The Films Of Michael Bay: A Retrospective

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by The Playlist Staff
June 29, 2011 5:44 AM
19 Comments
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"Transformers" (2007)
It’s a movie about space robots based on a popular '80s toy-- if we tried to debate the merits of story and character of Michael Bay’s “Transformers,” we’d be here all night. Can’t we just appreciate the hulking, metallic heap of cinematic candy? If we’re gonna get cavities, we might as well enjoy the process. Despite the fact that his films are morally questionable (at best) and he struggles to portray characters beyond cartoonish stereotype, it's impossible to deny that they aren’t artfully made, and stamped not only with his signature style but a consistent aesthetic look all their own (that rapidly becomes widely copied). And in a world of shoddy CGI, Bay imbues his special effects with his reverence for the practical: the Autobots and Decepticons clank and whir and hum with the weightiness of real machinery, and his manipulation of the light with sand, smoke, sweat and shiny, shiny chrome keeps everything rooted in his typical visceral hyper-reality, instead of some dull, washed out computer world. His keen visual sense of storytelling means that even in the chaos of robotic eyeball assault, there's a clear sense of space and timing, leaving room for performers like Shia LaBoeuf to fill in the spaces in his machine-fetishizing sequences with riffs and wit (though they often badly need reeling in). Bay does right by fans of “Transformers” by treating the material seriously and with an epic scope, and most importantly, delivering an entertaining flick. That’s not to say the same about the second... [B-]

"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009)
Few moments in the entire gnashing, casually misogynistic filmography of Michael Bay are as inexcusable as the characters of Mudflap and Skids, a pair of transforming robots that, despite defending the earth heroically from the evil Decepticons, can't triumph over ageless racist stereotypes. They speak in a pidgin dialect (not unlike similar computer-generated monstrosity Jar Jar Binks), have gold teeth, oversized ears, and appear ineffectual and dumb. Most damningly, however, might be the fact that they're voiced by a pair of white actors. Ouch. While the trials of making "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" have been widely documented (namely that the film started shooting without a completed screenplay, thanks to time constraints related to the WGA writer's strike, although Bay doesn't seem to credit his writers when he gets good reviews, strangely enough), there's still an oddly fascinating texture to "Revenge of the Fallen," mostly in the cacophonous way that the action sequences build on one another. Unforgettable images are scattered throughout – robots awakening on the ocean floor, a knife-thin creature made out of silvery bobs – although fail to form a cohesive whole. That said, the story is an abomination, the plotting torpid beyond belief and the film does not at all deserve its two and a half hour running time. By the time the movie concludes, in what feels like a nearly hour-long battle in the desert that includes, amongst other things, a giant robot eating one of the great pyramids of Egypt and an inappropriate dick joke, you've either gotten lost in Bay's delirious alternate reality, or have checked out completely. Either way, this is undoubtedly Bay's wildest, most out-of-control weird movie since "Bad Boys II." [D] --  Drew Taylor, Gabe Toro, Katie Walsh, Mark Zhuravsky,

"Transformers: Dark Of The Moon" hits theaters today.

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19 Comments

  • actionman | June 30, 2011 3:46 AMReply

    http://actionman-nickspix.blogspot.com/2011/06/recovering-from-bayhem.html

    Kathleen -- I'd hang out anytime :)

  • Jessica Kiang | June 30, 2011 3:28 AMReply

    @Gabe an "E" is a fail grade in some parts.

    And I must also agree with the majority of Mr Arkadin's assessments - there is no way Pearl Harbor or Transformers 2 should be given passing grades.

    Honestly, The Rock may not be his only watchable film, but for my money it's definitely his only REwatchable film. And we're talking maybe two, three times max, over the course of a lifetime, including that time you came home drunk and caught 8 minutes of it on TV before passing out.

  • Gabe Toro | June 30, 2011 2:19 AMReply

    Not sure what an "E" is, but I am down with Mr. Arkadian's feelings.

  • Mr. Arkadin | June 29, 2011 11:57 AMReply

    I really disagree with the statement/notion that he has a distinct style or could be titled an auteur for that matter (crazy idea!). Bay just (re-)makes the same 2-3 (popular action) films/sequences since 1995.

