Ambulance is pure action mastery and Michael Bay’s best film in 20 years.
Let’s just get this out of the way up front: you’re not likely to see a more relentlessly excessive or thrilling movie for a long time than Ambulance, Michael Bay’s latest assault on both your senses and common decorum. Essentially a 136-minute action sequence, it’s exhausting, incredibly stylish, and easily his best movie in 20 years.
Will (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a down-on-his-luck veteran with a new baby and a sick wife, but of course Uncle Sam isn’t helping out with medical insurance. So he hits his adoptive brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal) up for a loan, but Danny has a better idea. See, he’s a bank robber. In fact, their dad was one of the most famous bank robbers ever, and wouldn’t you know it, there’s a job going down right now. Things don’t go according to plan — big surprise — and Will and Danny quickly find themselves eluding the cops in the titular stolen vehicle along with a hostage EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) and a wounded cop.
And that’s it. There’s precious little exposition, meaning there’s also — perhaps thankfully — little time for Bay’s patented and incredibly toxic strain of humor. Rather, this is adrenaline the whole way: once the guns start shooting and the wheels start spinning, they basically don’t stop. The madness results in what you might call Bay’s Collateral, a Los Angeles travelogue crossed with a two-hander thriller in a moving vehicle. But don’t go expecting any of Michael Mann’s existential angst; instead, Ambulance is packed with helicopters, squad cars, and assorted other traffic, most of which gets pancaked or smashed into other cars or concrete barriers. Or they get blown up, pirouetting through fireballs straight at the lens. In truth, Bay’s never been too concerned with spatial coherence or clean edits, but he is an absolute master at showing objects in incredibly dangerous motion, and giant robots notwithstanding, accomplishes such feats generally unassisted by digital effects. It should go without saying, but absolutely nobody, anywhere, is shooting action like this.
Add to that delightful recipe a new toy: the drone. He’s deployed them before, most notably in 13 Hours, which displayed some straightforward overhead dollies, but here he’s got his camera zooming behind speeding vehicles, flying alongside choppers, ducking under sweet jumps, and slamming into stuff right along with the rest of the wreckage, and it’s quite simply some of the sickest shit you’ve ever seen. Want to see a shot that starts above a skyscraper, does a cartwheel, rockets down to street level, and follows a phalanx of cop cars? Yeah you fucking do. Rejoice that a monster like Ambulance has been unleashed into your eyeholes.