Michael Bay’s newest offers nothing new
Michael Bay seems to have gone back to his roots of making California-centric crime films. This is a welcome respite from the slog of Transformers films, yet one wonders if Bay’s cinematic style is a thing of the past.
Ambulance (2022) is a remake of the Danish film of the same name. Our protagonist is William Sharp (Yahya Abdul Mateen II) a veteran and Los Angeles resident who is pulled into one last bank robbery by his criminal brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal). As with all “last jobs,” the heist goes wrong and Danny and William messily make their escape on an ambulance with a wounded cop (Jackson White) and EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) as hostages.
Bay’s last film was also a team-up heist film 6 Underground (2019), for Netflix, however, that film kept a tongue-in-cheek style thanks to leading man Ryan Reynolds that helped overlook the more ridiculous aspects in the story. Ambulance is a much more self-serious film with only Gyllenhaal in maniacal moments providing humor. This might have worked tonally for Bay in delivering a gritty crime thriller, but due to stylistic and structural choices, it simply bogs it all down.
Bay has not been able to shake off his editing and camera styles. His Transformers films suffered heavily from his incessant quick cuts and hand-held shaky cam. The same is applied to Ambulance, to the point that the chase scenes and action are dizzying and disorienting rather than gripping. There are also several uncomfortable close-ups that feel less moody and more like the director of photography fell asleep on his zoom button. Bay has not learned his lesson of trimming down unnecessary fat either; Ambulance is two hours and fifteen minutes long. While this long runtime could have been dedicated to building up characters and allowing the film to breathe, Bay simply stretches out his premise of “long chase sequence.” The result is a lack of general tension or thrill and an increased frequency in checking your watch.
The lack of proper character writing is nothing new in Bay films, thankfully he has a particularly adept cast in Ambulance. Abdul Mateen II gives his character a depth and seriousness that the film never deserved, and Gyllenhaal spins golden nuggets out of a flatly written villain. My biggest surprise was with Eiza Gonzalez’s EMT character, not because of her performance, but rather in the handling of a female character by Bay. Bay has long been maligned for his shameless objectification of women in his films, and thus to have Gonzalez, one of the most objectified actresses in recent years (Baby Driver (2017), Hobbs and Shaw (2019), Godzilla vs. Kong (2021)), be simply a complex hostage character was refreshing. I certainly hope Gonzalez, who’s always shown a capability to have more complicated characters, rides this role to more interesting pastures.
In the end, Ambulance is a static new entry in Michael Bay’s filmography. The American director isn’t evolving from either his strengths or weaknesses, and unfortunately with the overwrought premise of a bank robbery, his weaknesses shine brighter in Ambulance. The talented cast is able to spin some intrigue into the otherwise flat script, but in the end, Ambulance is too self-indulgent and stretched out to provide the type of action guilty pleasure that made Bay famous in the first place.