"Welcome to The Rock!"
Call the Pentagon and the San Francisco office. It seems that Alcatraz has just reopened.
— FBI Director James Womack
1996 action movie directed by Michael Bay
and starring Nicolas Cage
, Sean Connery
(playing an aging Expy
of James Bond
) and Ed Harris
tells the story of USMC Brigadier-General Francis X. Hummel who, enraged at how his men have been treated by the country that they served, steals 15 rockets of V-X nerve gas
and holes up on Alcatraz Island (hence the title), threatening to kill most of San Francisco unless the government gives him a buttload of money to help out military widows and orphans.
The administration responds by sending in Stanley Goodspeed (Cage), a chemical warfare expert, and John Mason (Connery), a British secret agent turned Alcatraz fugitive turned full-time convict. Oh, and a SEAL
team led by Michael Biehn, but they don't last long...
A late draft of the script was written by none other than Quentin Tarantino
(who wasn't a member of the Writer's Guild at the time, and so was uncredited).
Includes examples of:
- Action Duo: Goodspeed and Mason.
- Action Insurance Gag: During the chase sequence through San Francisco, Mason crashes the stolen Humvee into another car, and yells "I hope you're insured!" out the window at the driver.
- Action Survivor: Goodspeed starts like this before becoming a real Action Hero.
- Affably Evil: General Hummel.
- Alas, Poor Villain: General Hummel. His downfall and Redemption Equals Death are treated sympathetically.
- The Alcatraz: The original, naturally. ("The Rock" being its nickname among the prisoners).
- Anti-Villain: Hummel (Type III -> Type I, with some Type II thrown in). He just wants compensation for the families of dead soldiers, and though he is using extreme methods, he very much regrets his men killing the SEALs, and in the end he was bluffing the entire time. Pity his men weren't.
Hummel: I'm not about to kill 80,000 innocent people! Do you think I'm out of my fucking mind? We bluffed, they called it. The mission is over.
- Artistic License – Chemistry: The VX gas description is fairly accurate, save for looking green and melting your skin. It's still very lethal otherwise.
- Ax-Crazy: Frye and Darrow. Frye's eyes look like they're about to pop, and he's chomping at the bit to blow up San Francisco, constantly reminding Hummel of the time to launch the missiles. Darrow on the other hand is rather eager to cut up someone who is holding up a batch of very fragile VX gas capsules.
- Badass Bookworm: Stanley Goodspeed. Also Mason, who presumably became one while in prison. At one point he laments that he'd have rather been a poet.
- Badass Grandpa: John Mason, ex-SAS man and one of the few to escape the Rock.
- Big Bad: Gen. Hummel the is the mastermind of the crisis, before his underlings make it worse at the end.
- Blast Out: When Hummel informs Captains Frye and Darrow plus Gunny Crisp that he plans to abort the mission, a Mexican standoff ensues, with Hummel's second-in-command Major Baxter being the only one not participating. When Frye tells him to pick a side, Baxter opens up on the mutinous officers.
- Blatant Lies: Goodspeed describing Mason's death. It's pretty obvious at least half of the people he's telling knows he's BSing them, but they couldn't do anything about it without proof.
- Bond One-Liner: Uttered by, appropriately enough, Sean Connery after he throws a knife into a marine's throat (who watched the knife flying towards him while screaming).
"You must never hesitate."
- Goodspeed gets one too when he uses the rocket to dispatch Darrow.
"How'd you like how that shit works?"
- Boxed Crook: John Mason.
- Brick Joke: A morbidly hilarious one: Goodspeed is listening to the Elton John song "Rocket Man" early in the film with his girlfriend. This leads to his Pre-Mortem One-Liner.
- Camp Gay: The hairstylist.
- Casual Danger Dialogue: Goodspeed, when he's working:
Stanley: I have some bad news, and some really bad news. The bad news is that the gas is corrosive and it's eating our suits. The really bad news is there is enough C-4 explosive and poison gas to blow the whole chamber and everyone in the building, detonation: 2 minutes.
- Note also his explanation of VX nerve gas to Mason while disarming the rocket.
