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Michael Bay

A film director and producer

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All Flash, No Substance

  • Jul 9, 2009
As a money maker and marketer you almost have to love Michael Bay.  He's profitable and knows how to make a movie which makes money.  He's primarily an action director.  Usually this gives people an excuse to say, "Well, he's allowed to make bad movies, he's an action director."  This comes mostly from the divide amongst movie goers that once you start using visual flair or cheap action then you've missed the point of story and narration.  I disagree.  Movies like The Dark Knight, The Bourne Ultimatum, Die Hard, Indiana Jones, Spider-Man 2 etc., have shown time and time again that even in the scheme of action, story, narration and a good screenplay are still import parts of a good movie.  It's true, sometimes movies can divulge a little too much in special effects, but there are quite a few movies that like to tell a story while being fun.  I give credit to Michael Bay for making his movies fun, but sometimes his films can be a headache of many proportions. 

I enjoy movies.  I make a point to see as many movies as I can.  Even if I'm sure I won't like it.  But that's because it can be fun to pick movies apart.  Twilight was a terrible movie, but I enjoyed watching it because it was fun to poke fun at.  It doesn't make it a good movie, but it makes it a fun bad movie to watch.  For that I've already decided I'll see New Moon if it provides me with half the amount of fun ripping apart Twilight did.  Thus, we come to Michael Bay... who is ALWAYS fun to pick on.  He takes his job seriously, but doesn't seem to take film seriously.  It's clear what Michael Bay.  He's a boy with a camera having fun.  Remember when you were a young boy and you played with your action figures?  Making them shoot at each other and making them do crazy things?  And then you decided it was a great idea to build a building out of LEGOS and then destroy it?  Well, when watching a Michael Bay film, it's a lot like that.  

It is film technique that can make Michael Bay a headache.  My brother and I went to a party where a bunch of movie goers we knew wanted to play a drinking game.  The Michael Bay drinking game.  Any time Michael Bay relies on an ethnic stereotype for a character.  Take a drink.  Anytime something explodes without there really being a reason to... finish whatever drink you've got.  Anytime you're treated to a weird camera angle... take a drink.  Anytime something just doesn't make any damn sense, take a drink.  Anytime Michael Bay relies on Deus Ex Machina, take a drink.  The list goes on and on, but my brother and I decided not to play when our friends popped in Transformers because we believed that we'd probably die.  

But let's be serious for a moment.  I won't say Michael Bay never made a good film.  I happen to think Transformers was a great effort... for Michael Bay.  But other times he's made movies that have questioned his skills as a director.  He first got into the spotlight with Bad Boys.  A movie that was fairly well received by fans.  From there he went on to direct The Rock.  This was where Michael Bay caught my eye as The Rock wasn't bad.  But then we get films like Armageddon where questioning Michael Bay as a director seems to be in order.  Armageddon was the first time I started really picking a movie apart.  It isn't entirely Bay's fault, of course, but I did wonder why his movies had to be so noisy and the camera so jerky all the time. 

These are but a few things that sometimes make Michael Bay questionable.  Most of it, however is just that the end result of his films is usually less than stellar.  If there were any compliments everyone could give to Michael Bay it would be that he's a special effects wizard.  More than anything he has been able to get a hold on fantastic and awe-inspiring special effects.  His movies never fail to disappoint as visual spectacles.  All those nominations his films get for special effects are well deserved.  The same could be said of sound.  He usually has a lot of sound in his films.  Lots and lots of sound effects that can sometimes provide a lot of intensity in some of his films.  Although it doesn't separate from the fact that his movies are sometimes unusually loud.  But being loud doesn't really bother me in the long run.  It's amazing that with all the chaos ensuing in a Michael Bay film that all those sounds can mixed together the way they are.

