Transformers and its sequels are not very brainy films. I think that we can all agree on that, regardless of how we specifically feel about the films otherwise. They are, in fact, about as non-brainy as science fiction cinema gets. And this is typically held against them by people and critics who would like our movies to trigger some distinguishable amount of mental activity in the viewer's mind while partaking of them. But we should not get too angry when director Michael Bay makes stupid movies. Even if he is, arguably, doing more to dumb down humanity than any other individual human being now living. Because the thing is, we know what happens when Michael Bay tries to make a smart movie, a movie expressing concepts about where society is and where society's headed and what that means. That movie looks like The Island, from 2005, and as long as Bay never makes another one of those, he can crap out all the movies about giant space robots he cares to.

The Island is a movie about cloning, so it makes sense that it is itself a clone of 1979's Parts: The Clonus Horror, covered in a sheen of brightly colored metallic cinematography. In 2019, there is a strange facility that's all white, full of people in sleek jumpsuits, whose every need is monitored by computers and administred by a population who aren't wearing jumpsuits and generally don't look as buffed and tidy as the jumpsuit wearers. Every so often - once or twice a week - one of the pretty people wins the lottery, and is sent to the Island, the last place on the surface of the planet that can still support life, all these years after a terrible contamination broke out. Living in this sterile paradise is a certain Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor), who possesses something that none of the other jumpsuit people do: a sense of curiosity. And this sense of curiosity, leading him to wonder why and how this place exists, leads him into some corners that his minders would much prefer he not investigate. The head of the facility, Dr. Bernard Merrick (Sean Bean) is beginning to put together the reports suggesting Lincoln's aberrant behavior and preparing to act on them, when Lincoln's best friend, Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) wins a trip to the Island, almost exactly at the same time that his explorations lead him to the discovery that "the Island" turns out to be a euphemism for "the room where they harvest your organs and kill you". He's able to escape with Jordan to the world outside the facility, with Merrick hiring a paramilitary team led by Albert Laurent (Djimon Hounsou) to hunt them down. The facility, it turns out, is a big clone factory, with its population serving as organ suppliers for the elite who want to insure themselves against sickness and disease. Lincoln is merely the first in a whole batch of clones gone bad, and if Merrick can't contain him, in short order the whole business will be in jeopardy.

Good, sturdy sci-fi parable stuff, at least for the first half; the second half, in which Lincoln and Jordan race through Los Angeles trying to avoid Laurent and find Tom Lincoln, the boat designer from whom Lincoln was cloned, is junk food. And not even tasty junk food, just the normal, Michael Bay kind of junk food, with too much cutting and unpleasantly harsh saturation - the cinematographer working this time to bring Bay's visions to life being Mauro Fiore, though all Bay films kind of look the same. Only without any particularly decent setpieces to at least showcase Bay's facility with choreographing chaos (the only halfway decent action sequence is a chase on a futuristic motorcycle that suffers from having low stakes, given its placement in the narrative).

But even the earlier material is pretty Bay-ish, and while Bay's hyper-polished TV commercial aesthetic is familiar enough to be invisible when he's just throwing shit around L.A., placing it in the context of a highly artificial science fiction setting driven by inventive production design (by Nigel Phelps, one of the handful of invididuals who can hold his head high about what he did here) is jarring and gross. Particularly since The Island already courts comparisons to a TV commercial so openly. It was a film on the cutting edge of new and aggressive ways to be awful, and it infamously included product placement the like of which the world had never seen. Not that product placement was new in 2005, nor has it died out since, but The Island was something of a case study in just how much of it a single summer tentpole could be laden with before audiences revolted. Less than this, as it turned out. I was all set to document some of it with images, but YouTube user Ben Duchac did a better job of it. And even having watched the movie immediately prior to finding that video, I still wasn't prepared for how hilariously unapologetic some of the shots are. And Ben didn't even include all of it.

