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Bad Boys Franchise Recap to Prepare You For Bad Boys: Ride Or Die

Bad Boys Franchise Recap to Prepare You For Bad Boys: Ride Or Die

With the influx of sequels in theaters, we are creating a series of guides to help you keep up with the latest installments for all your favorite franchises. This week, we’re recapping the Bad Boys series in case you plan to see the fourth chapter, Bad Boys: Ride or Die, and need a quick refresher on plot, character, etc.

Let’s do this!

Bad Boys (1995)

Bad Boys was released on April 7, 1995, to middling reviews, but scored $141.4M against a surprisingly modest $19M budget. Directed by Michael Bay, the picture vaulted Will Smith to the big screen after a successful run on TV’s Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Likewise, it turned a rising star and standup comic, Martin Lawrence, into a household name.

The plot revolves around narcotics detectives and lifelong pals Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett’s mission to track down a drug kingpin who recently made off with $100M worth of Mafia heroin. Aiding their quest is Julie Mott (Téa Leoni), the friend of a murdered informant who died while gathering intel for Mike. Here’s the twist: Julie thinks Marcus is Mike, and the pair must switch lives at the behest of the always-disgruntled Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano) for, uh, reasons, at least until the case is solved.

Plot points in Bad Boys are separate from the later movies. Even the characters behave differently. Mike is always Mike, but it’s odd to see Marcus as a young, tough, badass, a stark contrast to the bumbling, anxiety-ridden sidekick seen in the following three chapters. As such, the original is not required viewing to prepare for Bad Boys 4, especially since Bad Boys II more or less rebooted the series.

Bad Boy II (2003)

Nearly a decade passed before Bay, Smith, and Lawrence reteamed for 2003’s summer blockbuster Bad Boys II. Boasting a considerably larger budget of $130M, the action-packed follow-up went on to gross $273.3M worldwide, landing at No. 10 on that year’s worldwide box office chart.

Bay goes full Bayhem with this one and reintroduces us to Mike and Marcus as they investigate a drug lord named Hector Juan Carlos “Johnny” Tapia. On the home front, Mike is still Mike, but Marcus has developed a case of willies and yearning for a partner who isn’t so cavalier with their lives. In the original film, we learn that Mike inherited a massive fortune from his family, but Marcus suddenly has an influx of cash as well and lives a comfortable life in a really nice house next to a bay in Miami, Florida . . . on a cop’s salary. Just go with it.

Their investigation leads to an all-out assault on Tapia’s home in Cuba, resulting in a one-helluva third act that (coupled with the shootout/car chase earlier in the picture) remains a franchise high point. Mike also secretly dates Marcus’ sister, Syd (Gabrielle Union).

Again, the first two pictures are not necessarily required viewing for Bad Boys 4. The newest film makes a few callbacks to the previous chapters, mentioning Mike’s relationship with Syd and their battle with Tapia. Still, none of their past actions impact the plot. Bad Boys and Bad Boys II are best viewed as standalone flicks that share names and characters and not much else.   

Bad Boys for Life (2020)

Switching gears from Bay to directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah for Bad Boys for Life meant the action (and budget) wasn’t as spectacular. But working from a screenplay by Chris Bremnar, Peter Craig, and Joe Carnahan, Adil and Bilall focused more on plot and character and even injected the series with a dose of heart. The results were enough to catapult the third chapter to $426.5M worldwide, paving the way for the upcoming entry.

Ostensibly rebooting the franchise into a quieter, character-driven saga ala Fast and Furious, Bad Boys 3 sees Mike and Marcus dealing with issues that creep up with old age. Marcus is now a grandparent contemplating retirement. Mike contends with a son named Armando (Jab Scipio), whom he never knew existed. Captain Howard likewise decides to retire but is suddenly shot and killed by Armando, leading Mike to seek revenge.

Mike and Marcus team up with Advanced Miami Metro Operations (AMMO), which consists of Mike’s ex-girlfriend Rita (Paola Núñez), weapons expert Kelly (Vanessa Hudgens), tech expert Dorn (Alexander Ludwig), and a guy named Rafe (Charles Melton).  

The crew heads to Mexico City to battle Isabel “La Bruja” Aretas, Mike’s ex and Armando’s mother. Mike once worked undercover in the Aretas cartel, where he met and fell in love with Isabel. The pair wanted to run away together, but Mike’s loyalty to the police force drove them apart, leading Isabel to seek revenge. Armando learns the truth, saves his pop, kills his mother, then goes to jail. Mike visits and offers him a chance at redemption.

Rita takes over Howard’s place as Captain, and that’s about it. Oh, and Will Smith slapped Chris Rock during the Academy Awards a few years later, a vital nugget that pays off in a big way in the fourth pic.

Bad Boys: Ride or Die

Bad Boys for Life and Bod Boys: Ride or Die are the first entries that genuinely feel like they exist in the same universe. For better or worse, Mike and Marcus are now actual human beings dealing with critical issues, facing consequences for their outlandish shenanigans. This approach robs the franchise of Bay’s signature go-for-broke style but still provides some genuine thrills.


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