If you really think about it, the first Bad Boys movie back in 1995 really wasn’t all that original. It was a tired formula of a tired subgenre, that was obviously just trying to copy the success of a number of buddy cop films that came before it. Yet somehow, some way, 25 years later, we’re looking at the third installment in the franchise with a fourth film currently in development.
Bad Boys has never even been the best version of its formula. The 1995 original is highly entertaining, but still has a ton of flaws. And in 2003, Bad Boys II didn’t really try to fix any of the problems from the first. And also added 30 minutes in case, you know, the audience wanted to know about the lives of the boring and paper-thin villains. However, both movies still warrant repeated viewings, thanks to the chemistry and talents of their two leads: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.
2020’s Bad Boys For Life is easily the best of the bunch. Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) are still Miami police detectives, but Marcus now wants to retire and leave a life of violence behind him. His daughter just gave birth and he also wants to spend more time with his grandson. Mike, on the other hand, is determined to stick it out until he’s dead. All he knows is fighting crime and doesn’t know who he’d be without it.
After an evening out, Mike is gunned down and sent to the hospital where he nearly dies, but of course doesn’t. A few months later, still recovering from the injury, Mike is dead set on hunting down the man responsible for putting bullet holes in his chest and seeking his revenge, despite his captain’s orders to stay away from the investigation. Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) assigns Mike to a young task force called AMMO that prioritizes technology over violence. The trigger-happy Mike isn’t happy.
Early in the movie, a frightening prisoner named Isabel (Kate del Castillo) escapes from jail in a haunting fashion. This early scene lets us know that this villain is someone truly evil. There are some dark things happening outside of the typical “drug lord trying to make money” plot.
Isabel is after Mike since he’s responsible for her husband’s death. She recruits her son, Armando (Jacob Scipio), to hunt down and kill Mike, as well as everyone who was involved in the case all those years ago.
Bad Boys For Life definitely prioritizes story over characters, but the characters still develop through the hubs and satellites within the story. And directorial team Adil & Bilall do it in a way that allows their stars to shine regardless. Both Smith and Lawrence bring their brand of charisma that justified a sequel back in 2003 in the first place, even if they’re not quite utilized in the same exact way.
Smith’s comedy is a little tamer here than in the last movie. Much like in the first film, he’s strictly a straight-man to Lawrence’s goofiness with no real opportunity to flex his own comedic chops. The best part about Bad Boys II is how Smith is able to get in on the jokes as well. Here, he’s almost a plot device, but credit Lawrence for giving him something great to bounce off of.
Bad Boys For Life knows how to balance the comedy with the drama much better than its predecessors. Containing some of the funniest bits of the series, the film also opens up the characters more so than in the past.
Mike and Marcus’ constant bickering in the first two movies often made it hard to believe that they were friends at all—simply partners with a constant resentment towards each other. But here, their relationship has more weight and you see the strength of their bond. They bicker a bunch (and it’s always entertaining), but the film contrasts that with the more emotional aspects of their friendship and they actually feel like they have a relationship outside of just being partners.
Some of the dialogue is a bit loose and overwrought, even when the jokes aren’t flying, and it’s easy to check out here or there within a given scene, but the action surrounding it is enough to distract us from most, if not all of this movie’s faults.
The filmmakers may not be utilizing highbrow lighting or shadowing techniques, but Bad Boys For Life has about as good of cinematography as you can get in an action movie. The camera work by DP Robrecht Heyvaert is deceptively stunning and makes every scene pop.
17 years is a pretty long time between sequels, but credit Adil & Bilall for making fans want to know what happened during those years while also filling us in when necessary. You can tell the directors studied, if not grew up with, the originals, plopping in a few nods and references that don’t feel shoehorned. The previous sequel came along when action films weren’t quite as refined yet, and sequels sure didn’t have quality on a consistent level yet. But Bad Boys For Life is fortunately a product of this new era, wisely taking notes from both of its predecessors, but also knowing when not to listen.