    Therefore it's more like: "OMG, those money mongers gave this idiot another ~150+ million dollars and he did shit out roughly the same movie again."
    "How does it look?" someone might still ask.
    The answer: "Expensive, very expensive! Some SFX/CGI guys had a lot of work - and did a fine job -, but other than that, it looks, sounds and feels sterile and totally devoid of any human condition you could hope to relate to."

    ...

    "Well, that there is exactly his unique, over the top bombastic style, a testament to his creative influence as a controversial filmmaker. Also he makes a lot of profit!" [/smug]

    Ultimately I guess: Fuck Michael Bay and fuck his 'supporters' just the same, because not being able to combine action and storytelling is not a talent, it's a lack thereof. He is certainly not one of the worst, but most certainly not a unique director.

    Bad Boys [D+]
    The Rock [C]
    Pearl Harbor [E]
    Armageddon [D]
    Bad Boys II [E]
    The Island [C+]
    Transformers [D]
    Transformers 2 [F]

  • zxcvb | June 29, 2011 11:36 AMReply

    One Michael Bay in the Criterion Collection -- totally fine. Shitty as he is, future generations can look at Armageddon as a prime example of Hollywood junk in the 90s and 00s.

    Two Michael Bay films in the Criterion Collection -- go to hell.

    To be fair, I think at least one of the insert essays is written by Bay's old college film professor, who was on the CC decision-making staff, I guess. So that might explain his inclusion (beyond $$ reasons).

  • Rashad | June 29, 2011 9:31 AMReply

    Armageddon is a solid B+

  • scribe | June 29, 2011 8:09 AMReply

    Oliver, the opening of this piece: Greatest two sentences ever written! Says everything.

  • Edward Davis | June 29, 2011 7:55 AMReply

    @Marrrk 2nd # point, absolutely, Bay does action like no other and someone like Nolan COULD use him to direct those action sequences.

    But action only does not a good movie make unless like @actionman, you put a massive premium on action over basic, cogent thought.

  • Xian | June 29, 2011 7:53 AMReply

    “It’s amazing to have a movie where you can look at five minutes and go, ‘That’s a Michael Bay movie.’ To have a style that distinct — like it or hate it, it deserves study.” The same could be said of Ed Wood and other mediocre or simply bad artists.

  • Marrrk | June 29, 2011 7:38 AMReply

    a few thoughts:

    - terrible taste in films but wonderful taste in third-person speaking has actlonman

    - i wish Bay's only job was to come in and direct action sequences for other directors. I'm looking at you, Chris Nolan.

    - wait, wait, wait, wait. Scarlett offered boobs and Bay turned them down?? fuck this fucking guy.

  • Abner | June 29, 2011 7:24 AMReply

    Peter "A Perfect" Stormare made me wince.

  • Kathleen Walsh | June 29, 2011 7:11 AMReply

    I want to hang out with actionman.

  • Thislalife | June 29, 2011 7:04 AMReply

    "Bad Boys II" is an action masterpiece. Transformers 3 is literally some of the best on screen action ever.

    The real question is what does Bay do now?

  • actionman | June 29, 2011 6:43 AMReply

    Actionman does enjoy getting baked and watching Michael Bay film, yes. But above all, Actionman feels that Bay's brand of badassery and action filmmaking is the best in the biz.

  • Erik McClanahan | June 29, 2011 6:42 AMReply

    Thanks Styles. Correction made on the name.

  • styles | June 29, 2011 6:34 AMReply

    Cage's character is named GOODSPEED, not Godspeed. Also...fuck Michael Bay.

  • dead farts club | June 29, 2011 6:30 AMReply

    actlonman just ate a shitload of paste.

  • Edward Davis | June 29, 2011 6:17 AMReply

    Whoa, this actlonman is apparently baked sky high when he watches movies.

  • actlonman | June 29, 2011 6:15 AMReply

    The Rock A+
    Bad Boys II A+
    Bad Boys A
    Transformers A
    The Island A-
    Transformers 2 B+
    Armageddon C+
    Pearl Harbor C

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