'Bad Boys for Life' and the Charms of a Legacy Sequel

Unlike other installments from aging stars, the new trailer doesn't feel like it's saying goodbye to characters at the end of their rope.

The boys are back in town. After a decade-long development process, the third entry in the Bad Boys franchise is one of those films that needed a trailer to prove its existence was real.

After a series of false starts, new directors and scheduling conflicts, we finally have all the confirmation we need to prove that the film is not only real but that its stars haven't lost a beat in the interim.

Sony Pictures released the first trailer for Bad Boys for Life in which Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return as buddy cop duo Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett. Legacy sequels like the upcoming Rambo: Last Blood and Terminator: Dark Fate are the current rage, with aging stars promising to make a final stand. But the trailer for Bad Boys for Life exhibits a certain timelessness that proposes this movie could as easily be set in 2009 as 2019 despite its promise of acting as the series' curtain call.

Bad Boys (1995) launched the film careers of Will Smith and director Michael Bay, while helping Martin Lawrence transition from a leading man on TV to one in movies. It grossed $141.4 million dollars on a $19 million budget. Yes, there was a time when a Michael Bay movie cost under $20 million, believe it or not.

Bad Boys II (2003) amped up the budget in spectacular Bay fashion, $130 million, and grossed $273.4 million worldwide, a modest success before $1 billion grosses were common.

Bad Boys II arrived when Hollywood was experiencing a shift toward familiar IP, one that Bay would help foster with his Transformers films. As a result, those blockbuster stakes felt like the realm the sequel was playing in, comic book levels of spectacle and narrative that made the first film look small in comparison. Bad Boys II still had the spirit of the buddy cop film, popularized by 48 Hours (1982), Lethal Weapon (1987), and Midnight Run (1988), but Bay made sure it was the biggest buddy cop film ever made.

The idea of a third film topping the second, without leaving audiences' eyeballs running from their sockets, seemed like an impossible challenge.

The trailer for Bad Boys for Life suggests an approach that's not interested in topping what came before but delivering on the comedic dynamics between Mike and Marcus with stylish action sequences geared toward the kind of midbudget spectacle and quality that have made the John Wick films such a hit. Its smaller scope and scale position the film as one much closer to the original 1995 film.

Part of this stems from the fact that Michael Bay did not return for the third film. Picking up the toolbox of explosions are rising filmmakers Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, relative newcomers. While this is their first go at franchise filmmaking, El Arbi and Fallah go the distance in matching the look of Bad Boys for Life with that glossy sheen and lusty-eyed look at consumer culture that Bay knows so well. Legacy sequels have a way of creating a different aesthetic from their original films, which is sometimes beneficial and other times less so. While Bad Boys for Life doesn't look like a pure imitation of Bay, there seems enough there to align with the other two films.

Legacy sequels typically find former action icons old and broken, or old and happy. Bad Boys for Life doesn't seem to be approaching Mike and Marcus from that angle. Sure, they're older and Marcus has some inclination toward retiring, but it doesn't feel like we're walking into a world that's changed or no longer in need of them. Instead, it's a world that's familiar, glamorous, and one where they're still the top dogs.

Joe Pantoliano is still present as Captain Howard, and the new recruits, played by Alexander Ludwig, Vanessa Hudgens, and Charles Melton, don't look like they're being set up to be handed the keys to the franchise — something the trailer's coda pokes fun at.

Though underscored by the refrain of "one last time," Bad Boys for Life doesn't look like any other legacy sequel. It doesn't feel like we're saying goodbye to characters at the end of their rope, or ones who have become outdated in a modern society. Rather, it feels like we're welcoming home these characters after a long break and giving them a trilogy capper that feels just as exciting now as it would have a decade ago.