Hello, Reader. There’s a chance I don’t know you, but I bet I know something about you: you hate Michael Bay. Maybe hate is a strong word, but you probably have an opinion of the director that is less than favorable. There’s no shame in it; I’ve been one of those people from time to time. I’m an admitted recovering film snob, but I’m here to tell you that your hate is misguided.
This past weekend, I watched Pain & Gain and while I didn’t go in with astronomical expectations, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the film. It’s not exactly a Scorsese-type movie, but it’s not dissimilar. In fact, the energy this movie displays is nearly identical to the mile-a-minute pace of The Wolf of Wall Street, my favorite film of last year.
I’m sure you have your reasons for disliking Michael Bay. Maybe you simply don’t like his persona; the fact that he can be described (no matter how misguided) as an onset Hitler by one of his stars doesn’t exactly paint the picture of anything less than a douchebag. But if he’s such a douchebag, how can he make a commercial that’s so self-referential that it tips to self-awareness? Are douchebags secretly fully aware of how douchey they really are? Are douchebags becoming self-aware? Like Skynet?
Maybe you thought the Transformers series didn’t live up to the over-glorified source material he had to work off. As we all know, Transformers is the most highly regarded 80s cartoon about robots that are also vehicles. It’s obvious that those movies had the potential to be something more than shiny action movies with lots of sound design. Reality check: I was born in 1985 and I watched the Transformers cartoon like it was my first job. Strip away the nostalgia and if you expected anything other than what Michael Bay gave to you, you’re dreaming the impossible dream, my friend.
Maybe you hate the way the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles look. Okay, maybe this is valid (though, he’s technically a producer), but honestly, if the movie is good enough, couldn’t that be something worth looking passed? That movie hasn’t even come out yet and people already hate it. Do I think it will be good? Not particularly, but I never thought a live-action Turtles movie was all that great to begin with. Like I said, I’ve never been the world’s biggest Michael Bay fan, but I think we’ve all misremembered just how bad his filmography plays out.
As a director, his first project of note happens to be a video centerfold for Kerri Kendall in September of 1990, and this dubious start sort of tips what the rest of his career would become. Sure, there probably aren’t any explosions in the video (will have to check to confirm), but if you gave an award to a director that can completely objectify a female lead, Michael Bay would hold both the World Championship and Intercontinental titles. It’s probably not the greatest honor in the world, to turn a camera into a chauvinist extension of the male gaze, but fuck all if he isn’t just another director in the long line of directors that enjoyed capturing the female form on celluloid. Alfred Hitchcock was a notorious dog and while he never had Kim Novak face down, ass up over the engine of a Camaro, let’s not pretend that he wouldn’t have done it if given the opportunity; he probably would have made Megan Fox dye her hair blonde, though. But he would’ve directed the shit out of it, all while confidently displaying his raging erection.
Bay’s side projects are an extension of this perpetuation of filmic misogyny, but it’s kind of hard to direct a Victoria’s Secret commercial without feeding the dogs a little bit. The only commercial for VS in recorded history that doesn’t get the blood of straight American males running is the one with old Bob Dylan screeching throughout, but you could still fap to it. In short, maybe Bay should be relegated to only shooting projects like this; he seems to enjoy shooting gorgeous women in barely-there cover-ups (and he does it well), but that’s not the only talent he has… so if he’s not going to take that job, I’ll be here.
The summer is devoted to action movies, and while comic book actioners have gotten darker, the directors have come from a higher pedigree than usual. Back in the 1990s, when Michael Bay cut his teeth, guys like Jerry Bruckheimer, Renny Harlin, and Roland Emmerich dominated the summer. These guys may not have understood subtlety and nuanced characterization, but they knew how to film explosions and epic action set pieces. I think, nowadays, this skill is underrated. Watch anything that can be deemed action in a film as good as Batman Begins and you can see, while the rest of the film is exceptional, the fight scenes are directed a bit ambiguously; it’s difficult to figure out exactly what is going on at points. In a Michael Bay movie, when it comes to action, you know what you’re seeing and it’s usually awesome. It’s a throwback to that 90s cheese that I wrote an entire article about. Action doesn’t need to be dark and brooding; it should be loud and in your face. Blame Paul Greengrass, but Bay’s style of directing is all about the money shot; good or bad, he’s usually able to deliver.
Sure, all of this focus on explosions and young, tanned skin may come off as vapid, but who’s to say that there is no room for the shallow? Remember the 1980s? Remember hair metal? Hair metal was all about girls, partying, and just having a good time. This is Michael Bay. Michael Bay is Motley Crüe in filmmaking form. And that’s okay. Now, I’m not a fan of hair metal, but I can appreciate its “having our cake and eating it, too” mentality, so I appreciate the similar sentiment I glean from Michael Bay’s films.
Conversely, Bay’s worst film is an indication that maybe he shouldn’t be trying to become anything other than “The Explosions Guy”. I’m talking of course, of Pearl Harbor. The idea of a Saving Private Ryan meets Titanic was a very late 90s/early 2000s idea, and the result was just god-awful. It’s obvious that the film itself was structured around the attack, and everything else was just kind of filler. To its credit, the attack scene isn’t bad, except for anything involving Cuba Gooding Jr., so while the love triangle aspect is some of the worst things Michael Bay has ever done, what he does well, he delivered for this film.
Going through the rest of his films, I can’t really say that I’ve been disappointed by any, or at the very least, I’ve been mildly entertained. The Rock, Bad Boys, Bad Boys II, Armageddon, the criminally underrated The Island, and yes, even the Transformers series can happily waste my time. His movies aren’t without their head-scratching or downright offensive moments. Pain & Gain came under fire for glorifying senseless acts of violence that actually took place, but similar criticisms came down on Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, though people got fleeced in that film, rather than have their hands barbecued over charcoal. Potato, Potato.
Michael Bay is not Quentin Tarantino. He’s not the Coen Brothers or Martin Scorsese or David Fincher. Heck, he might not ever be Bryan Singer. What is he? He’s Tony Scott, if Tony Scott never directed Man on Fire. That’s right, the guy that (during his life, rest in peace), rested on the laurels of directing Top Gun and being Ridley’s brother doesn’t exactly have a filmography that surpasses Bay. In fact, Pearl Harbor is not exactly that far off from Top Gun; all that’s missing is a sweaty volleyball scene. Even so, Tony Scott manages to escape the kind of punch line reputation Bay receives that should only be attributed to Brett Ratner. Because fuck that guy. He’s a douchebag.