Most Americans probably know Benghazi as the place where two US diplomats, including ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed on Sept. 11, 2012. A movie about that day cannot avoid the political issues and conspiracies that still surround that day, but Michael Bay may have been just the director to bring this story to life.
“13 Hours” is, first and foremost, an action movie. However, Bay surprised me by frequently showing restraint. Several scenes early on feature tense scenarios where guns are drawn and you’re just waiting for the trademark explosions when all of a sudden the situation is defused and the characters go on their way.
The characters, by the way, are the weakest part of “13 Hours.” The story focuses on six CIA contractors who are meant to be the last line of defense for both the embassy and a CIA outpost a mile away. None of these characters are memorable, though, as they embody every stereotype about grizzled military men that we’ve seen in every film for the past decade.
After a while, the only way that I could start telling characters apart was the size of their beards, and this strategy became useful for distinguishing who belonged to what group as well. The main characters all have grizzled but short bears, the embassy staff are clean-shaven, the CIA operators have cheesy mustaches and the bad guys all have gigantic beards. The fact that this method of telling the main characters apart was the most effective does not say good things about these characters.
The writing surprised me by being pretty decent, and there were very few times when I thought the characters were doing something odd or contrived. The product placement gets a little ubiquitous, however, as an entire scene takes place in a McDonalds drive through and seemingly every car in Benghazi is manufactured by Mercedes-Benz.
As for the political undertones, the film avoids taking any direct shots at the military, the government or Hillary Clinton, but it is absolutely littered with anti-government undertones. The main characters are all mercenaries, and seemingly everyone associated with the government is depicted as ineffective bordering on incompetent. The military has jets in range but never orders an attack, the Pentagon deploys a drone with no missiles and even the CIA operatives in Benghazi nearly get themselves killed because they can’t follow simple directions.
Once the actual combat gets going, however, it’s an extremely engaging and entertaining experience. Though brief, the battle scenes where the main characters are fighting hundreds of militia members without any backup are thrilling.
Unlike other action movies, “13 Hours” doesn’t wear you down or make you feel exhausted by the end of it, even though the actual run time is close to two and a half hours. None of the scenes feel cheesy, either, outside of one break between action scenes where one character quotes Joseph Campbell.
Overall, “13 Hours” feels like a modern day Alamo story, and one that is both entertaining and told quite well. Whether it’s tasteless to depict the deaths of Americans when relatively little time has passed will depend on the viewer, but I never felt like Bay was being disrespectful of the sacrifices of the men and women in Benghazi on that day.
I expected “13 Hours” to be a good action movie, but what I didn’t expect was a lot of entertaining dialogue and meaningful action scenes where I really cared about the main characters. In my opinion, Michael Bay has taken a huge step forward with “13 Hours,” and has set the bar high for action movies in 2016.
Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.