Michael Bay is an anomaly.
The guy is consistently knocked as an amateur. Critics use every new movie of his to bash him to smithereens; they warn audiences against going to see his cruddy, brainless films. Film enthusiasts scratch their heads at why studios back such senseless garbage, and audiences roll their eyes just as much at a “from director Michael Bay” trailer stamp as they do when they see the phrase, “directed by M. Night Shyamalan.” The guy has become a punchline (see Entourage Season 3), the hack of all hacks, and the soup de jour of bombastic, music video-inspired cinema stylists. The guy might as well get “style over substance” tattooed on his chest. And yet, he keeps getting attached to projects, keeps making movies, and, most importantly, keeps MAKING MONEY. Why? Because YOU keep going to the movies and dropping $12 on his next big blockbuster. That’s the mother fucking truth, Ruth.
And it is here that I must come clean with you readers.
I love the dude…and I unapologetically love Mr. Bay’s films as well.
Now wait! Don’t close the window, don’t stop reading, don’t go anywhere! Take a second and think about the guy’s work, all that he’s created and all the times he’s cut together an explosion sequence that made you go, ‘WOA!’ Because don’t kid yourself, that definitely has happened!
Here are his films, in the order in which they were released: Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, The Island, Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and his newest, Pain & Gain, which opens in theaters this Friday.
Now look at that healthy list of big budgeted, overlong, pyrotechnics-heavy films and find that one that you actually, genuinely like…or just hate the least, if you’re really going to be that guy who hates to have fun at the movie theater. In the meanwhile, I’ll start with my favorite and then we’ll feed into my overarching love for the filmmaker and all his awe-inspiring glory.
Bad Boys II is an unprecedented masterpiece. I mean…master-fucking-piece. If you were to
have the audacity to ask me what my favorite action movie is, you better be ready to hear me say Bad Boys II (depending on what day you catch me, however, I may also say Face/Off). To begin with, the original Bad Boys came in swinging for the fences. A hard-hitting star vehicle for comedian Martin Lawrence and fresh-off-Fresh Prince Will Smith, it was a knockoff Tony Scott movie if there ever was one. Everything from the panging, tone-deaf score to the slow motion shootouts, blood packet eruptions, pervasive strong language, babbling interactions about God knows what, etc. Plus, its got a steamy, slightly uncomfortable love triangle…maybe love hexagon…I mean, the movie literally has everything. If you really didn’t know any better, you would have thought either Tony Scott or a very young Kathryn Bigelow was at the helm, the flick has so much of The Last Boy Scout and Point Break embedded within its DNA, with a prescribed dosage of Midnight Run to boot.
The sequel, mind you, takes all of that testosterone and smears it out for another thirty minutes, fixes the convoluted romance by just changing it to mean-spirited misogyny, piles on the race jokes and crudity, then amps it all up to 11. If the original was aiming for the backwoods tree-line, this one is leading the home run derby. The action begins at the five-minute mark and doesn’t end until about 90 seconds before the credits role. The death toll is catastrophic, the plot progression is mind-numbing, the dialogue is so irreverent and disrespectful, the pace is jaunt-like, and its grasp on physics and just reality as a whole is truthfully nonexistent. In a nutshell, it’s an absolutely majestic piece of cinema because it asks nothing of you as a viewer except to relax and be wholly entertained. It is 147 minutes (yes, it’s long!) where you can just zone out because nothing is tricky, nothing is challenging, and nothing is complex about this film, whatsoever. It’s an adrenaline-fueled action comedy so morally chipped and fragmented you’d have thought someone dropped the reel in a trash compactor. What makes it all the more brilliant is its level of self-reflexivity: It’s a guilty pleasure movie and it really wants nothing more than to be your guilty pleasure movie. As a result, it’s one of my favorite movies of all time. Isn’t irony grand!
Contemplate that all for a moment and now think about your personal favorite of Michael Bay’s films. Weave through the shitty qualities that you immediately pinpoint, think about the parts that Bay gets right, those small sentimental aspects that make you not hate that movie as much as others do/you want to. So let’s expand:
The original Bad Boys wins because it established Michael Bay’s ‘teabag’ filmic style (dirty and in your face), and then Armageddon was his first shot at epic filmmaking. His response to Roland Emmerich’s genre-revitalizing Independence Day, Armageddon sees numerous landmarks destroyed by terribly computer-generated meteorites. Its also got wildly campy, yet Oscar-nominated practical special and visual effects, a winning all-star ensemble cast led by Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck and including the late Michael Clarke Duncan in his breakout role, a high emotional resonance – don’t lie, you can’t fight the waterfall of tears from pouring out your eyeballs when Bruce Willis says goodbye to Liv Tyler! – and the script was co-written by J.J.Abrams…yea, you’re welcome. Plus, your prom night would have been totally different without that cheesy Aerosmith song (“I don’t wanna close my eyes/I don’t wanna fall asleep/because I’d miss you babe…!’), which was written for this movie.
