Michael Bay stepping away from the directors chair has now given two franchises a much needed boost. Though Bumblebee still did nothing for me, or my general distaste of the modern Transformers franchise, it was a step in the right direction. Now with Bad Boys For Life, Bay’s influence is there, but Belgian filmmaking duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah have made the latest, and quite possibly the best installment of this franchise. The sepia toned visuals are there, the flashy cars and shoot em’ up action sequences have the panache of a Bay picture. But Arbi and Fallah take out the worst parts of a Bay film, and inject something different; heart.

While it might be a stretch to say Bad Boys for Life has great characterization, it’s not a stretch to say Will Smith and Martin Lawrence return to the franchise to give the Bad Boys some emotional sincerity. Still, Bad Boys For Life never loses the humor, fun spectacle and charisma of the previous two installments. Arbi and Fallah axe much of the exploitative sexualization and inundation of product placement Bay is known for. It’s fun to watch filmmakers borrow the best parts of their predecessors work, and invoke their own style along the way. Plus, not everything has to explode like it does in Bay movies.

Smith and Lawrence return as Detectives Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett respectively. Feeling his age, and welcoming a new grandson to his life, Marcus wants out. Mike isn’t slowing down and possibly having a hard time letting go of his youth. It’s a plausible next step in the evolution of these characters and Smith and Lawrence bring a certain credibility to the film as the middle aged cops moving in separate directions. The story is something you’ve seen one-hundred times before. Ghosts of the detectives past have seemingly risen and they are out for revenge. A young, tough villain (Jacob Scipio) has risen and his mother is after Mike due to his connection with her slain husband.

The movie deconstructs the more masculine elements of its characters. Smith is really digging into the role while never abandoning what we like about bulletproof Mike. Lawrence is also doing the same thing. Among the returning characters, there aren’t many to constantly distract you. I’d call it reverse fan service. Of course Marcus’s wife Theresa (Theresa Randle) and his daughter Megan (Bianca Bethune) return to the movie reprising their roles. Also, Joey Pants (Joe Pantoliano) returns to chew all the scenery, and chug Pepto Bismol. Long live Joey Pants.

For nearly two hours, Arbi and Fallah keep up the same energy the franchise had which was admittedly one of Bay’s strongest things he brought. But Bay didn’t, and arguably maybe couldn’t, bring what the filmmakers do here. Bad Boys For Life explores the mortality of its leads and the effect that the passage of time has on their individual ambitions. Mike never opened himself up, along the way we find out why, but the movie perhaps takes that dive that the action first Bay might not have.

This isn’t meant to be a slam piece of Bay himself. What Bay brought to Bad Boys and the delightful sequel, was a really stylistic set of action films. Arbi and Fallah borrow from that formula. Arguably, the movie probably doesn’t work without some of the stylish and over-the-top actions sequences Bay is known for. Perhaps it doesn’t even have to be as deep as I am making it out to be. It’s undeniable however Bad Boys For Life feels like it’s saying something about the passage of time all the while a really fun movie.

That’s the big kicker. Bad Boys For Life is a blast. In January there’s certainly lots of reasons to stay home. This isn’t one of them.