The Island starts out with promise as a potentially thoughtful sci fi flick, like 2001 or Blade Runner, broaching the controversial and timely issue of human cloning. But then, this is a Michael Bay film, so thoughtfulness quickly falls by the wayside.
In the mid-21st century, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewen McGregor) is a resident of an ultramodern, isolated, contained high rise community somewhere out in the desert. Everything about the residents is thoroughly monitored, from their sleep patterns to their body chemistry to their every waking move. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous. Residents are uniformed; they participate in group exercise and basic reading classes ("See Spot run…").
There are elements here of Brave New World, The Truman Show, even Soylent Green, with the added twist (over which there is not a lot of suspense) that the residents are all clones, created illegally by a corporation cashing in on the desire of wealthy customers for replacement parts. The stock evil character is Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean), a one-dimensional stand-in for both corporate greed and the scientist who would play God ("I give life!"). For prior models, try Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein) and Dr. Moreau (The Island Of Dr. Moreau).
Of course, the clones don’t know they are cattle raised for harvesting. They’ve been told that the world has been contaminated and that they are survivors in a protected place. Frequent "lotteries" are held for the residents, who believe the winners go off to The Island, the remaining uncontaminated paradise. Winning the lottery in actuality means the clone is about to be cut up for parts; the Island is a convenient deception to cover the grim reality.
But, as it wont to happen under such circumstances, some of the clones, including Lincoln, begin to have some bothersome questions and suspicions, ultimately leading to Lincoln breaking out, along with his stock love interest, clone Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson). The balance of the film, aside from an overextended denouement, is a multi-part action chase sequence which will surely keep those who have an affinity for such material thoroughly satisfied.
The Island has a distinctive look–handsome modern interiors, a great cityscape of a futuristic Los Angeles, well-executed chases with a large number of SUVs satisfyingly demolished. And Bay unquestionably is an accomplished story-teller. He even manages to drop in allusions to 9/11 and Hitler’s concentration camp ovens.
It’s a big problem, though, when the lead characters in a better than two hour film have adult bodies, but the brains and emotions of three-year-olds. McGregor and Johansson, both actors of distinction, aren’t given even a hint of substance with which to work here. Their characters are bland, featureless–a point put into relief from time to time when a more quirky personality enters the story, such as McCord (Steve Buscemi), a real person, an outsider who works in the boiler room of the complex and assists Lincoln.
No one will come away from The Island illuminated on the fascinating issues of the potential, for good and for harm, of human cloning, but Bay delivers slick entertainment for those satisfied by the well-established genre of mindless summer movies.