“Miss Stamper? Colonel Willie Sharp, United States Air Force, ma’am. Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter...of the bravest man l've ever met,” William Fichtner delivers the gasp worthy line to Liv Tyler in Armageddon. Obviously not in a good way, the straight faces abound makes one wonder what kind of internal calisthenics the cast and crew had to exercise to keep from cringing. They had probably built up quite a resistance by this final indignity, but the Bruce Willis blockbuster actually does a marginal job rescuing itself. So if you do decide to drill down with these makeshift astronauts, coming out the other side actually feels ok.
Two asteroids heading this way
In fact, it feels pretty good at times - even if it’s best you take the film in bits. But Armageddon wasn’t the only asteroid movie that year, and the Jerry Bruckheimer production failed to get the upper hand on that trajectory too. “Deep Impact,” which, compared with "Armageddon," belongs on the American Film Institute list,” wrote Roger Ebert.
The more serious overtones were probably responsible. However, that impression is slightly misguided. Denise Crosby accepting her fate as she lovingly looks into her husband’s eyes may not equal Bruce Willis’ self-aggrandizement, but at least Armageddon gives a good deal of levity to offset the schlock.
Deep Impact, on the other hand, makes the hard sell, and becoming complicit with the overly sentimental dialogue is the asking price. The film did have Morgan Freeman, though.
A little preview of what was to come, life really did imitate art. Yes, we soon had a black president, and who better than Morgan Freeman to show the way? But how many of us wondered if an asteroid was coming our way as programs were interrupted for the capture of Bin Laden.
Life as we know it ends?
This president, he ain’t so bright (but what movie doesn’t have dumb guys at the top so the heroes can look that much smarter). The leader of the free world goes heavy on the God too, and the global images of togetherness around his rote oratory almost induce vomiting.
Fortunately, a dose of Steve Buscemi provides settling. “You know, we're sittin' on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon, and a thing that has been built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it,” he negates the nausea and keeps it coming.
You also have to give an edge to Armageddon on the originality of the idea. Yes, sending a bunch of deep water grunts into space may have no basis in reality, but we’re not teaching a class in astrophysics. Armageddon ends up with a pretty high order fish out of water story, and established a stark contrast among the characters to great comedic moments.
The Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck/Liv Tyler dynamic makes for fertile ground too. "I stopped listening to you when l reached the age of 10 and became older than you,” Tyler lets Willis have it and makes the case for her choice.
The whole set up stays the course pretty well too. The same goes for Billy Bob Thornton’s straight up delivery as the world gets ready to fritter. His portrayal of NASA Administrator Dan Truman could have fit in quite well in a more serious attempt. But then it comes.
We don't need another hero
Bruce Willis goes into superhero mode. “The US government has asked us to save the world,” self-importance finally infiltrates Willis’ dialogue.
Sorry, it’s far from over. The slow motion walks, F-15 flyovers and two space shuttles taking off in perilous parallel are tough to endure. Ben Affleck and crew singing, “I’m leaving on a Jet Plane,” maybe the most horrific send off in the history of film.
But we always get the reset needed. “This is who you found to save the world,” a NASA official deadpans doom.
It hits the fan
Of course as the heavens are broached, the defiance of physics goes into full gear, and there’s plenty of centripetal force to send shuttles and stray projectiles a flying. In turn, the hits and near misses are obviously replete with the prerequisite amount of overacting and pyrotechnics.
So as the expanse requires someone other than Buscemi to help bring it down to Earth, Peter Stormare steps in as the off kilter Russian Astronaut, Lev Andropov. He really elevates when the second armadillo faces a wide canyon, and Affleck poses whether Lev has ever heard of Evel Knievel. “No, I never saw Star Wars,” Stormare delivers the best line in the film.
Of course, the star requires the most uplift - and formulaically - gets to set himself apart off the stupidity of others. “Houston, you have a problem,” he disables the uplink, and usurps the president.
All that’s left is for Harry to blow himself up and save the world. Well, not quite…
The bromance must go on first. “I love you, Harry,” Affleck fights past fake tears upon Willis’ final descent.
In the end it feels ok
But at least Armageddon doesn’t do us a final disservice by making the shuttle’s wing fall off and contrive a miracle landing. A few more zingers from Buscemi, and we finally get a little subtlety. “Harry wanted you to have this,” Affleck presents the mission patch that Thornton has always craved.
“He did, huh,” Truman provides a reserved send off.
Yeah, that felt pretty good. It doesn’t quite tip the scales. But on balance, Armageddon can make you feel alright - if you so choose.