With Ride or Die, the Bad Boys Movies Become Referendums on Masculinity

The fourth Bad Boys film is an uninspired retread.


One way to understand the Bad Boys franchise is as a referendum on shifting cultural views of masculinity. 

The first two films, released in 1995 and 2003 respectively, followed the brash antics of two hard-charging Miami cops, Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith). Mike and Marcus are a classic cinematic odd couple: Marcus is sloppy, goofy, messy, harried, and married; Marcus is handsome, uptight, hard-charging, and very, very single. But they shared a certain bro-code—vulgar, violent, competitive, sex-obsessed, and constantly engaged in insult comedy, much of which had homophobic undertones. They were also brothers in arms, unshakably loyal to each other. Today flagrantly crude behavior would be cast as toxic masculinity. But that label didn't exist back in 1995. Back then, it was just masculinity. 

The early movies, both directed by Michael Bay, the noisy commercial auteur who would go on to make Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and the first five Transformers films, understood that their behavior was extreme, aggressive, and obnoxious. They were, after all, bad boys. But they didn't care if anyone was offended. 

Will Smith and Martin Lawrence were playing larger-than-life action heroes and their obnoxiousness was meant to be endearing. The audience was intended to enjoy their naughty behavior, to derive pleasure from the offense of it all. They were just guys being guys. Bros being bros. The subtext of all the swearing, leering, swaggering, and shooting was, more or less, "dudes rock." 

But when the franchise picked up again with Bad Boys For Life in early 2020, just weeks before the pandemic shut down most movie theaters, that confident assertion seemed more like a question. 

Marcus and Mike were still swaggering, swearing, shoot-first alphas. But their back-and-forth insult volleys, while not exactly PG-rated, were a little less graphic, and they moved a little bit slower. They were older now, their facade of invulnerability punctured, and their youthful recklessness was finally catching up to them. Mike, it turned out, had a long-lost son who was connected to the drug cartel they were trying to take down. Marcus became a grandfather and announced his intention to retire from police work. There were costs, deadly costs, to their conduct. This is what it meant to be a bad boy, for life. 

The newest installment, Bad Boys: Ride or Die, takes this notion even further but with diminishing returns. In the opening minutes, Mike, the longtime womanizer, gets married. Marcus has a heart attack at the ceremony. And when the bad guys show up and the gunfire and explosions begin, Mike's long-lost son is, naturally, involved. There's still swearing and shooting galore. There's still an anti-authoritarian streak that puts the two cops at odds with their superiors. And Mike and Marcus are still the tightest and loyalist of bros. But 2024's bad boys are not quite as bad as they once were. 

Which is a shame, because they're not quite as fun either.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die is a fan-service-laden retread of its predecessor: Once again, there are cameos and reminders of the franchise's decades-long history. Once again, there are mid-life milestones meant to reflect on growing older, realizations and revelations about the meaning of life, and goofy jokes about the indignities of aging, most of which revolve around Marcus' obsession with junk food after his doctor orders him to improve his diet. 

It's not quite a beat-for-beat remake of the previous film but it feels like an uninspired remix, with nearly every major element repeating something from Bad Boys for Life. Given that film's success—thanks to pandemic shutdowns it ended up as the top-grossing movie of 2020—that's understandable. There are scattered laughs to be had in the comic riffing; even in their dotage, Will Smith and Marcus Lawrence are still a potent on-screen odd couple. And directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah concoct some energetic (if silly) action set pieces, including a POV-heavy shootout at an abandoned gator-haunted theme park in South Florida.

But for the most part, Bad Boys Ride or Die feels creatively safe and cautious in a way that's at odds with the franchise's earlier throw-it-against-the-wall recklessness. It's studiously inoffensive, not awful but perfunctory, and vaguely ashamed of all that came before. They're still guys being guys, bros being bros—but, seemingly by design, these dudes don't rock quite like they used to. As the song goes: Whatcha gonna do