The Conundrum of Michael Bay
Most creatives, you can tell if you’d like them as a person by their work. George Lucas is a detail-oriented fanboy type, perpetually trapped in nostalgia. His public career has consisted of attempts to revive old forms of cinema. Star Wars is an ode to 1930’s science fiction serials, but with all the swashbuckling and dogfights amped up to eleven. He’s not unlike a family oriented Quentin Tarantino in that regard. The Indiana Jones series is about homages and pastiches of the adventure films of fifty years ago. In the time of the first trilogy, the 1930’s, again. Crystal Skull is thus an ode to 50’s sci-fi. Cool to hang out with, but might get a bit boring with time, yes?
And what of Tarantino? An encyclopedic knowledge of cinema, to be sure. That’s been present in his movies like an extra character ever since Pulp Fiction. He likes to show off his obscure movie knowledge at any chance he gets. I have a feeling I’d learn a lot from him in that regard. He’s a coarse man, no stranger to swearing. There are a handful of people who use a particular racial slur directed at black people in Pulp Fiction. As he’s the film’s author, he took the opportunity to make sure he was the only white one. Brave move for a guy who looks like he got beat up as a kid. He’d be fun to hang around, and infectiously charming.
Robert Rodriguez, the perpetually cheerful friend who’s into really bad movies but makes the best food at the barbecue. Woody Allen, a nervous, art-obsessed type who plays up his own worries to attract positive attention. Eli Roth, the unnervingly intense and focused guy in the crowd, always thinking. Jack White, liable to throw a fist at the first sign of insincerity. Colin Meloy, laid-back and PC, an overall nice fella who’s well-versed in history. Stephen King, a sorta faithy, sorta wordy, sorta brainy guy who’s just an average dude at the end of the day.
The only director for whom this has failed for me is Michael Bay. By any account that matters, his films are the lowest of the low, the excrement that cockroaches turn their nose up at; poorly edited, acted and loud noisy messes that used to resemble an actual film when they were being shot. Juvenile approaches to women, guns, cars, drugs, the military, the police and authority. At the end of the day, his films are a compilation of all the pieces of American cinema I can’t stand.
But I just can’t help but like him.
Look at this man. Just look at him. This is a guy who knows his reputation, chapter and verse. He knows exactly the kind of movies he’s expected to release, he knows exactly the kind of fans he’ll draw with each one, and he’s loving every minute of it. To say I hate his movies is an understatement. I don’t think it’s possible to spend more money on a film and fail more intensely than he does on a film-by-film basis. Every movie is an artistic flop.
But you know who doesn’t care at all? Michael Bay.
Michael Bay isn’t here to make movies that are Oscar-worthy, unless they’re competing at the technical awards. Normally, the “not supposed to win Oscars” argument would rile me up–it means that someone is going through a director’s work and defending it by saying it’s not supposed to be any good. Obviously, that’s ridiculous–your only option aside from “make it good” is “make it so bad that it’s good”, but even then, that has the word “good” in it. But Michael Bay strives for a different kind of quality. He strives for Michael Bay quality. His movies always have the Michael Bay seal of approval.
He doesn’t care about a taut thriller unless it culminates in explosions and car chases. He doesn’t care about Oscar-winning performances unless they’re back lit by a sunset and an explosion. If it doesn’t have an explosion in it, he couldn’t care less. Isn’t that attitude something to admire?
Here is a man who’s found a way to make all the movies he ever wanted to see as a kid a reality. Sure, we tried to make him do other stuff for a while–Michael Bay, WWII epics and science fiction do not mix–but he’s really found his niche with Transformers. He gets to make movies that involve the military, cars, explosions, large set-pieces and have needlessly complex and awe-inspiring CGI. This is the guy who melts servers that can’t handle rendering the transforming sequences. He is eternally reaching to top himself and forever trying to attain the goal of the perfect Michael Bay experience. All it needs now is more hot women who look like strippers but always keep their clothes on for some reason, and he’s made the ultimate in prepubescent male movie-going.
Michael Bay, more than a lot of people in the industry, is an auteur. He has first and final creative control over his projects. He makes the movies that he wants to see on screen exactly as he wants to see them on the screen. He’s a jovial, pleasant guy to be around. From interviews I’ve read with stars, coffeeboys, effects team guys, stunt guys, background actors, everyone–everyone says Michael Bay is easy to work with and has never involved them in a film they haven’t been proud of. In fact, when Megan Fox spoke out against him publicly, his crew rose to his defense, unheralded, and tore her a new one about how she’s a spoiled brat.
What did Michael Bay do? Michael Bay chuckled, smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said something along the lines of “It’s okay. Megan’s just a spicy character some days. What’re you gonna do?” She hasn’t returned to the Transformers franchise for the third installment. Even Shia LeBoeuf is back, and his critical returns are dwindling faster than firelight at Michael Bay’s cast barbecue.
The fire was just leftover embers from an explosion earlier in the evening.
So, while Michael Bay may make terrible movies, it’s not like I have to watch them or anything. And I’m glad that everyone involved from the stars to the janitor is having a good time making a big budget, Hollywood hit. Some auteur directors have to be absolute dicks to get what they want off the screen. Michael Bay does it with a chuckle, a smile, a shrug and a gigantic explosion.