It's 2.5-hours of carnage and macho chest-thumping thinly veiled as an international thriller. It's also insanely pro-America, if you hadn't have already guessed that by looking at the run sheet.
Another modestly budgeted Bay offering following 2013's underrated Marky-Mark $25M romp PAIN AND GAIN, this $50M 'true story' version of a 13-hour siege on an American military compound in Benghazi does a serviceable job given its director's propensity for insane excess.
Given his track record Bay shows considerable restraint when it comes to unleashing the boom. In fact 13 HOURS is easily his most mature work to date (sorta). That is to say he's only using 2 helicopters to shoot a conversation in a phone box instead of 6 and there's no gratuitous shots of Megan Fox bent over a motorbike.
13 HOURS is, essentially, The Alamo with faceless middle-eastern baddies instead of native Americans.
A squad of American super-soldiers (hoo-raa!) hole up inside the American consulate in Benghazi while wave after wave of baddies attack over the course of 13 hours.
That's it. It pretty much does what it say on the box.
Unlike, say BAD BOYS 2, it's not until an hour in before anything blows up. The first 45-minutes is a slow burn of tense exchanges and heavy exposition on the fragile state of the politics in the area, but in typical Bay-fashion, when it does kick off, it looks fucking spectacular. And hellishly over-stylised to boot.
Saying its Bay's most mature work to date doesn't mean it's not without it excesses mind you; why use a knuckle to knock on a door when you can just drive a burning Jeep loaded with surface-to-air rockets through it? If subtlety and nuance is what you're after don't hire Michael Bay and that is also the reason we watch.
It's a film that exists on the outside edges of hyperbole. This is not an exercise in complexity and grey areas, quite the contrary. The good guys are heroic and are fighting for their kids back home and the bad guys are a sucky mass of faceless assailants and never the twain shall meet in the middle and that really is as complex as it gets. Any comment on international politics goes out the window in favour of some more firework-like explosions and blue lens-flares.
It is, surprisingly, grotesquely violent at times, far more than anything we've seen from Michael Bay; bodies are mutilated by vehicles and heads explode with alarming regularity when things eventually kick-off. While not as savage as BLACK HAWK DOWN, 13 HOURS does have the capacity to take the viewer by surprise when it comes to brutality.
There's also a peppering of humour smartweed throughout, being used to humanise these seemingly indestructible soldiers instead of going for the flat-out laughs like BAD BOYS. The rugged cast (led by the surprise casting of nice-guy John Krasinski) are amiable and charming enough to let them seem almost like real human beings.
It does, however, amount to not much in the grand scheme of things. At the end of the day, no matter how hard Bay tries with the humanity stuff, the film is still flag-waving nonsense masquerading as a deep and serious thriller with something to say about US foreign policy and the sacrifice soldiers make over there but at least it does it with lashings of style.
Essential? No. Fun? Yes.