Michael Bay doesn’t make small movies. Everything he makes is big, loud, excessive, and long. They are loaded with explosions, guns, product placement, special effects, big names, and set pieces. Only one of Bay’s films clocks in at under a two-hour runtime, and that was his debut film Bad Boys, which comes in at a brisk one hour and fifty-nine minutes. Bay’s latest film, Ambulance, is Michael Bay at his most Michael Bay. A heist movie that feels like a mix of Speed, Heat, and Collateral all on steroids and cocaine. It is Michael Bay’s best movie in years and one of the greatest big-screen experiences I’ve had in 2022.
Ambulance is chaotic from minute one. We are introduced to Will Sharp (Yaya Abdul-Mateen II), a former marine who is in desperate need of a large sum of money for an experimental surgery his wife needs. With no other options, he goes to his brother Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), who seems to be on the opposite side of the law. Will asks Danny for money for the surgery and rather than give Will the money, Danny convinces him to join he and his crew and go rob $32 million from a downtown Los Angeles bank.
Across town, Cam (Eiza González), a highly-skilled EMT, is training a new ambulance driver and showing him the ropes of being an L.A. EMT, emphasizing the serious nature of the job and explaining how she only cares for her patients when they are in the ambulance and once they are out of her care, they are out of her mind.
That all takes place in the first fifteen minutes of the film and it’s a lot to take in. Bay establishes his characters at a rapid pace and it all seems relatively straightforward. But once Will and Danny take Cam and the ambulance hostage, which is preceded by a nearly half-hour-long sequence of the crew robbing the bank, which turns into a Heat-like shootout in downtown Los Angeles, is when the movie really ramps into high gear. Ambulance is relentlessly intense and gripping and gets crazier as it goes on but also more entertaining. You leave the theater feeling revved up and exhausted because Bay never takes his foot off the accelerator.
Bay is a master at understanding space in his movies and Ambulance is a perfect example of how he uses it to help drive the film. He knows how to construct destructive action sequences and loves to show off everything that he has destroyed. In Ambulance, Bay shows us the mayhem Will and Danny are causing through the streets of L.A. as they try to get to safety away from hundreds of police officers. We see cars and trucks blowing up and crashing, the ambulance driving through street carts, and the ambulance making crazy turns and maneuvers that I didn’t think were possible for a vehicle of that size. Bay wants us to see everything he’s demolishing and he does so with the style and flair we have become accustomed to from the director.
Bay’s understanding of space also helps inside the ambulance, where the most interesting part of the film takes place. There is a claustrophobic feel inside the ambulance. Everything is so compact and there is so much happening inside the small space, from Cam trying to save a cop Will shot, to Danny trying to outsmart the police and conjure up a plan, that we are on the edge of your seat waiting for something bad to happen, like a gun going off or the cop dying. We feel the world collapsing on Will and Danny and we feel the pressure everyone in the ambulance is feeling.
Bay also uses the inside of the ambulance to build his characters. We learn more about Cam and understand how she got to be so good at her job while also understanding her darker past. We are able to see Danny’s criminal genius as he works on the fly and tries to get him and his brother out of this situation. We also see the relationship dynamic between Will and Danny. Despite being brothers (Danny’s dad, a career criminal, took Will in when he was younger), their relationship is complicated and constantly flips between them being a team and them wanting to kill each other. Where Cam is the clear good guy in this situation and Danny is the clear bad guy, Will lands somewhere in the middle and personifies the film’s main theme of what defines being a good guy and a bad guy. Despite robbing a bank and shooting a cop, we end up wanting Will to get free and get back to his wife because we understand his desperation and we see the good in him, as he helps Cam and keeps Danny in check when he starts to go off the rails. Credit the performances of Abdul-Mateen II, Gyllenhaal, and González, all of whom are excellent.
Ambulance is big, loud, intense, entertaining, and messy. Michael Bay’s return to the big screen is a welcome one and requires to be seen on the biggest, loudest screen possible.