(While he's handling the unstable VX capsules): It stops the brain from sending nerve messages down the spinal cord within 30 seconds. Any epidermal exposure or inhalation, and you'll know. A twinge at the small of your back as the poison seizes your nervous system. Your muscles freeze, you can't breathe... you spasm so hard you break your own back and spit your guts out. But that's after your skin melts off
- Chase Scene: The car chase scene utilizes just about every trope on that list.
- Chekhov's Gun:
- The atropine and signal flares.
- The motion sensor one of the marines installs.
- Mason's "special operations gear": kerosene, washers and waterproof matches. The kerosene and matches he uses to set a marine on fire, and the washer is used to break out of an Alcatraz prison cell.
- The single sphere of VX-2.
- Cluster F-Bomb: The "There is no fucking money" scene.
- Conservation of Ninjutsu: After the SEALs are gunned down, it's up to Goodspeed and Mason to take down the Marines. Doesn't work out so well for the Marines.
- Cool Car: Ferrari chases Hummer.
- Crazy-Prepared: Mason defines this.
- Crucified Hero Shot - Several when Goodspeed uses the atropine and later deploys the green flares. He even "comes back from the dead" when Mason pulls him out of the water.
- Cultured Badass: "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes" and other quotes. Hummel seems more Wicked Cultured.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The battle between the SEALs and Hummel's forces.
- Curse Cut Short: See Killed Mid-Sentence.
- Deadpan Snarker: Mason and Goodspeed.
- Deadly Gas: And they have the decency of using one that actually exists. However, VX is not glowing green, and it's not a blister agent. It's a nerve agent. So no, you don't die with your face melting off and your clothes smoking. Instead, your nerves stop working, resulting in paralysis. The rest is accurate, though.
- Deadly Dodging: The fist fight between Mason and a Mook near the end.
- Death Faked for You: Mason in the end, by Goodspeed.
- Deconstruction: Mason is a pretty cool James Bond Expy, isn't he? He's got everything! Played by Sean Connery? Check. Badass Deadpan Snarker? Check. Prone to one-night stands? Check. Skilled at escaping death through creative means? Check. Left embittered and cynical after being secretly held as a political prisoner for years because the consequences of international espionage finally caught up with him? Uh...
- His sleeping around also ended up with him having a daughter... who hates his guts.
- Dies Wide Shut
- Die Hard on an X: This movie could be described as Die Hard at Alcatraz.
- Disco Dan: Stanley when it comes to music. He prefers vinyl to CDs.
- Disney Villain Death: Many of the evil Marines suffer this.
- The Dragon: David Morse's Major Baxter to Ed Harris' General Hummel. He eventually follows Hummel in his Heel-Face Turn and gets killed along with him.
- Darrow is also Captain Frye's Dragon.
- Dramatic Irony: Some between Hummel and Mason during their first conversation. Hummel accuses Mason of not knowing what it's like to see your government betray the memory of their soldiers. Mason himself has spent half his life in prison (including Alcatraz) because the British disavowed him.
- Elites Are More Glamorous: Marine Corps Force Recon faces off against the Navy SEALs and a former member of the British Special Air Service. And Goodspeed. Zig-Zagged—the Recon takes down the SEALS, but are killed by one SAS.
- Enemy Civil War: Occurs brieflt near the end of the film when Frye and Darrow mount a mutiny against Hummel after he reveals the whole plan was just a bluff and never intended to use the VX against a civilian population. Only Baxter sides with Hummel and both of them are killed in an ensueing stand-off.
- Establishing Character Moment: While Hummel is trying to convince the SEALs to stand down, Frye impatiently whispers "Let's waste these fuckers."
- Goodspeed using a toy gun on his Rube Goldberg device followed by coolly deactivating a bomb under extreme pressure—he's an eccentric badass.
- Mason mentioning Alcibiades, Sir Walter Raleigh and Solzhenitsyn shows he is a Cultured Badass.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Hummel never shows any regret for what he did, but in the end he makes it clear it was all a bluff, and he's not about to launch neurotoxins on an unsuspecting city full of innocent people.
