What is happening in our world? Who is doing what? what is going on now? These are questions that will be answered. Enjoy.
Armageddon 20th Anniversary – This Independence Day, I’m Grateful for Armageddon and You Should Be, Too
I remember throwing up after Armageddon. To be fair, I threw up a lot as a kid because I had a very serious anxiety-induced-vomit thing, but that’s for my therapist and me to talk about. The Armageddon throw-up was an eventful one, though. When the film premiered 20 years ago this week, I was eight years old, and 1998 seemed rife with possibility. Natalie Imbruglia was at the height of her career. Congress was capable of impeaching people. Windows 98 came out—you love Solitaire!
Most of all, I wasn’t ready to die. And I definitely didn’t want to live in a world without Bruce Willis. When you’re eight and impressionable and have parents who think it’s funny to tell you that everything on television is real, you start putting things into perspective pretty early. I stood on our back porch and cried at the prospect of the world ending. And then I cried for the sacrifice Bruce made. And then right after saying, “Liv Tyler didn’t even care!” I got choked and vomited on our steps.
In 2018, when the prospect of a Texas-sized asteroid smashing into America and killing off humanity seems like a refreshing change of pace, I re-watched Armageddon to offer thanks for one of the best natural disaster films of our time. And there were a lot of options in the ’90s, when the natural disaster canon was having its heyday. Remember Twister? Deep Impact? Dante’s Peak? Of course you do. Above all the rest was Armageddon, the perfect shit storm in a time when we really loved shit storms.
Behind the scenes, J.J. Abrams was writing, Michael Bay was directing, and Jerry Bruckheimer was producing, which is the holy trinity of being extra as hell. In front of the camera, you had post-Die Hard Bruce Willis, pre-Gigli Ben Affleck, and also Steve Buscemi.
Buena Vista Pictures
If you haven’t seen the film, the rundown is as follows: There’s a asteroid headed toward earth that will cause a mass extinction. NASA immediately gives up because they’re just like, “LOL, IDK, seems like a big job. Sure, we have astronauts, but how do you train men with backgrounds in astrophysics how to use a drill?” Instead, they go get Harry Stamper (Willis) from the oil rig he’s working on, because if anyone knows how to drill their way out of a problem, it’s Bruce Willis. He’s taken to meet Billy Bob Thornton’s Dan Truman, a military scientist. (This is the same era when Billy Bob and Angelina Jolie were wearing vials of each other’s blood around their necks, so this casting choice is particularly rich.) Thornton explains to Harry and his daughter, Grace (Liv Tyler), how the world is going to end and then asks Harry to train his astronauts how to drill the asteroid apart. Harry says he won’t help unless he goes to space with his oil rig team and drills the asteroid to death himself, thus confirming that Big Oil is the only thing that can save us.
Enter Ben Affleck as A.J. Frost, a Playboy Maverick with Promise who is also Grace’s boyfriend. While Harry hates him, A.J. is one of the best Untrained Astronaut Drillers in the very small industry that is Untrained Astronaut Drillers, so he has to come along. (Steve Buscemi and Owen Wilson are also in this industry, so, take from that what you will.)
They all train to go to space in a couple days, but before they head up there, Ben Affleck takes two animal crackers and pretends that Liv Tyler’s body is a safari. This is not a metaphor—this is what he actually does. Then he sticks an animal cracker in her underwear as she asks, “Baby, do you think it’s possible anyone else in the world is doing this very same thing in this very same moment?” “I hope so,” he replies. “Otherwise, what the hell are we trying to save?” That’s when he picks her up and spins her around, and to my knowledge, that animal cracker is still in her underwear.
Elsewhere, the government decides that they’re not going to tell anyone that the end of the world is nigh because they don’t want to freak everyone out. But then a meteorite hits Shanghai and 50,000 people die, and Billy Bob is like, “Damn. Cat’s out of the bag, y’all!” The next day, Harry goes to visit Grace before he goes into space after three days of training. She is having some feelings about this trip. Not only is her dad going into space, but she and A.J. got engaged, so she’s got a lot on the table here. She makes Harry promise her that he’ll come back and bring her fiancé with him. He promises. To quote Dr. Phil McGraw, this is called “writing a check your ass can’t cash.”
In an otherwise very serious moment, A.J. tells Grace goodbye and then the entire oil rig astronaut brigade breaks into a surprisingly good version of “Leavin’ on a Jet Plane.” They all head to space, and you guys: The movie isn’t even half over. Immediately upon arriving in space and refueling their spaceship, a space station blows up before the team attempts to slingshot around the moon. Pause with me for a beat.
That last sentence is why we’re taking time to remember Armageddon, because if sending Owen Wilson to space to save Earth wasn’t bonkers enough for you, slingshotting around the moon should do it. To cut to the chase, Owen Wilson dies. On top of that, they land in the wrong place and can’t drill. Crazy oil riggers!
Buena Vista Pictures
All of a sudden, people start thinking, Maybe we shouldn’t have sent non-astronauts into space? While this is happening, the President of the United States is making his own calls and decides that maybe he’s going to do his own thing and nuke the asteroid from the surface. Upon hearing the news, Grace freaks out and screams, “That’s my father up there!” But America is America, and if we love anything more than Big Oil, it’s blowing shit up on the Fourth of July.
Up in space, the team sees that the nuclear bomb has been activated, which no one is feeling great about. The colonel on the ship says that they just have to let it blow up, but Harry isn’t down with that plan, so he takes a giant pair of pliers and starts to choke out the colonel. The colonel agrees to turn the nuke off if Harry can promise that he’ll find a way to dig deep enough to blow the asteroid up. For those counting, that’s two very big promises.
The good news is, he’s able to deliver on one and a half of them. Harry and his team of Big Oil champions are able to dig into the asteroid, but while they do, a meteorite takes out Paris. (You know what they say in Paris? “Non, rien de rien.” Or, you know, something like that.) The crew finally dig deep enough for the bomb to be placed, but someone has to stay behind and set it off. The team draws straws, and it’s A.J. who has to die with this asteroid. But right as he’s about to take the leap, Harry rips off A.J.’s air hose and pushes him back into the ship, saying, “Go take care of my little girl now. That’s your job.” I would say this is sexist, but considering how many times Liv Tyler has physically attacked people in this movie, this feels like the most responsible decision.
Harry presses the button, his life flashes before his eyes, and the asteroid blows up. Literally none of the science behind this tracks, but you know what? Fuck it. I love a good human sacrifice. If this country was founded on anything, it’s the notion that blue collar workers can save the world by completely disregarding science.
Grace reunites with A.J., and considering she was such a mess in the NASA control room, she’s surprisingly like, “Daddy who?” Honestly, her reaction is the most jarring part of the film. They get married, to which one of the greatest movie cues of the ’90s hits: Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing,” It’s an ironic choice considering that her father is missing the wedding after blowing himself up for humanity.
Armageddon went on to be nominated for four Academy Awards, and it lost every single one of them. But there’s still something truly patriotic about blowing stuff up in space. Two decades later, is it a little over the top to say that Armageddon is the most American movie of our time? Maybe. But to say it’s the most American shit show of our time? Well, that’s a claim I’m willing to double down on.