As it turns out, perhaps the key to making a successful Bad Boys film in the year 2020 was to confine Michael Bay to one side of the camera. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah took over directorial duties for Bad Boys For Life, the long-awaited (seventeen years!) follow-up to 2003's Bad Boys II, but the explosion master wasn't completely MIA (spoiler?) as he makes a quick cameo as a wedding DJ in the film, prompting cheers and applause from those who recognized the man (it's unknown if he's playing the same shitty car owner character from BB2). It was a nice surprise and relatively sweet gesture from the filmmaker, to pass the torch onto his successors for a film he was at one point slated to make himself.
But the real surprise is that it's actually quite fun (Leigh agrees!), and in my opinion better than Bay's entries, though it's possibly unfair to compare it to the original since that film didn't have much money to spend (Bay said only about half of its 19 million budget went to the actual production). However, it's superior to the second film by any measure - it's got the money to provide the explosive action the first film sometimes lacked, but actually seems like it was made by human beings, an element absent from the last one. Bad Boys For Life essentially offers the best both worlds, a happy medium that retains the over the top action we now expect (the motorcycle chase and out-of-control helicopter climax being two prime examples), but with the heart and humor that made the first film as memorable as it was. Add in the returning characters (Reggie!) and the series' first interesting villain and you get a truly satisfying sequel, the likes of which are few and far between these days.
Adding to the fun, at least for those who have it nearby, is a 4DX presentation, a format that didn't exist the last time Will Smith and Martin Lawrence terrorized the vehicle owners of Miami (hell, we didn't even have Blu-ray back then). For the uninitiated, 4DX adds motion seating, elemental effects (fog, mist, etc) and even smells (N/A) to add to the experience, and as you can expect it works best with action movies. When there's an explosion, your seat will rattle like an earthquake, and when there's a shootout, little puffs of smoke go off near the screen to immerse you in the chaos. It's goofy, yes, and not for everyone (the guy next to me left after five minutes, and no it couldn't have been the movie's quality as it opened with a car chase and if he showed up for a Bad Boys movie only to be surprised by a fast car racing around Miami, he's just a moron), but when it's working well, it's just as much of an enjoyable "gimmick" as well-implemented 3D.
Incidentally, it kind of matched this film's quality in comparison to Bad Boys II, in that it knew when to tone it down a notch and just let things go relatively quiet (I'm not sure I would want a 4DX experience for an unfiltered Bay film). I've been to other presentations where the seat motion was distracting, as if the programmers were afraid that the audience would forget that their seat could move unless it constantly did so, and it was kind of a turn-off. But here, they mostly only used it for the action scenes (with some mild swaying during establishing shots of Miami), and even then didn't turn it up to 11 - in fact, that poor guy that left got the worst of it, I think, as it seemed more "shaky" during that opening sequence than the others. The elemental effects were also used sparingly as opposed to bombarding us; it seems that the people in charge of deciding when to spray us with water and fog are capable of realizing that restraint can be a good thing, a concept Bay is unfamiliar with. Yes, it's a shame that this isn't the 4th film because it would justify the title AND the tech ("Bad Boys 4 Life in 4DX" is the best marketing no one can use), but if the endless development for this film meant that the actors' ages (the first film was their first big star vehicle; they're both in their 50s now) got to play a part and make it a more involving film, then it was a blessing in disguise.
Unlike 3D, which just requires a projector and someone to hand out glasses, 4DX theaters need to be outfitted with the seats (which take up a bit more space, limiting the number of potential tickets sold somewhat) and various gadgets required to deliver all of the atmospheric effects, so it's unsurprising that it's still limited to only about thirty or so screens in the US - retrofitting takes time and money, and it's potentially too niche to end up as ubiquitous as 3D once was. If no one wants 3D, fine - the theater just keeps that lens off and puts the glasses in storage somewhere, but if the 4DX appeal dies, then your multiplex is left with expensive fancy seats that aren't doing anything to justify the tradeoff (they do not recline). So I know it's out of reach for many of you, but if you do happen to have it nearby, it's definitely worth splurging on occasion for the right movie, and if you ask me, Bad Boys For Life qualifies.