Remember when Michael Bay was a love him or hate him type guy? Those were the days of wine and roses. Today it's closer to, Michael Bay: Pity him or hate him? Seriously, is there anyone over the age of 12 that worships this guy? Now, I gave Transformers the thumbs up when it was released. (For some reason, "Crap, but fun crap" didn't make the DVD cover box. Damn you, Michael Bay! Damn yooooouuuuuuuuu!). I thought it was a solid popcorn flick that delivered just enough wow-factor to overcome the taking of your soul.
Bay's passion is for blowing things up and that's OK, so long as he plays within that sandbox. When he does, it works out just fine and Bay can be one heck of an entertainer. Here's a look back at the man's filmography.
I actually dug the heck out of this movie when it came out, but over the years I realized I really just loved the goofy first half. The rest of it is pretty embarrassing. Ben Affleck is horrible in the last act -- his performance is just cringe-inducing stuff. And the animal crackers scene is like Hall of Fame badness.
When this baby came out I thought we were witnessing the birth of Tony Scott's successor. Bad Boys was one fun ride: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence had legitimate chemistry. Bay is at his best when -- as Kenny Loggins puts it -- he's "playing with the boys." He's good at portraying male camaraderie, particularly our most amusing displays of the inner idiot. Easily, this was one of his more successful endeavors.
There are people that will say there are no such things as guilty pleasures. I give them Bad Boys II. It's pretty damn funny and the action certainly delivered. Once again, however, Bay steps out of his comfort zone, sending the guys to Cuba in one of the most ridiculous third acts in his career. Keep in mind his filmography includes a flick where a bunch of oil-rig guys are trained as astronauts, fly out into space, and land on an asteroid.
This movie starts out surprisingly strong, then something happens, somewhere around the 20-minute mark. All of a sudden the movie starts to really, really smell. You get a whiff of it. You look accusingly at the person next to you but you see they sense something too. You suddenly feel guilty and check the bottoms of your sneakers, praying like hell you find nothing there. You breathe a sigh of relief. Nothing there. Good, you think, it's not me. Then you look around the theater. You see some people holding their nose. Others are fanning their faces. You're not alone. You look back at the screen and you realize it's coming from there. You feel, as Agent Smith once said, saturated by it. What started out as a promising film of ideas devolves into painful mediocrity. On a positive note: I do dig the soundtrack.
I have to admit, Bay had me fooled for a second. Remember when you first caught the teaser for this thing? I do. And I remember being blown away by the shot of the Japanese fighter planes flying through that Hawaiian valley, with Hans Zimmer's phenomenal The Thin Red Line score carrying the emotional weight. I thought maybe this was the film that woke up Michael Bay. Maybe he was the sleeping giant. This proves an old theory of mine: Almost anything will look good when Zimmer's Thin Red Line music is doing the heavy lifting.
Though, this flick isn't a complete disaster. Alec Baldwin kills, Ben Affleck is fine, and for the first hour or so, the movie works in its own lower-grade way. Until Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale deep-six their performances. Hartnett, when not properly utilized, can be one boring actor. Beckinsale, normally a lovely actress, is reduced to an annoyance for the audience. There isn't much of a reason to like the characters other than for the fact that they are pretty. Hell, that's a reason to despise them! Meanwhile, in a rare solid post-Jerry Maguire performance, Cuba Gooding Jr. is mostly wasted.
Look at how Bay handles "romance" in Pearl Harbor. In his world, pretty shots of an attractive couple on a rocky beach in front of a setting sun is creating chemistry. The written word, character work and whether or not the audience truly feels the love is secondary to ... does it look good commercially?
Basically, the romance is what killed this movie. I don't even blame Bay for that completely. You don't blame the five-year-old for playing with a blowtorch. You ask how they got that blowtorch. So here is some advice to the suits who feel they need to attract female audiences by injecting a romantic backdrop to big tent-pole films: You don't. Because what's the difference? Either you lose out on tickets because maybe some girls will stay home or you lose out on tickets because of bad buzz. I think too many suits were salivating at the thought of "Titanic on a military base!" and confused Michael Bay for James Cameron. Can happen to anyone.
I have fond memories of this film. I know it's popular to dis and yeah, the movie is silly, but I still think of how refreshing it was to see Nicolas Cage in an action role (uh, well it was at the time) and the way the movie played with this concept for me worked. Sean Connery has always had a special place in my heart and check out Ed Harris in this thing. He doesn't care he's in a completely bonkers enterprise. He is going to deliver like it's Pollock II: The Reckoning. The guy just brings it every time. And any movie that employs Michael Biehn is sure to have a spot ready on my DVD shelf.
Yes, I liked Transformers. Is it a good movie? No. Did it have some atrocious moments? Yes. Did Anthony Anderson annoy me? Yes. Was John Turturro horrible? Yes. But the robots and the robot action were pretty damn fun and when giant robots weren't kicking giant robot ass Shia LaBeouf was likable and engaging. Haters be damned. This is the type of film Bay was born to make. It's really the only type of film he should be making. Take away a lot of the bad jokes and you have an agreeably dumb, fun popcorn flick.
I think the problem is this: Bay is a filmmaker for the little boys in us (I'm not even going to pretend he cares about you ladies). And here's the problem with that: As a kid, my cine-taste was horrible because I didn't care about things that made movies really good to me later on in life. You will always hear from the "Movies are supposed to entertain you, stop being so critical!" gallery and to those people I say two things:
1. You're wrong.
2. Just because a movie is aiming for entertainment doesn't mean it can't be really smart.
Take Steven Spielberg for an antithesis. While Bay is making films for the little boys in us, Spielberg established a career making grownups feel like children, while (almost) never sacrificing the grownup intellect. One filmmaker will long be forgotten in history, the other will be forever remembered. Twenty years from now, no one will care that Transformers made a gajillion dollars, but they will want to know about the guy who made Jaws.
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Dre writes for Film.com. As is clear. Email him!