MICHAEL BAY: GENIUS OR HERETIC?


Derided by critics and self-righteous film buffs alike, Michael Bay, the man who continually rakes in the money for Hollywood during the Summer Blockbuster Season, does not get the recognitions that he deserves. He has been called many things by many people and critics such a Mark Kermode have begun to orchestrate campaigns against his work on the basis, and granted a well argued one, that he produces crass and cynical projects, drawing from his experiences in commercials and his indisputable chauvinistic attitudes towards women.

He makes films that try to appeal to the basest instincts of the audience, with as much humour, explosive action and women as possible within his running times. It is also often stated that appealing to the mass audience is sacrificing the artist integrity of the projects. Transformers and namely its two sequels are the most criticised at the moment, in fact I would say universally slammed by critics, but the Box Office, as we’ll see below, tells a different story.

I’m obviously a massive film fan and I will say loud and clear that Michael Bay is one of my favourite directors and the criticisms that Bay is filling his films with explosions, women and clichés with the aim of making money is primarily WHY he is a brilliant film maker. He’s putting bums on seats and you can only do that if the audience LIKES what you’re doing.

Granted, he isn’t Shakespeare, nor some high brow art house movie maker. He’s not breaking the mold in the way that Spielberg or Nolan have done, but he gives us adrenalin filled action and a fun rollercoaster ride for two plus hours and whether the critics like it or not, kids certainly do. Families certainly do. Anyone whose idea of watching a films for escapism certainly do.

Fun is as much about cinema as any meaningful film is. Star Wars may be filed with metaphors and references to other films but this is hailed by critics, not derided in the way that Bay’s films are. But he has shot himself in the foot with films such as Pearl Harbor, which though I do like it as a popcorn flick, it really is a travesty that he was allowed to do it in the first place! Bay is a first-rate action director and in his element blowing up cars, which is why, when I heard that he was to direct Transformers, a movie about cars and robots battering each other, I could think of no-one more suited.

There are only two films at this point with I haven’t seen of Bay’s, and they are the Bad Boys pictures. I have seen a bit of the first but I plan to catch up with them soon and complete the Michael Bay back catalogue. But I will now take a quick look at the rest of his films and see what kind of  impact Bay’s films have had on me.

BAD BOYS (1995)

Worldwide Gross: $141,407,024

Bay’s first film, simple and effective as a 90’s action thriller. Funny, well played and the action was more tempered than his later work, though the elements are all there…

THE ROCK (1996)

Worldwide Gross: $335,062,302

This was the first Bay film that I saw back in 1997 and what a treat it was. Featuring an all-star cast and telling an outlandish story of terrorists taking over Alcatraz Island in order to hold San Fransisco to ransom, it knits together a much more complex story of car chases, rocket attacks, brutal combat and snazzy zingers to create a seeming intelligent rollercoaster ride.

From the opening frame this tips its hand, with action from the get go up until the final scene with a wry sense of humour. This was also the Don Simpson’s final film.

ARMAGEDDON (1998)

Worldwide Gross: $553,709,788

In the year of TWO asteroid movies, Deep Impact should have been the one, but it wasn’t on par with Bay’s masterpiece of action cinema. Whilst Deep Impact was  exploring the real issues of an impending global disaster, Armageddon just ran with it and was only interested in exploring explosions, the Mid West, love and comedy. This should have been a crass, pointless popcorn disaster, but instead is has to be the popcorn epic of the decade!

Fun, exiting and enthralling, so much so, that you forget to ask the important questions or really care either way! Memorable for the rendition of “Leaving On A Jet Plane”, the laughable final message between Bruce Willis and LivTyler, Aerosmith and the annihilation of Paris, this will always be a benchmark for 90’s action.

PEARL HARBOR (2001)

Worldwide Gross: $449,220,945

This was Bay’s first major miss-step. Back in 1999, it was revealed that this and Enemy At The Gates were both going to be vying to be 2001’s Titanic, both were war films featuring love triangles, I remember doubting their success even then, but Pearl Harbor was the weakest of two.

The problem with this is that Bay was the WRONG director for such a sensitive subject. He might think of himself as a salt of the earth American and maybe he is, but Spielberg had raised the bar of the genre back in 1998 with Saving Private Ryan and this gung-ho war actioner, dealing with such a subject was misjudged.

He should have stuck to blowing up cars and whilst his dog fights and action sequences were fantastic, the heart of the film was squarely rooted in the action but its classic 1940’s feel was effective if not the best tone following Ryan.

BAD BOYS II (2003)

Worldwide Gross: $273,339,556

Possibly my least favourite of his catalogue, but the action was still great to watch, even though the rest of film failed to live up to Bay’s usual standards.

THE ISLAND (2005)

Worldwide Gross: $162,949,164

I must admit, I do somewhat accept Bay’s argument that The Island’s failure at the box has something to do with the hackneyed marketing campaign, which did not do the actual plot justice. But even though the film has grown on me since, I do remember feeling very strongly at the time that the film need more action and that more cars needed pulverizing. But that’s not to say the film didn’t have much to say or give us his usual brand of stylised action.

But after seeing this, I said that he should just stick to blowing up cars and leave it at that… Then Transformers was announced…

TRANSFORMERS (2007)

TOP TEN FILM!

Worldwide Gross: $709,709,780

As a child of the 1980’s, Transformers were a big part of my life, though I never really did like the animated series as much as others of my age did. But after seeing some leaps forward in special effects and the idea of Bay doing exactly what he does best in blowing up cars and having robots battering each other, though granted the robot thing was as of yet untested, I was looking forward to this.

It was amazing. A truly thrilling rollercoaster and Bay’s best film to date, with a perfect blend of action, humour and visual spectacle. But this was the beginning of the Bay backlash, as he would accused of vulgar action over art, with no integrity what so ever. But his integrity was in his commitment to the action genre and the audience lapped it up! And Ironically, he teamed up with Spielberg for this franchise and he gets of Scott free!

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009)

Worldwide Gross: $836,303,693

This would be his second sequel, with Bad Boys II being his first. Though the effects were still first-rate, the film tried too hard to out do its predecessor and confused the context a bit. Still entertaining though and many people, especially children seem to like it better. Critics, on the other hand, felt that it was a cardinal sin to film.

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (3D) (2011)

Worldwide Gross: $1,123,746,996

The third in the ongoing saga, clearly a huge money-maker and an improvement on number two. This was the first 3D Transformers film and I felt one of the best examples of 3D in the blockbuster genre, as the film looks just a good without it and worked well with the added dimension but equally as well as a 2D film to match the first two. But I feel that it should end here as the narrative has worn thin and there’s nowhere to go without inventing a whole host of new elements.

***

But in conclusion, how much money does a film have to make before it can be considered successful or good? How do films make their money? Customers, word of mouth and delivering a product which is liked and appreciated and surly the two WORST Bay films, both of which have grossed between 800 million and 1.2 BILLION dollars should be given the credit for pleasing a hell of  a lot of people.

5 thoughts on “MICHAEL BAY: GENIUS OR HERETIC?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s