- Some of the soldiers, notably Sergeant Crisp express their dismay that they will be forced to kill civilians in order to earn their pay. It ultimately does not dissuade them though from seeing the plan through when the other soldiers mutiny against Hummel.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Mason crashes into a meter maid's vehicle during the car chase and it is still capable of making a fireball that brings down telephone lines. Also, the cable car that is wrecked later in the chase.
- Expy: John Mason, a character who is James Bond in all but name. Even shares his background and is played by Sean Connery.
- Fallen Hero: Hummel is a former USMC General.
- Flashed Badge Hijack: Stanley does it to hijack a Ferrari during the car chase. Which gets destroyed, of course.
- Fluffy Fashion Feathers: Carly wearing a feather trimmed nightgown as she and Stanley are making love.
- Foreshadowing: In the shower room scene, Hummel is unwilling to shoot the SEALs while in contrast Frye and Darrow are eager to do it and take enjoyment in doing so.
- Foreign Cuss Word: The Filipino chef cusses out Sean Connery as he barges through the hotel's kitchens.
- Four-Star Badass: Hummel, just a One-Star Badass, but the medals and commendations read about him show that he's a legend in the military.
- Genre Savvy: Hummel threatens to kill a hostage in exchange for the guidance chips that Mason and Goodspeed stole. When Goodspeed looks as though he might actually give them back, Mason snatches them and destroys the chips.
- Girlish Pigtails: Carla put them on once, since it seems Stanley has a thing for them.
- Give Geeks a Chance: FBI lab geek Stanley Goodspeed's girlfriend, Carla, is played by model/actress Vanessa Marcil.
- Go Mad from the Isolation: Notably averted. Though Mason has been in jail for over two decades following his escape, he seems perfectly sane and has no trouble carrying on a conversation (or a car chase for that matter). He explains to Goodspeed that he managed to keep himself sane by holding out hope that he'd be able to see his daughter again, or that the British government would arrange his release.
- Good All Along: Played With. While Hummel uses extremist methods to get revenge for all the lives that were lost under his command, he was never going to launch the rockets and kill innocent people. Sadly, his men don't think the same and attempt to kill him.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: An unusual example. Womack initially gets Paxton to offer the terms of the deal to Mason, and Paxton is aggressive and intimidating, an approach that has little effect upon him. In desperation, Womack urges Goodspeed to talk to him, and as Goodspeed has no interrogation experience he nervously adopts his usual friendly demeanour. Mason seems more amused than anything else.
- Grenade Hot Potato: The bad guy Marines pitch a grenade at Stanley Goodspeed, who grabs it and tosses it back at them. Later on, one of them does it to Mason, except he cooks the grenades so Mason can't do this.
- Hero Stole My Bike: Stanley
Guy: "Hey, man, you just fucked up your Ferrari!"
Stanley: "It's not mine. Neither is this."
- Mason and the Humvee also qualify. When the vehicle's outraged owner calls the Humvee's phone, Mason responds "I'm only borrowing it".
- Historical In-Joke: One of the Marines starts beating up Mason, calls him an "English prick". (The character's from Glasgow, but ID'd himself as SAS earlier). He takes a few more pokes at Mason, then goes "I tell you my old man was Irish?"
- The Joint Chiefs also reference Hummel's Vietnam-era missions into China, a long term Conspiracy Theory about the latter days of that war.
- Also, what Goodspeed reads on the microfilm at the end. Who Shot JFK?...?
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Frye and Darrow, who were most eager to launch the missiles, are exposed to the lethal substance and launched on one of the rockets respectively.
- Honor Before Reason: Stanley courageously continuing the mission to stop Hummel alone in spite of having virtually none of the combat abilities of Mason, who has just abandoned him.
- Horrible Judge of Character: Hummel didn't realize that Frye and Darrow were amoral mercenaries until it was too late.
- Icy Blue Eyes: Hummel.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Darrow who falls on a sharp fence post after he has been propelled through the window by the rocket fired by Goodspeed..
- Insistent Terminology: It's stylist, not barber.
- Ironic Echo: "Welcome to the Rock."
- It Always Rains at Funerals: Kind of. There's no funeral, but it's pouring when Hummel goes to visit his wife's grave, just prior to his theft of the nerve gas. He's more or less apologizing to her for what he's going to do.
- Played straight with the Marine Honor Guard giving a volley of gunfire for...someone.
