Bad Boys – a couple of movies built on a couple of lyrics, until now. This third film, titled Bad Boys for Life, seemingly caps off a trilogy that has had a strange release timeline: each successor has released significant years following, with Bad Boys and Bad Boys II separated by 8 years, and the latter from this new entry by 17. But the time lapse won’t fool anyone: Bad Boys For Life, while far from perfect, solidifies itself as another quality entry, with a few new tricks up its sleeve and plenty of humour at the expense of our stars’ age, enough to please Danny Glover’s Roger Murtaugh who knew that day would come.

The role of Murtaugh is taken by Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett, who’s starting to feel the 17 years that have passed like a warning sign. Retirement is his goal: steer clear of the bullets, and stick himself in the firing line of his fiery wife, Theresa (Theresa Randle). However, Mike Lowery (a fresh faced Will Smith) proves Marcus’ fears right: a pair of skeletons in his closet come back to haunt him, as a mysterious man (Jacob Scipio) and his matriarchal mother (Kate del Castillo) arrange a near-fatal attack. Despite Marcus’ newfound enjoyment of dad dancing and reclining chairs, he is dragged back into the fray by Mike, who seeks revenge.

It does little to define itself from its predecessors in this sense: the narrative framework is nearly identical, with the personal and the criminal converging, inevitably leading to a bit of Bayhem and a lot of off-the-cuff cussing. And yet, Bad Boys for Life earns its credibility from its willingness to actually develop its characters: Smith and Lawrence don’t take the time to practice sketch material, but rather etch out new ways for us to see these characters, irrespective of the simplicity of it.

By that, I’m referring to Mike’s sudden vulnerability, for example. To have a character face the realisation that bullets can actually kill them seems like an extract from The Guide for Dummies to Mortality. But it has shades of meta that give the film some actual weight: Smith’s persona already projects a superheroic quality, but to strip that away through him being shot early in a shocking scene, gives the story a necessary shot up the buttocks (sorry Marcus).

But let’s not get carried away: Bad Boys for Life is here to remind you of the action that kept people returning to the last two films, despite the distance between them. But whereas Michael Bay’s films were akin to Bonfire Night fireworks, new directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and cinematographer Robrecht Heyvaert, choose to steady the camera a little, turning the film into something similar to Thanksgiving: we receive a clear view, as much as we give our attention to the film. The Christmas gifts come in the form of Marcus’ and Mike’s banter throughout these sequences. One scene involving neon-lit bikes finds time for character, gunfire and expletives in equal measure, as Marcus rediscovers his love for the high calibre weaponry that defines his and Mike’s interactions with the criminal underworld: there’s a high calibre of clarity to the camerawork, clearly inspired by the likes of Chad Stahelski’s revolutionary John Wick franchise.

Some of the plot points and its pieces are underutilised, as expected in a film looking to reboot a dormant franchise into the now: Bad Boys could never be praised for its political iconography. An attempt to inject some prominent pacifism into proceedings falls flat, as the tech-driven team AMMO (Advanced Miami Metro Operations) is introduced. Brought to life by an eclectic, diversely cast crew of simple avatars – the big softy (Alexander Ludwig), the ex-flame with her grip on the reins (Paola Núñez), among others – AMMO exists on paper to question the lethality of the armed forces for about fifteen minutes, before it brings the technology into the action to reinforce Mike’s quest. Visually, it’s exciting; narratively, it trips over itself.

But again, what are you gonna do when the Bad Boys come to a cinema near you? You’re going to buy a bag of popcorn and indulge in some mindless fun. Luckily, Smith and Lawrence know that the money we give isn’t done in jest: they give you the sunshine, the reggaetón, the shootouts, but some clear character motivations that inform everything. Less cash grab, more cash flow, as it’s going to prove inevitably popular with audiences: Mike and Marcus are back, showing their sibling franchise Fast and Furious how it’s done.

Dir: Adil El Abri and Bilall Fallah

Prd: Jerry Bruckheimer, Will Smith, Doug Belgrad

Scr: Chris Bremner, Peter Craig, Joe Carnahan

Starring: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Paola Núñez, Jacob Scipio, Joe Pantoliano

DOP: Robrecht Heyvaert

Editor: Dan Lebental, Peter McNully

Runtime: 124 minutes

Country: USA