In Defense of Michael Bay

It has become so easy to hate Michael Bay. The man offers an almost perfect distillation of every sleazy, greedy, immortal Hollywood cliché available, and he does so with a cocky smile that somehow manages to convey a million "your momma" jokes without a single word.

And yet, he is the undeniable master of his own commercial art. Other directors ape his style, but none can boast to have conquered the weird alchemy that goes into a Michael Bay film. He's one of the few mainstream auteurs out there. Even at his most despicable, he's worth our attention.

But that doesn't mean each viewing of a Michael Bay film must be a labor of investigative torture. When Bay is at the top of his game, few are better (at that particular game, anyway). Sometimes you just have to give in and have the good time he worked so hard to give you.

Reason #1 - He's Funny

 

Despite his solid position as an action director, it often feels like the action stuff in Michael Bay's films only exists for commercial reasons, while his real heart is more interested in comedy. Not the kind of high comedy that requires deep set ups and intricate jokes, mind you. Bay's humor is definitely more juvenile and simplistic than all that.

But it's remarkable how much of a movie's running time Bay will designate for comedy digressions. The Transformers films in particular stopped dead in their tracks multiple times to revel in silly comedy set pieces. And if you were to make a ratio of comedy to action in Bay's first film, Bad Boys, I bet you'd come out at about 20/80. He's definitely a guy who wants to make you laugh. Whether he succeeds or not is simply a matter of how low your brow can go.

Reason #2 - He Casts Well

Most Michael Bay films are filled to the brim with actors who supply stellar matches for their roles. From leads to support characters, there's always a familiar face to find in a Michael Bay film, and it's usually a pleasing one. The Rock not only gave us one of Nicolas Cage's more memorable roles (before acting nuts was something he did on purpose) but gave us one last reminder of why anyone would care about Sean Connery. Half the reason Armageddon works at all is the cast, a who's who of '90s character actors that would be worth watching regardless of the film's quality.

Reason #3 - He Deals in Iconography

You know that shot in most Michael Bay films? The one where the hero or heroes rise from the ground while the camera circles around them against a majestic, crimson sky? That's iconography, and Michael Bay excels at it.

Michael Bay films aren't about men and women. They're about Ken and Barbie dolls playing out conflicts from the mind of a hyperactive child. The heightened realism constructed in Michael Bay's films is all rugged male fantasy, but it often works. And even when it doesn't work, it still looks good.

Reason #4 - He Supplies Movie Fans with a Real-Life Villain

There are so many filmmakers who do what Michael Bay does, only far worse. Yet Bay takes the brunt of film fan hatred anyway, primarily because he remains so prominent. If you want to take down modern action filmmaking, might as well start with its figurehead. Even if you don't like action films, his Platinum Dunes production company came and screwed up everyone's favorite horror franchises, too.

But that's not all. Bay exasperates this with his public persona and self-image. A handsome guy who works out, spends a lot of time in Miami and has a reputation for being a tyrant on set, Bay doesn't appear interested in apologizing for his success or acting humble in an effort to appease a bunch of nerds who probably still live with their parents. It's nice to have such an easily identifiable and willing bad guy at whom we can all occasionally point our ire.

Reason #5 - His Action Scenes Sometimes Looks Great

If you look closely at Michael Bay's action sequences, the director rests somewhere between the wider, longer shot composition of yesterday and the hyper chaotic shooting and editing style we're typically stuck with now.

It depends not only on which movie we're talking about, but which scene. Most of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen's action looks awful and incomprehensible. The big forest fight that kills Optimus Prime, however, looks great. The same goes for most of the otherwise reprehensible Dark of the Moon, the 3D aspect of which forced Bay to slow down his edits and plan more deliberate shots, resulting in some great robot-on-robot fighting action. And that's saying nothing of his human films. The Rock in particular is a great looking action film. Speaking of which…

Reason #6 - He Made The Rock

Even Michael Bay's most ardent detractors have to admit at least a little love for The Rock. Of all Bay's films, this is the most classic and respectable. The concept driving the plot is both easy to explain and executed without any muddying complication.

Not only are both leads great together, but a mildly interesting drama brews between the film's crew of bad guys as well. The Rock is simply a great action film, and no matter what cinematic crimes Michael Bay commits in the future, it will always stand as a shining example of the unique talent he occasionally utilizes as a filmmaker.

Reason #7 - He Made Armageddon

A lot of people don't like Armageddon (Bay himself recently apologized for his own movie--in a way), and that's understandable when you recall the horrible Animal Crackers scene. But then you remember Peter Stormare's cosmonaut, Steve Buscemi's space madness, Bruce Willis' sacrifice, Billy Bob Thornton's exasperation, and the fact that Owen Wilson dies, and the whole Animal Crackers thing doesn't seem so bad.

This is not a movie to watch if you're overly concerned with scientific facts or accurate depictions of the human race. It's more of a movie for people who think it would be cool to ramp a dune buggy on the surface of the moon. With that kind of audience in mind, it's hard to image a better possible version of this film.

Reason #8 - He Doesn't Care About Romance

Many potentially great action films waste important screen time on perfunctory romances that filmmakers include yet never imbue with the care required to make these relationships matter. They just go through the motions as filmmakers and we go through the motions right along with them as viewers.

Michael Bay doesn't have this problem. While indicative of much larger and troubling issues with women all his films share, it's nice all the same how seldom romance appears in his films. That's for the best, too, because he's horrible at it. His two big attempts at love stories, in Pearl Harbor and Armageddon,were both deeply embarrassing for everyone involved.

Reason #9 - He Turned Optimus Prime into an Amoral Psychopath

This feels like one of those things everyone knows but no one has really pounced on yet: Michael Bay's Optimus Prime might be the most unlikable, morally reprehensible action hero of all time. The glee with which he murders Decepticons and the brutality employed by his methods do not illustrate a great military leader but rather a psychopath who just happens to be on the good side.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with the death of Megatron in Dark of the Moon. After swooping in to save Optimus Prime's life, Megatron asks for a truce. Optimus responds by ripping Megatron's head off so violently that his whole robotic spine goes with it.

Reason #10 - He Knows Who He Is

Michael Bay is not a stupid person. If you listen to him talk or read interviews with him, he usually comes off as a very confident, intelligent person who knows exactly what his role is as a mainstream entertainer. This discussion on the merits of 3D between him and James Cameron offers a great example. Bay does have a tendency to equate movie quality with box office success when defending his films, but he's not at all the meat-headed ball of testosterone some may imagine.

Am I right, people?

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Next Article by Derrick Deane

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