- Just Plane Wrong: The Air Force is sent to bomb Alcatraz to neutralize the nerve gas but they're flying F/A-18 Hornets, which are exclusively Navy (and Marine) fighter/ground attack jets. The Air Force would've been flying F-15E Strike Eagles for this role.
- The cockpit mock-up was originally made for the F/A-18s in Independence Day and then repainted for The Rock. The rest of the F/A-18 footage is mostly Stock Footage that matches up with the set they used.
- Kill It with Fire: The Thermite Plasma, designed specifically to burn hot enough to render VX harmless.
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Random marine: "I said shut the fu—" (Mason snaps his neck).
- Knight Templar: Averted as Hummel, although a very sympathetic villain, had never intended to launch the missiles.
- Large Ham: Nic Cage (unsurprisingly), Gregory Sporleder, Ed Harris, and Tony Todd.
- Last Stand: We hear the radio chatter of Hummel's Marines fighting one over the opening credits. Help doesn't arrive.
- Malevolent Architecture: The way John Mason gets in/out of the cistern room (under the furnaces with belching fire and turning gears). Mason: "I memorized the timing. I just hope it hasn't been changed..."
- Meaningful Name: The etymology of Stanley Goodspeed's last name.
- Francis Hummel's surname. Hummel is the German term for Bumblebee, who are well-known to be by far less aggressive and dangerous compared to other types of bees or wasps, despite being quite big.
- Mason, rock, get it?
- Minecart Madness
- Misplaced-Names Poster: According to the poster, Nic Cage is about to shoot you.
- Monster Sob Story: Hummel's reason for taking Alcatraz hostage is to force the government to pay back families of soldiers killed under his command.
- My Country, Right or Wrong
Anderson: We all have shipmates we remember. Some were shit on and pissed on by the Pentagon, but that doesn't give you the right to mutiny!
- My God, What Have I Done?: Hummel actually says this before dying. The general didn't realize until it was too late that some of his men were only in it for the money and not the cause. Oops.
- Navy Seals: Several real SEALS were brought in to perform the underwater and infiltration scenes, and were given bit parts in the movie.
- Neck Snap: Done by Mason to save Goodspeed, after Mason seemingly ditches him.
- Never Found the Body: Of course they didn't. Mason wasn't anywhere near the explosion that allegedly vaporized him. Goodspeed just reported that so that Mason could escape.
Womack: Vaporized? Bodies can do that?
- Never Hurt an Innocent: The general was bluffing. His men aren't.
- The Nineties: After Mason is released from prison, Goodspeed suggests that he get a haircut because he looks like a 20 year old Grunge musician from Seattle.
- Non-Lethal Warfare: The Recon Marines neutralize the naval arsenal without killing any guards, not wanting to kill fellow Marines. Of course they were still brutally effective without bullets. The reinforcements brought to Alcatraz don't have any qualms like that.
- Justified because the reinforcements are mercenaries brought in to fill up the necessary manpower to occupy and defend Alcatraz than real Marines and supporters of Hummel.
- Not What I Signed On For: Hummel has no intention of actually going through with his threatened chemical attack if his demands aren't met. He finds out at the end that his associates feel differently. More specifically, they felt that there was no going back — when his bluff is called, he folds but they decide to stay all in.
- Not with the Safety on, You Won't
Goodspeed: You wanna play tough with me? Okay, FBI! Freeze sucker! I'll fire.
Mason: No you won't.
Goodspeed: Throw down.
Mason: You're not the sort.
Goodspeed: Let's find out.
Mason: I could, you no. Besides your safety's on.
[Mason snatches the gun]
- Nothing Personal
Crisp: Killing marines is one thing. Is this for real?
Frye: Hey, it's just business.
- One Dose Fits All: In the opening scene, the mercenaries use tranquillizer darts on the soldiers guarding the chemical weapons depot. All of them fall unconscious practically immediately, despite their different sizes.
- Operation Game of Doom: Disarming the nerve gas rockets - the capsules are VERY fragile, one brush can mean one shattering and dropping.
- Orbital Shot: When Stanley works to disarm the bomb in his first scene.
- Stanley getting up from the wrecked Ferrari, after it looks like Mason got away.