Unfortunately nothing can be said for the faults that many of his movies share.  Faults that Michael Bay doesn't seem interested in taking a look at and fixing.  Granted, Michael Bay is an action director, but it seems very odd that people seem to think this is a viable excuse to make sure that his characters never get developed.  All the action is so much more important to Bay.  When watching movies like Armageddon, there are some heart pounding moments that just aren't really that important in the long run because we never really get to know these characters.  Armageddon is the perfect example of this, but the BEST example of Michael Bay's faults as a director (and strengths) is without a doubt his most recent film: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.  It is a movie that has so much chaos going on that we don't exactly care for many of the characters.  Other characters such as Megan Fox's aren't really there for any other reason than to either be hot or to provide comedic fodder for the film.

It's just strange that Michael Bay would make action films in the manner of thinking that the only thing people want from them is explosions.  His Box Office Grosses have often been huge and big enough to get people to think that he's a brilliant director.  Well, not entirely.  His films provide people with visual stimulation.  Which is something that can be great.  And let's be honest, he CAN be entertaining.  Despite Transformers Revenge of the Fallen not being a good film in the slightest, it is fun at least. 

As I often like to remind people, you'd probably be crazy to want to go see a Michael Bay film for any intellectual stimulation.  And you won't.  On the other hand, you will find yourself building your own observations as you point out lots of holes his films often have.  That doesn't make them less fun, but it does make him look like a fairly bad director in many cases.  Michael Bay doesn't make mind food.  He makes a lot of things blow up.  Sometimes you can't help but wonder if Michael Bay is making movies, or making his teenage fantasies come to life.  Again, we can turn to movies like Transformers or Armageddon.  Within these films there is a really hot girl who doesn't really serve as anything other than to be pretty.  She plays no importance in the story, not even to help the main character development.  Armageddon adds insult to injury by trying to give us a romantic scene but because we never really got to learn much about our characters it just doesn't come off as romantic.  Michael Bay usually has his movies so action packed that the emotions his films try to run aren't as moving as they could be had he actually focused on characters rather than explosions.

It's mostly his camera work that can make each movie a relatively painful experience.  Paul Greengras, for example is fairly big on that shakey handheld camera.  And sometimes he does good with it.  Michael Bay sometimes does this as well, but to a far more annoying extent than Greengras.  A handheld camera can work in certain movies, but somehow Michael Bay manages to do his in a way that makes you want to close your eyes when watching his films in theaters.  Movies don't just have to be still pictures, they can be a ride.  Yet sometimes with Bay, they're headache inducing.  He can rarely seem to focus on anything for more than a few seconds in many of his movies (unless it's female cleavage).  He's so jumpy and all over the place, often with awkward cuts that it's hard for the audience to sometimes stay focused.  In Transformers Revenge of the Fallen he spent so much time putting in awkward cuts and camera angles that in some of the fight scenes telling the good guys from the bad was a HUGE chore.  Nothing in that movie was focused on for more than a couple of seconds (except Megan Fox's cleavage).  He also seems to oversensationalize in the slowdown technique.  In some times it seems like he is doing it for dramatic effect... except there's not much drama going on in his films. 

Michael Bay also tends to engage in making overly long films.  We can only take explosions and little structure for so long.  A movie that runs at two hours and thirty minutes can be a little draining on the eyes.  And most times you're getting very little dialog in the process.  It's not so much that there are too many explosions as it is that Bay likes to pad the length.  His huge fight scenes and whatnot are actually really long most of the time.  In short, Michael Bay usually doesn't do a good job with the pacing.

Again... is Michael Bay directing movies or his own teenage fantasies?  Is he a kid that just never really grew up or something?  We can throw out the excuses of "But he makes action movies," but in this day and age especially, action movies are taken a bit more seriously than they once were.  People love the explosions and the car chases, but as film has grown people have also shown they're perfectly fine with having a bit of character development to go along with the action and fun.  People have also been quick to point out that there's nothing wrong with an action movie having a coherent story.  These are things Michael Bay doesn't exactly hold dear to him.  For all the wonderful explosions he gives us, you can count on one hand the memorable characters he's provided along with the number of memorable stories.  There's fun to be had from a Michael Bay film, but not really much else.  And the majority of it comes from his shakey camera techniques, choppy editing and the fact that he never seems to make sure the movie he's directing makes sense.

