Brigadier General Frank Hummel (Ed Harris) is not a happy man. He feels he and his men have been abandoned by the authorities higher up the ladder of officialdom and now that his wife has died he feels free to do something about it. Despite proclaiming himself a patriot, and having done so much for his country, he is about to commit an act of betrayal to all those who give him orders because he believes he is doing the right thing: an act of genuine revolution. This is the reason he breaks into a high security government lab and steals extremely toxic VX gas - and this is the reason he is holding America to ransom with it...
After the impact that Bad Boys made, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer glady re-hired Michael Bay for this high concept action romp, and as with many of these producers' movies, they had the cash to hire a great cast to back up their script. Not that The Rock was a massive departure for them, being essentially a buddy movie with a military leaning, so they might have posted a sign outside the set saying "No Girls Permitted". There are only a couple of notable female characters in a sea of testosterone, one being a pregnant girlfriend (Vanessa Marcil), the other being a one-scene daughter (Clare Forlani), and both strictly two-dimensional, if that.
Therefore it's the chaps The Rock was made for, and if there are hardly any females then there has to be a substitute: cars, guns, explosions, swearing, some kind of machinery, you know the type of thing. Heading the cast was none other than Sean Connery, already of pensionable age but proving his mettle, spry as any man half his years, Scottish accent impregnable as ever (although there are a couple of odd missteps when his character is referred to as an "English bastard" and his place of birth is revealed to be Glasgow, which was presumably easier for Americans to say than Edinburgh). You did have to wait for him to turn up, however, as it's a good half hour before he appears.
So who is taking up our time in the interim? Step forward an unlikely star of action movies of the nineties, Nicolas Cage, who nonetheless found himself much in demand for flinging himself around and firing off weaponry around this time. Cage, always an eccentric actor at the best of times, had a few quirks added to his F.B.I. chemical warfare expert Dr Stanley Goodspeed's personality courtesy of an uncredited Quentin Tarantino, so expect pop culture references strewn throughout the dialogue. Goodspeed is intended to be the comic relief in contrast to Connery's hardened prisoner John Mason who is released by the government to help them save the hostages Hummel's men have taken, and stop them firing off a volley of toxic missiles into San Francisco.
Hummel has made his base on Alcatraz, hence the title, and Mason is the man who escaped from there many moons ago, therefore he knows the way to sneak back in. Accompanied by a selection of the U.S. Army's finest, of course, but as they're led by Michael Biehn perhaps we shouldn't hold out much hope for them. Mason and Goodspeed will rest assured be more than capable, as the latter gets to show us that he can be a real man among men and not the cringing ninny that everyone suspects him of being. How does he do this? By killing people, naturally, as at first he is not too keen on brandishing a gun but after a while he finds that being in a Simpson and Bruckheimer movie puts hairs on your chest and he can blow away the bad guys with relish. This highly conservative view of masculinity will either turn you off or turn you on to The Rock as Bay pummels you into submission; its relentlessness does grow increasingly unimpressive after a while, and it's far from as witty as it thinks it is. Big hit in its day, though, and frequently referred to as a Michael Bay blockbuster it's OK to like. Music by Nick Glennie-Smith and Hans Zimmer.