- Outrun the Fireball: When the Marines fireflush the drains.
- The Paragon Always Rebels: Hummel.
- Pet the Dog: Before the attack, Hummel tries to convince a school tour group to get back on the ferryboats to San Francisco.
- Poison Is Corrosive: VX-2 is both a neurotoxin and powerful blister agent.
- Precision F-Strike: Goodspeed, who rarely curses in the movie ("Cut me some friggin' slack!") throws one out as he force-feeds a deadly poison capsule to Captain Frye.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner
Goodspeed: [handling VX gas] You know how this shit works?
Darrow: [pulls his combat knife] You know how this shit works?
: Listen, I think we got started off on the wrong foot. Stan Goodspeed, FBI. Uh—Let's talk music. Do you like the Elton John
song, "Rocket Man"?
Darrow: I don't like soft-ass shit.
Goodspeed: Oh, you—oh, oh. Oh. Well, I only bring it up because, uh, it's you. You're the Rocket Man.
[Goodspeed fires a rocket at him]
- Also, Goodspeed force-feeding a mook with a VX gas ball: "Eat that, you fuck!"
- Prison Rape: Not a problem these days. Mason must be losing his sex appeal.
- Alluded to figuratively in the Alcatraz shower room: "We are so fucked!"
- "Possible penetration point in the shower room."
- Psycho for Hire: Captains Frye and Darrow, while members of Hummel's task force, slip into this trope when they discover that Hummel is cancelling the ransom demand.
- Quote-to-Quote Combat: Mason to Hummel:
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Thomas Jefferson
"Patriotism is a virtue of the vicious," according to Oscar Wilde
Mason: Thank you for proving my point.
- Real Award, Fictional Character: In the opening scene, Gen. Hummell leaves his Medal of Honor at his wife's gravesite.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Paxton.
- Redemption Equals Death: Hummel and his former friend Baxter get killed by the ruthless Marines, once they decided to not fire the rockets on civilians..
- Redemption Rejection: After Hummel revealed that he's been bluffing the whole time, Hummel offered his subordinates to escape via helicopter, while he himself takes all the blame, therefore the remaining marines would escape prosecution. However, Frye and Darrow and the rest of the marines sans Baxter are not willing to run off as cowards without accomplishing what they're hired to do and still want to prove to the U.S. Government that they mean business in contrast to Hummel's bluff.
- Redshirt Army: The SEAL team. A real SEAL Team no less. Dennis Chalker and Harry Humphries were two of half a dozen SEALS who advised and performed some of the scenes in the film, with Snake actually landing a part. They only really end up in this situation because they're outnumbered and pinned down in an inferior tactical situation...
- Right Man in the Wrong Place: Stanley Goodspeed.
- Rousing Speech: Mason sort of gives one to Goodspeed.
Goodspeed: I'll do my best.
Mason: Your best? Losers are always whining about their best, winners go home and fuck the prom queen.
Goodspeed: Carla was the prom queen.
- Sacrificial Lions: The SEAL team Mason and Goodspeed accompany to Alcatraz.
- San Francisco: See Chase Scene above. Nearly every landmark is menaced by a missile or raced by in a Ferrari. Nearly every San Francisco stereotype is present too.
- Scary Black Man: The knife-wielding Captain Darrow (played by Tony Todd which makes him more frightening).
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: But Mason comes back.
"Last time I swam these waters, I was your age. So I'm fucked either way."
- Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Trope Namer.
- Semper Fi: Although being the bad guys, the Marines (and a few possible ex-Rangers, and some mercenaries) take out a Navy SEAL team, albeit under the fact they had superior firepower and a much more elevated position.
- Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Goodspeed and Mason.
- Shot to the Heart: Stanley does the self-administered version to counter the effects of poison gas.
- Sickly Green Glow: The VX in the missiles is depicted as green glass balls (whether the green is from the balls or the gas - which in real life is colorless - is unclear).
- Signature Style: Bay's usual Dutch Angles are in full effect, especially when the F/A-18s make their bombing run. His fondness for montage, slow motion and orbital shots is also obvious.
- Smug Snake: Womack, all the way, even when he's protesting that it's a "different bureau" than in Hoover's day.
