order to pay for treatment for his seriously ill wife, Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) turns to the one person he would never normally ask for help, his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). But instead of helping him out, the charismatic professional thief lures him with the opportunity of a lifetime: a bank robbery with a $32 million loot. A high stakes and an even higher risk, but to save his wife, Will takes part in the risky attack. Everything seems to be going well until the last moment, but just before they can disappear unmolested, the perfect plan goes spectacularly out of control. In order to escape, the two brothers hijack an ambulance with a shot cop and the experienced paramedic Cam Thompson (Eiza González) on board. Chased by every task force, helicopter and every police officer in the city, a breakneck, full-throttle escape through the streets of Los Angeles begins.
Hardly any other filmmaker experiences the gap between audience and press perception as intensely as director Michael Bay. The majority of his productions have been immensely successful since the 1990s. An equally large number of critics nevertheless punish him for everything that he has developed as a signature in recent years. Admittedly, this skepticism is not completely unfounded. One of his most successful works is the “Transformers” franchise. And its first three parts are by far the weakest contributions in Bay’s work in terms of craftsmanship; Which brings us back to the gap between quality and (audience) quantity. Apart from “Transformers”, there are various motifs that Bay repeatedly uses and for which he has often had to receive negative reactions. His exaggerated display of American patriotism, for example (although numerous journalistic reports about the filmmaker reveal that he is much more liberal than his films often suggest). Or the visual language: riddled with hectic cuts, hectic and blurry camera movements that are far too close to the action, which do not provide any overview of the spectacle at all. And last but not least, his objectification of female figures.
The two adoptive brothers Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) hijack an ambulance.
Yes, Michael Bay did all of that and took criticism for it – and became aware of his standing after 2011 (that’s when “Transformers 3” was released) and passionately addressed those points of criticism (such as the greedy visualization of his female characters) that were not just a question of (good) taste, but were actually questionable. First, “Pain & Gain” was a satirical reckoning with the American dream. Then with “Transformers 4” and “Transformers 5” a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration of his flaunted bombast and his sometimes outrageous plots – with “6 Underground” as the ultimate pinnacle of his, staged according to musical principles “I know who and what I am – and now you’re going to get all of that in your face!”-Attitude. “Ambulance”, his remake of the 2005 Danish original “Ambulancen”, now combines everything that Bay seems to have learned about himself and his skills in recent years. American patriotism is not just shrinking to a minimum; Here it is consistently undermined (with a US flag tragically flown at half-mast – in the sunset of course, we are still in a Bay film! – as a striking symbol of this. It can also be done without satire! Furthermore, there is… In “Ambulance” you can see a gay kiss that is not relevant to the plot, the real heroine of the film is a tough, although attractive woman who is staged without any sexiness and it is due to the nature of the thing that much calmer and clearer images are created with the help of a lot of drone shots come than at his weakest times.
You can find out everything about Michael Bay, his career, his highs and lows as well as his perception in the press in this edition of the FILMGEDACHT podcast: “MICHAEL! BAY!! AWESOME!!!”
Still, “Ambulance” is a Michael Bay film through and through. And perhaps even his best in many years, because it delivers as a high-class action board Master of Disaster at a level that makes you wonder why the California native hasn’t unpacked such skills long ago. Or rather, he just threw it overboard when he suddenly started staging fast-paced, ugly CGI riots after “Bad Boys II”. On the one hand, there are the extensive drone camera flights whirling through the streets of Los Angeles (yet remaining still at all times). the big highlight of the film. “Ambulance” would probably be a whole lot shorter if Bay and his cameraman Roberto De Angelis (who already worked on Edgar Wright’s exhilarating “Baby Driver”) weren’t enjoying their new toy so much that some tracking shots are just that The purpose seems to be to demonstrate exactly this. This makes one or two harsh scene transitions all the more surprising, as the gliding drone flight abruptly stops. Inside the ambulance of the title, things are decidedly intimate, although the creatives make full use of the limited space. This is also a homage to the Kammerspiel original, which took place exclusively within the outpatient clinic and offered no action whatsoever; Someone has made perfect use of the creative freedom of a new edition! But “Ambulance” doesn’t come without shaky hand-held camera shots. But as we all know, the dose makes the poison. There is hardly any risk of poisoning here…
Probably the closest character in “Ambulance” to a heroic figure: paramedic Cam Thompson (Eiza González).
But it’s not just the again polished advertising film music video aesthetic that should make “Ambulance” an absolute highlight, especially for fans of the genre. Michael Bay manages here almost entirely without his tried and tested storm of effects. You can only feel the rendering computers in the background in a single scene, which would hardly have been possible to stage using standard craftsmanship. And otherwise? Bay blows up real cars with joy! And this return to the old action craft means that the images in “Ambulance” are spectacular to look at – especially because of the camera work – but the sheer mass of spectacle is not that important. It’s just damn pleasant that there’s no pompous end of the world imminent here, but in the end it’s “just” a sprawling chase that we watch over a briskly progressing 136 minutes that don’t allow for any breathing space. Furthermore, the self-aware Bay wouldn’t be the self-aware Bay if he didn’t consistently subvert one or two action film clichés or take them to the extreme. That’s not just how his characters drive once through the obligatory fruit stand on the side of the path, but twice – and through mountains of clothes lying in the way, flower transporters and whatever else offers a visual touch. Accompanied by a consistently booming score (Lorne Balfe), the interchangeability of which is probably the biggest flaw in “Ambulance”. In complete contrast to the remarkably brutal violence presented, for which the film even received a 16+ rating in this country.
“It’s just damn pleasant that there’s no pompous end of the world imminent, but ultimately it’s ‘just’ a sprawling chase that we witness in 136 minutes that progress quickly and don’t allow any breathing space.”
In the middle of the action turmoil, there is a story that is clearly designed to suit the genre. But when it suddenly slips into emotionally dark realms in the last third, “Ambulance” takes on a surprising intensity. Screenwriter Chris Fedek (“Chuck”) Allows himself many shades of gray when characterizing his characters. What’s more: his story is entirely without a classic heroic figure. Even the hostage Cam Thompson, who is involved in the action without her will, neither has the pitiable victim role (actress Eíza Gonzalez plays it too edgy and callous for that) nor can she rise to the level of heroin over time. The two actual main characters – simply because the narrative focus is on them – are Jake Gyllenhaal’s two (“The Guilty”) and S Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (“Candyman”) Strong and ambivalently embodied villains Danny and Will, who do evil for different reasons and yet do not represent exclusive antagonist figures. A moral dilemma that, thanks to its clear narrative line, does not have a negative impact on the cinema experience. The film gives its audience enough character traits to form their own picture of who or what is good and what is evil, without stirring up false sympathies or antipathies. An almost daring undertaking for a big-budget production of this size. Only the elaboration of the fact, celebrated in detail in the final act, that patient transporters and doctors the Everyday heroes in our society are not something that Bay leaves up to interpretation – and that is a fact anyway.
Conclusion: “Ambulance” is as straightforwardly told and as powerful and exhilaratingly staged as good action cinema can be. The consistent reduction of notorious sources of error, as we were used to from Michael Bay’s weakest times, as well as violence and ambivalent character drawing that are astonishingly explicit for such productions promise a breathlessly thrilling cinematic experience.
“Ambulance” can be seen in USA cinemas from March 24, 2022.