(Though he did include my single favorite shot, of an Aquafina bottle being dropped right down in the middle of frame; I hadn't seen the movie in nine years prior to watching it for this review, but I remembered the details of that shot like it was footage of my first child being born).

The problem with this isn't merely that we don't, as a rule, like to have our entertainment interrupted by infomercials for Nokia. Though Christ knows that's bad enough. The problem is that The Island, by virtue of being at least nominally an ideas-driven sci-fi film set in the far-flung world of 2019, has to invite us into that world; it has to present the setting in a way that visually makes sense and feels unified. It has to feel like a place that is plausible and organic. And putting Aquafina and X-Box everywhere in the hermetically isolated world of the clone facility does exactly the opposite of all that. It calls our attention to a space without rules beyond "the producers made some money for including this shot", and makes it impossible to seriously consider this as a place that could exist and do anything at all like the movie requires it to. And that, right there, is Michael Bay doing brainy sci-fi: the first chance he gets to sacrifice its integrity and dignity for the sake of a product shot, he'll do it. At least the segments of Transformers that function as overt car commercials fit the milieu.

That's not something The Island can survive: the dipshit screenplay needs all the help from the visuals that it can get. This was the big-screen debut of writers Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci, working on an original script by Caspian Tredwell-Owen, and it is a fine launchpad for a joint career that has included some of the highest-profile bad screenwriting in contemporary cinema. The central concept hangs together, barely, but the second half fairly baldly announces itself as the nonsensical shuttling from one jumbled action moment to the next, tethered by  inscrutable, shifting characters (Jordan is basically a different person in the film's second half, though Johansson's performance doesn't help matters there), and terrible dialogue. The exposition comes out lumpy and forced  and the jokes - the childlike clones are confused by the human world! - are one-note and juvenile. McGregor salvages as much as he can with a performance that's much better than the film deserves, confused but also petulant innocence gradually evolving into cunning and sorry worldliness. But that's the only thing that works on a human level in this film where Michael Bay has decided to look more at humans than explosions. It is a dismal mistake; Bay's crowd-pleasing instincts fully abandoned him on this one (that, or he hard a hard time surviving the split from producer and crowd-pleaser expert Jerry Bruckheimer, who had overseen all of Bay's earlier films), and audiences rewarded The Island with the lowest gross of any of Bay's films.

It's not all a wash: the conception of the future is a bit silly and feels like it's ripping off Minority Report in ways that don't make sense (Los Angeles, 2019: City of ski lift trains), but it's a good movie to rip off, and while the movie does some terrible things with its setting, at least it looks nice. And Steve Jablonsky's generally satisfactory score includes one legitimately classic cue, "My Name Is Lincoln", a sweeping chant-driven piece of film-ending uplift that has been in as many trailers as any other piece of film music of the 21st Century.

But that's lipstick on a pig if ever I saw it. The Island is a dreadful waste of concept and setting, and a grim example of the worst impulses of Hollywood filmmaking in the 2000s given unfettered room to flourish. It is as perfectly mercenary in its execution as any motion picture possibly could be, and while the filmmaking discipline of commerce first, artistry a distant second is still with us, of course, we can all be glad that The Island tanked; it points to a far bleaker and more crudely market-driven cinema than even the one we now live with.

Elsewhere in American cinema in 2005
-With no forewarning, mainstream audiences decide that they want to watch a tragic love story about gay cowboys, and so Brokeback Mountain becomes a major event
-The 40-Year-Old Virgin starts the film career of the Judd Apatow Consortium and the current wave of sweet-raunchy R-rated comedies
-Christopher Nolan asks, "why haven't they made a realistic superhero movie?", proceeds to alter the future of popcorn cinema with Batman Begins

Elsewhere in world cinema in 2005
-The Romanian New Wave is inaugurated with the international success of Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu
-Joe Wright, shockingly, finds something new to say about Pride & Prejudice
-Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To brings his crime thriller Election to Cannes, raising his profile about as high as it will ever go in the West