When Bad Boys II took in nearly $300 million at theaters back in 2003, it seemed obvious that there would be another film to follow. And yet, over the years, a third Bad Boys movie was repeatedly pushed back, delayed, and even called off at one point when Sony dropped it from its release schedule in 2017.
Now, the year is 2020, and the Bad Boys are back. With Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the buddy cop roles they made famous. The Bad Boys they play are no longer boys, though. They're closing in on what would likely be considered retirement age for police officers. And another massive change is happening behind the camera: After directing the first two movies, Michael Bay is not involved in the film. With all of that in mind, you might be surprised to find out Bad Boys for Life is actually great. In fact, it's the best entry in the franchise thus far.
The story, like the film itself, picks up almost two decades after Bad Boys II. Now detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence) are still tearing up the streets of Miami dispensing their personal brand of over-the-top law enforcement, complete with high-speed chases, explosions, disposable bad guys, and everything else Bad Boys fans are looking for. But Burnett is retiring and Lowrey doesn't know how to live a life without violence.
He may not have a choice, though, as a killer with a connection to his past nearly assassinates him. That sets off a fierce hunt to find out who wants him dead that not only brings Burnett back onto the job but pairs the Bad Boys with a young group of millennial cops who don't necessarily agree with their explosive ways.
Reuniting for one last job or introducing the next generation of Bad Boys could easily and quickly become a cliche, but not in this movie. With Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah--billed as Adil and Bilall--taking over directing duties from Michael Bay, Bad Boys for Life manages to balance the explosive mayhem of the previous films with a heartfelt story about coming to terms with your own mortality.
That balance is what makes Bad Boys for Life shine brightly. While the first Bad Boys is a really good movie and Bad Boys II took the franchise even higher, they were both undoubtedly Michael Bay films. The story was often shuffled to the side in favor of massive action set-pieces with Bay behind the camera. Let's be clear, there's still plenty of that in Bad Boys for Life, but by and large, they serve the story and drive the plot, rather than playing like an exciting aside.
Adil and Bilall, on the other hand, never lose track of the story in the smashed cars and piles of dead villains. Instead, every bullet that flies and every body that drops only pulls Lowrey and Burnett further into their own personal nightmare as they try to figure out who wants Mike dead.
Naturally, the movie--written by Peter Craig (Top Gun: Maverick), Joe Carnahan (Death Wish), and Chris Bremner--is very funny. If you enjoyed the vulgar jokes and ridiculous situations in the previous movies, you'll find plenty to laugh at here. And while a lot of the humor, particularly between Smith and Lawrence's characters, hasn't changed, some of it definitely has. After all, they aren't the cool, young cops anymore. They're the old guys, while the Miami Police Department's upstart AMMO squad--composed of characters played by Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical), Alexander Ludwig (Vikings), Charles Melton (Riverdale), and Paola Núñez (The Purge)--look at them as relics from the past and take every possible opportunity to remind them of it.
Truthfully, this is one of the few places Bad Boys for Life stumbles a bit. It's entertaining to see Lowrey and Burnett attempt to hold onto their dated approach to law enforcement, while the AMMO squad relies on technological advances and avoiding violent conflict when possible. Showing the younger officers as an alternative to Lowrey and Burnett's outdated methods helps alleviate some of the issues inherent to a movie about two twigger-happy detectives released in 2020--the world has changed a lot in the last 17 years, and a movie that makes light of two officers using excessive force when pursuing criminals might not be received in the same way as it was in 2003. That said, as important as the younger characters are to the tone of the film, their presence lets the script go back to the "man these guys are ancient" joke a few too many times, making sure to repeatedly hit it over the head.
However, the new recruits help breathe fresh air into the franchise and help provide a reason to make future movies, should Smith and Lawrence be up to returning. And if Bad Boys for Life proves anything, it's that they're more than ready for it.
Even after not playing the roles for nearly two decades, the duo's chemistry is as strong as ever in the new film. What's more, though, Smith has grown as an actor since 2003 and that's on full display here. There's hatred and fear in his eyes when talking about tracking down the person who wants him dead. It's a side of the character we haven't seen before. Seeing beneath the smarmy playboy persona to the man he is underneath is a welcome change.
And yes, because you're probably wondering, Joe Pantoliano does return as the police captain and is as funny as ever. However, he also plays an important role in the plot that makes him a more central element to the film than previous entries in the franchise.
Ultimately, Bad Boys for Life is better than practically anyone could expect. While it would have been easy to rely on the nostalgia of seeing the iconic trio of Smith, Lawrence, and explosions on-screen together again, the new film strives to be so much more and manages to pull it off. And what's more, it also provides a blueprint for what the franchise could become in the future, should audiences want to see more.