The original Bad Boys marked Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s transitions from sitcom actors to movie stars. Then they made Bad Boys II, a sequel that was louder, dumber, longer, more immature, and more insensitive. So naturally, it was an even bigger hit. Rumors of a third Bad Boys film have been circling for over a decade. By the time the project finally got green-lit, though, a lot of people were left asking, “why now?” After all, Smith was the guy who said that doing Independence Day: Resurgence would be like “clinging and clawing backwards.” Then again, Smith has seemingly become less picky since then, saying yes to Bright, Gemini Man, and that YouTube Rewind video. As for Lawrence, well, he hasn’t done a major production since Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. So, why not?
The good news is that Bad Boys for Life is a vast improvement over the last sequel. Even better news, Michael Bay isn’t in the director’s chair this time! After 25 years, however, is there any gas left in this aging franchise? The bad boys (bad men?) find themselves asking a similar question as Marcus (Lawrence) becomes a grandfather. Mike (Smith) is reluctant to settle down, even though the lovely office Rita (Paola Núñez) is right there in front of him. And no, Bad Boys for Life isn’t nearly as objectifying towards women with Bay out of the way, although the female characters still need to dress like they work at Fox News. Following a failed assassination attempt, Marcus is determined to retire while Mike insists on going after the shooter. The two ultimately suit up for one last ride, this time receiving backup from some young guns played by Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, and Charles Melton.
Directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have made a sequel that’s clearly set in the same universe as the previous two films. Unlike Bay, however, this directing duo aren’t so trigger-happy with the editing and not every scene is shot to look like the sun is setting. The script works in some clever callbacks to the first film and even the second as well. There was an especially mean-spirted scene in Bad Boys II where Mike and Marcus chew out a young girl’s boyfriend. This movie builds upon this scene and actually delivers a funny punch line, which is probably a first for any franchise. All the while, Smith and Lawrence recapture much of the chemistry they exemplified early in the series, at times even making way for legitimate character development.
What the film lacks for much of its runtime is anything new. While the explosions, shootouts, and R-rated violence are fun, we’ve seen all of that before. The middle in particular lags, but the film springs back to life in the third act when we see what the story has been building towards. Without giving away anything, the big twist is unexpected without feeling forced and even delivers some compelling drama… by Bad Boys standards. This is still by all accounts a stupid movie that didn’t need to exist. For what it is, however, this is a well-crafted stupid movie with just enough solid character moments to vindicate its existence.
You could say that the Boy Boys trilogy followed the same trajectory as the Men in Black movies. The first one was enjoyable, the second one sucked, and the third one is far more entertaining that some might expect. So, that probably means we’ll eventually get a fourth film with none of the original stars. Is it too late to call the next sequel Bad Boys 4 Life? Or would Bad Boys: International be a more fitting title?