- Sociopathic Soldier: Frye and Darrow. Also one marine laments having to capture Goodspeed alive.
"'Cause I'd take pleasure in guttin' you, boy!."
- Start of Darkness: Hummel's men being refused evacuation after Desert Storm.
- The Starscream: Captain Frye who becomes the real Big Bad after he and his accomplices killed Hummel and his longtime friend Baxter.
- Stress Vomit: Stanley Goodspeed throws up when he's recruited to be part of the rescue mission, and told the full risks of going in.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The Marines throw a couple bombs in the sewers to flush out any more intruders. One of the thermite plasma missiles is launched just before the abort order comes in.
- Television Geography: One of the nerve gas missiles is fired towards "a football game", apparently heading for the Oakland Coliseum. When the camera shows the missile seconds away from its target, the stadium shown is actually Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
- The car chase is all over the place geographically. For example, at one point, a police report says they are heading west on California Street....but in the very next shot, not only is it obvious that they are not on California Street, but they are also headed east towards Coit Tower.
- The FBI mobile command center is shown to be situated at a warehouse on Pier 39. In reality Pier 39 is a heavily developed shopping center and tourist trap in Fisherman's Wharf.
- Those Two Bad Guys: Frye and Darrow.
- Title Drop: Since the movie is named after a common nickname for Alcatraz, the term gets mentioned a few times.
- Took a Level in Badass: Goodspeed started as a mild mannered lab rat who never swore. He ends the film by force-feeding the remaining merc VX gas, stabbing himself in the heart with the anti-VX agent, and manages to gather enough strength to avert the firebombing of Alcatraz.
- Tragic Villain: Hummel's not even a real villain, he's just seeking reparations for the men betrayed by their government after trying every official channel.
- Tranquillizer Dart: In the opening scene, the mercenaries use tranq darts on the soldiers guarding the chemical weapons depot. All of them fall unconscious immediately.
- Trapped in Containment: First to showcase the nasty effects of VX on a poor rebel, and the second that introduces us to Goodspeed's skills.
- Unbuilt Trope: This is the movie that established Michael Bay as a major power in Hollywood, and (though his second movie overall) his first large-scale military thriller. It also comes off as a deconstruction of almost everything that his films are famous for: the main antagonists are American terrorists with a largely sympathetic cause (with the movie making it clear that the secret-obsessed Corrupt Bureaucrats who motivated them are the true villains), a lone British SAS officer ends up saving the day after a platoon of American SEALs are all gunned down, and the movie spends almost as much of its running time criticizing America's treatment of its soldiers as it does on flashy action scenes.
- Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Possibly the king of all examples, given that one person on there has just beaten a bunch of people senseless and escaped from prison. The other? "I certainly didn't see you throw that man off the roof. All I need to know is Did you like your haircut?"
- Unperson: Mason. Even Goodspeed's FBI buddy has a hard time locating him in the Bureau of Prisons database. At the end of the movie John Mason effectively fakes his own death, putting him beyond the reach of just about everybody.
- Vomit Indiscretion Shot: Stanley runs to a sink and pukes after being told he was to be part of the mission.
"My stomach's doing hula hoops around my ass."
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Hummel, driven to extremes to get compensation for the families of soldiers killed on secret missions. By virtue of his rank and the gravity of the threat posed by his scheme to San Francisco (even if he didn't mean to carry it out, his men certainly did), Hummel is also arguably a Ripper. Even his opponents admit that if they've alienated a great man like Hummel, they've done something wrong.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Hummel was driven to madness by his government's betrayal although he was bluffing all along and didn't mean to kill anyone.
- Western Terrorists: All-American heroes, no less.
- Who Shot JFK?: Mason is in jail because he stole microfilm containing, among other secrets, the answer to this question. Which is strange, since he stole it in 1962.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Before taking the tourists and tour guide hostage, Hummel asks a group of elementary students to inform their class to evacuate Alcatraz. This was also seen when a rocket meant for San Francisco was destroyed mid-way without hitting its target through it’s unclear if he had a change of heart, considering children would’ve been among the killed.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Mason refused to give back the microfilm because he knew the government would "suicide" him.