Pearl Harbor is written by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace and is so desperately trying to be Titanic (tragic love triangle set during a real-life American tragedy) that it kind of hurts, but aside from the we-might-love-each-other-bro-more-than-the-girl romance and the stilted acting at the forefront, the 40 minute Pearl Harbor sequence itself is quite stunning. It’s brutal, frightening, and torturously realistic.
C’mon, you love Transformers! Don’t try to hide it; the little kid inside you was jumping for joy when you saw your favorite Hasbro dolls actually beating the metallic shit out of each other on the big screen. The first one, at least, is absolutely fantastic. Say what you will about the sequels, but the original is a breath of fresh air and the visual effects on display are out of this world. Revenge of the Fallen has even better visual effects, every single nut and bolt of these giant intergalactic world-savers is visible and the action is buckwild. Yes, it has racist robots and a plot that makes zero logical sense, even in sci-fi jargon (remember, there was a writer’s strike!), and Megan Fox’s pants are sparkly, pearly white from beginning to end, but so what?!
What were you expecting?
Maybe the über-Decepticon didn’t need to have giant testicles clanging beneath it, but I wanted to see two-and-a-half hours of destructive nonsense and that is what I got and then some. The third one left a whole lot to be desired, it’s true, but even I had to sit back and reevaluate my immediate reaction. All of Chicago gets destroyed in Dark of the Moon, like, seriously, the entire windy city gets leveled and innocent people die left and right. So, I’m sitting there, on my living room couch, mumbling to myself, “This is disrespectful! After 9/11 how can Michael Bay just go and destroy an entire god damn city, I’m gonna crucify this bastard!” Then The Avengers comes out and Joss Whedon brought the final battle to New York City and did nearly the same exact thing. I loved The Avengers, how was I not just as insulted about Whedon’s city destruction as I was Bay’s? Needless to say, I had to take a walk and rethink some things.
Now, no filmmaker is perfect, even Hitchcock made bad movies, and it is with The Island that Bay falls very, very short. Ewan McGregor is great, but the movie is just…really bad. Its massive action set pieces are pretty dull, the plot twists are predictable, the catharsis is forced; it’s an odd case of a movie thinking it’s more ambitious than it actually is – it wants to be the next Blade Runner but it doesn’t even have a shot at being the next Oblivion, which deals with some similar plot elements and themes. Interestingly, I also possess a great deal of distaste for The Rock, which is Michael Bay’s most well-regarded movie, as says the consensus. It’s over-the-top and has those Tony Scott-isms that I referred to earlier, but other than Sean Connery’s huge presence and Nicolas Cage’s hilarious overacting it’s a pretty schlocky film. Basically, I think of The Rock the same way that everyone else thinks of the rest of Bay’s filmography. There’s that irony again…
Michael Bay isn’t a Kubrick, a Scorsese, a Foreman, a De Palma, a Tarantino, an Anderson, a Soderbergh, or a Fincher. He’s not a Nolan, even though their movies cost around the same amount to make. He’s not even a Bob Rafelson, who could make something as LSD-inspired and burnt out as Head, but then could make something heavy and sincere like Five Easy Pieces. Michael Bay is a master in his own right and a cinematic wizard of his own kind. He makes movies that don’t make apologies; he’s got the eye of a middle schooler but the budget of a grown up, the studios give him a massive allowance and he can go buy any kind of candy he wants. As a result, watching a Michael Bay film is like shoving an entire bag of Peanut M&M’s in your mouth (Tear n’ Share Size). They’re popcorn flicks with an extra layer of butter. They’re tangy, chewy, and terribly unhealthy for you.
And yet, there’s absolutely no one else that can do what he does. People have tried and they just don’t do it right. They don’t have the same vibe, the eccentricities, the nuances – yes, Michael Bay has nuances. The color saturations, the perfectly lit action scenes, a time lapse of the Miami sign…even when the movie takes place somewhere else, the slow motion worm’s eye angles, and that frustrating, spinning camera thing he does when two characters are just talking. These Bay-wannabes don’t have the same gross humor, the same lack of moral stability, or the same leave-your-brain-at-the-door expectation. These movies try to entertain you, but Bay doesn’t try, he simply does.
He’s as amoral as he comes, it’s his duty to bring us slam-bang action extravaganzas and he brings them effortlessly. He’s got his formula down and he can cut corners out of his own cloth. When something doesn’t need to explode, or a character doesn’t need to rise from the ashes in slow motion, or a scene doesn’t have the capability of being spun around in a nauseating circle like when a four-year-old who is too short to ride the merry-go-round and has to angrily watch his cousins just spin around and around for five minutes…he’s always got a backup: Just a drop in a couple seconds of some bouncy tits and all is well
In defense of Michael Bay he commands things to be awesome, and I’ll be damned if his movies are not exactly that.
He’s here to stay – Pain & Gain will be released nationwide this Friday.
Article by Mike Murphy