Heresy -- Armageddon

by Stephen Notley

Armageddon: insufferably loud, blaringly pro-American, cheesy, dumb, the apex of a progression of ever more craptastic late-90s summer blockbusters like Mission Impossible, Independence Day and Godzilla all competing for which could deliver the emptiest experience of explosions and cars cartwheeling down the street. Right?

Wrong. Armageddon is one of the most brilliant, perfect movies ever made. Seriously.

How do you make a movie about the end of the world? If you're Deep Impact you do a quasi-realistic disaster scenario that dissolves into mushy soap opera, if you're Last Night you focus on small, seemingly innocuous human interactions in the final hours, and if you're Armageddon you pick up the gauntlet and say if we're really talking about the end of all things then full intensity is the only way to go. Every scene has to be turned up to 11 because everything is at stake; every choice they make is a referendum on all of humanity's worthiness to exist.

It's like, imagine if we discovered an asteroid was gonna hit Earth in 2072 and over the next fifty years robot probes were sent up to gently alter its course and on the appointed date the world cheered as the asteroid passed safely behind the Earth. A great victory for humanity, and Armageddon is the movie they'd make about it 1000 years later, a totally overblown mythologizing of what happened.

Sure, it's American as hell but it's the good America, the America of red white and blue dream, presented in cell-phone commercial soft imagery, manipulative like crazy, but hey --it's the end of the world. Everything is mythical: the father-son dynamic between Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck, the tension between the prole drill team and the by-the-book straightedge NASA types, the love story between Affleck and Liv Tyler. What movie would bounce animal crackers off Liv Tyler's stomach and dare claim it was speaking to all human love that's ever been? Armageddon, because it goes for it without irony and believes absolutely in its own intensity. When it softpans through mosques thronged with cheering or sweeps over an old JFK billboard with the words "Life Peace Hope", dammit, it means it.

And it’s a noble myth; despite its religious title Armageddon is slyly secular and scientific. The big inspiring speech to send off the astronauts invokes not prayers to god or Gods but a glorification of the human quest for knowledge, and the whole frickin' movie is a near fetishistic love-letter to NASA and space science. In these darkening days of dangerous religious thinking we need myths of universal redemption that draw from humanity rather than from absent gods, and dammit, that's Armageddon

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