Michael Bay and the Five Tricks Up His Sleeve

“Damn it. God damn it. God damn m*$%*#**!*#** [email protected]*%$*%**&*. God damn **$*%&*#*@&*#*$& MICHAEL BAY!” This was my exact, less poetic reaction to what I wrote about back in February after viewing the Super Bowl spot for Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I’m sure many of you sounded off in your own unique and profane manner, but not because you thought the movie looked terrible. Sadly, if you were like me, we thought it looked kinda cool.

I know, I know. Obviously a lot of people thought it looked cool – the first two made more than $1.5 billion worldwide. But I hated those movies. I find them as awful as anything the explosion-obsessed director has ever done. Yet, even though Transformers was pretty bad and the sequel was surprisingly worse (how did they mess up something as simple as giant robots smashing into one another?), I’m going to go see Dark of the Moon. In theaters. Probably soon.

“Why?” you may justifiably ask. For a while, I couldn’t tell you. I assumed it was my own nagging curiosity about movies able to capture the minds and money of millions (which in itself is a cop out – I, like Doug, love movies). Then I got to thinking – I’ve seen every one of Michael Bay’s movies even though I complain after every one (even my surprisingly positive recent review for The Island was preceded by an awful opinion of it my first time through). How does he keep getting me to come back and shell out my hard-earned dollars? A few thoughts…

#5 – That Damn Trailer

What can I say? The man’s movies make a good cut. So good, in fact, you would think his films would become progressively shorter in an attempt to grow ever closer to the pinnacle of his creations – the trailers. Rather, Dark of the Moon clocks in at more than two-and-a-half hours. It’s 18 minutes longer than The Tree of Life, a film attempting to chronicle existence itself.

I digress. The beauty of Bay’s two-and-a-half minute spots are their simplicity. Cars crash. Buildings topple. Robots hit other robots. Sure, Shia LaBeouf is there to yell something, run fast, and act all angsty, but he’s still just a set piece to Bay – something to toss around, dirty up, and cut to and from with incredible speed.

We know what we’re going to get from this trailer. In fact, it was the false promise made by the Transformers 2 trailer that pissed off audiences across the globe. They thought they were simply getting “Bigger. F*****g. Robots” (a tagline actually sported by Bay on t-shirts made for the film). Instead, the plot blew up bigger than the explosions and, in the words of another personally despised auteur, chaos reigned. T3 seems to have boiled it down to the basics while keeping the marathon-esque runtime. Oh boy!

#4 – The Cast

What if I were to tell you, a cinephile who awaits the next Coen brothers film like inmates count down the days til their release, that John Turturro, Frances McDormand, and John Malkovich were starring in a feature film? You would be in line opening night, right? Well, I hope you were at your local megaplex last Tuesday night to catch these Oscar calibur thespians in 3D battling giant robots.

Bay has always been able to snag excellent actors for his plot-less pictures. As soon as he catapulted Will Smith to stardom in Bad Boys, the man has lured in star after star. Perhaps he started with the promise to repeat what he’d accomplished with the Fresh Prince (The Rock had Sean Freakin’ Connery!), but now I’m sure he can just buy them. After all, I doubt Malkovich and McDormand ever got a payday as big as the few days they spent spitting out lines for the great dictator.

#3 – The Machismo

Though there are certainly those out there able to resist the urge of proving your manhood by paying for a ticket to see hot chicks run from outer space robots with ginormous guns, let’s face it – we all can’t be hipsters. Some of us like sports or jeans that adequately hide our, um, manhood.

These days there’s no sure-fire conversation starter with your fellow fella like, “Did you see the new Transformers?” The undoubted follow-up, unless you’re in an H&M or bicycle bar, is “Hell yeah! You know when that one robot took down that chopper?” Or “Hell yeah! Who would you prefer – Megan Fox or that new chick?” Answer wisely my brothers. It’s a defining moment, and if you have the misfortune to reply in the negative, you best follow-up quick with “It was sold out,” or “I was too busy chopping down trees/hunting/grilling. But I’ll go this week.”

Disgusting? Infantile? Unfortunate? Yes, it absolutely is all of those things, but it’s not any less mandatory. Bay’s films, via their blunt trailers and his arrogant reputation, have become quintessential viewing even for those who openly dislike them. After all, if you don’t go, the only way to appropriately and articulately argue your case is with a closed fist and a beer bottle.

#2 – The Spectacle

South Park tried to dispel any notion that Michael Bay could make a character-driven, plot-based movie with their brilliant skewering of the director during the equally inspired three-episode mini-movie Imaginationland. After some gibberish about motorcycles crashing and man-made explosion sounds, the animated Bay admits he doesn’t know the difference between ideas and special effects.

It’s a funny clip always dwarfed by the preceding scene starring an underpants-wearing Mel Gibson screaming “Ah! My nipples they hurt! They hurt when I twist them!” What the writers didn’t get or couldn’t exploit was that no one cares if Michael Bay doesn’t understand scene structure. He makes people look good, explosions look good, and people standing up in super slow motion as the camera circles them…uh, look good.

In a culture obsessed with maximizing the sound and picture quality of HDTVs with as much noise and CGI as possible, whose movies do it better? We pay for the spectacle, and we get nothing else. Well, there is the horrible, wretched shame after it’s over – kind of like a strip club. Yet we keep going back. Which raises a perhaps more pertinent question – which is a worse expenditure of $20?

#1 – Armageddon

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, right? Well, in 1998 Michael Bay presented us with the most visually astounding and best popcorn movie nut yet discovered. Thanks in part to the heroics of America’s favorite hero, Bruce Willis, and his truly A-list supporting cast (Owen Wilson was in this! Steve Buscemi! Billy Bob Thornton!), Armageddon became a massive worldwide hit despite being preceded by less than two months by another asteroid movie with an all-star cast.

Morgan Freeman and Robert Duvall may top Willis and Ben Affleck with acting chops, but Deep Impact fell far short of Armageddon in every other category. Where the former was about bracing for the inevitable end, the latter focused on fighting back foot by foot. Sure, one may be a tad more believable, but it was more than a tad cheesy and lacked a heartfelt scene anywhere close to the impact made by Willis’ final conversation with his daughter. Oh, God. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

Before I pop in the Criterion edition of my 17th favorite film (that’s right, film snobs! Criterion approved!), let me tie this up. If Bay can make something as original, exciting, and exuberantly enjoyable as Armageddon, history demands he can do it again. It’s the same principle that lead moviegoers to waste money on the movies of M. Night Shyamalan after The Sixth Sense and Danny Boyle after Trainspotting (oh, hell yes I mean that Danny Boyle). It’s just a matter of time…right?



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