Put simple, Michael Bay is a man who directs a movie with flair but never really any substance.  There's nothing wrong with flair.  But nowadays people are willing to say: "What's wrong with a healthy dose of both?"  But while getting all that flair you're really not getting much else from it.  Certainly Armageddon was a most fantastic special effects romp, there wasn't much else worth remembering the movie for (well, scratch that, Aerosmith did give us "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing.").  Bad Boys is another example.  Lots of chases and explosions but not much memorable outside of that. 

I suppose he'll continue making lots of eye popping films.  And to be entertained by such is a good thing.  But every now and then, it would be nice to get some focus and maybe a bit of character development in the process. 

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November 08, 2009
Nicely done. It infuriates me that he is so popular, and nobody THINKS about them. One of my biggest complaints is the objectification of women. It's painful to watch and think about all those girls thinking that being a dumb and gorgeous woman is something to aspire to. Sigh.
July 09, 2009
Congrats...This is a tremendous review. I found myself nodding at several points since I agree with so much of what you said. I read that Bay started out directing music videos and when I heard that, it started to make sense. His movies are like long music videos crossed with a video game. Can you imagine if he had directed the Lord of the Rings or the Star Wars movies?
July 09, 2009
Here's a scary thought if you're not a Michael Bay fan... he actually turned in a script to direct The Dark Knight. Can you believe that? We ALMOST had The Dark Knight directed by Michael Bay!
July 09, 2009
That is indeed a scary one...and actually a great idea for a parody. "What if (insert name of classic movie) was directed by Michael Bay?"
July 09, 2009
What an Amazing review!!!  I mean really, this was really well done!  Having said that, I must disagree with you on just about everything you said :).  I think Michael Bay makes great films!  Yes, Michael Bay first and foremost is an action movie director, but he does take the time to put a decent story into those films.  I think you made a great point when you said that people go to see his movies to see things blow up and that is very true!  When I go to see Transformers or its sequel, I'm not going to see the movie for some awesome dialogue, I'm going to see them to see the transformers kick some ass.  But in all that ass kicking, his writers come up with some great stories!  Another example is when I look back on Bad Boys, I don't remember much of the action, but I do remember the awesome dialogue between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.  Armageddon is another good example, the whole movie was a story, not one giant explosion.  I remember caring more about what was happening on Earth than I did on the asteroid and I think that Bay does a great job balancing that in all of his films.  If you want to check out some films that are just about the action check out Die Another Day or Crank.  I really did enjoy your perspective though!  It's really nice to be able to see how other people feel about things you might not neccesarily agree with them on.  Great Review, I'm going to put it up on my Twitter and Facebook!
July 09, 2009
Writing this particular review was tough.  I didn't want to be too hard on Michael Bay because I know that people LOVE his films for the same reason I poke at them.  I tried not to focus so much on things like, "He doesn't have a lot of dialog," and whatnot because I know that dialog isn't exactly what people go to see a Michael Bay film for.  It's the action, mostly, and I felt that he had to be given credit for being able to make those eye-popping film.  His sound mixing and visual effects are always so incredible when watching his films.  I don't like Michael Bay much, but I do enjoy some of the eye-candy he can give me.  

But I don't hate Michael Bay.  I believe he has potential.  So the hard part was trying to give Michael Bay credit where it was due while remembering that some people prefer fruit and others prefer vegitables.  I don't think I fully succeeded, but I tried.

July 09, 2009
I honestly thought you did an amazing job with the review though! It's nice to see something like this from another perspective! :)
More Michael Bay reviews
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
He gets a plus because he certainly knows how to play up the action.
About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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