Sweeping panoramas, low angle hero shots, slow motion rotations, fire work like explosions, product placement, women running in heels, these are just a few of Michael Bay’s favourite things. Every director (worth his or her salt) has their signatures. Their trademark styles and shots and motions that really stamp their name all over a motion picture. Michael Bay then, is really up there in these regards. Wether you love him or hate him, wether you think he’s only capable of making Transformer movies and put no stock in movies like The Rock or 13 hours, you can’t deny Michael Bay has style. And style is something we know, that people don’t always agree on, but no matter what, I think you’d be hard pressed to disagree with my argument for when Michael Bay works…and when he doesn’t.
I know what you’re thinking, this list can’t be that long, but lets just see. Now Michael Bay got his start in directing music videos, and yes it shows, but, music videos are nothing if not entertaining, and one of the hallmark features of all the best Bay movies is that they are super entertaining. Theres one thing that makes or breaks all of Bay’s movies, and thats rules.
Every successful Michael Bay movie follows a few simple rules, and those rules keep those movies lean and mean, entertaining and upbeat. A perfect example of this, is his 1996 movie, The Rock. It follows one of his first rules, to have two lead, main, or co-main characters that are opposites of each other. The Rock pits a scientist in Nicolas Cage and and ex-con/government agent in Sean Connery. This allows him to ability to have believable action and expertise, but it also allows for the simultaneous use of humor that a fish out of water aspect, thats also believable. This “Dynamic Duo” rule as I’m going to call it, fits perfectly into the style of film making that Michael Bay excels the most at. We also see this continued in many of his other movies like Bad Boys, The Island and Armageddon.
The next rule I like to call the “10” rule. And by 10, I mean She a 10. It’s no mystery, that Michael Bay has a habit of hiring extremely attractive female co-stars to play along side his Dynamic Duo. Liv Tyler, Kate Beckinsale, Gabrielle Union, Scarlett Johansson, Megan Fox, and not to mention countless models turned actresses that he would call up to the big leagues. The real question here, is why does this work, and the reason is, with the exception of Megan Fox on my list, all of those ladies aren’t just stunning, they’re really good actors, and they allow for both great acting, as well as, allowing Bay to have his way with running in tight dresses (and in heels somehow), just being their looking really pretty, and giving one of his characters a super hot reason to want to win. And I know what you might be thinking, is this really something that should be in the pros section, labelled as one of his rules he should follow, doesn’t it exclude some other actresses that are amazing but might not fit his taste? Yes, it definitely does, but any excuse to have a great actress in a cast, is one I’m going to advocate for (and later in the cons I’ll talk about the other side of this coin).
The third rule I like to call, “Nothing like the real thing”. Nothing helps keep a Michael Bay movie on track and quality filled, like some kind of grounding in reality. Wether its being based on a true story, like 13 hours or Pain and Gain, or when he uses more practical effects than digital, like most of his movies not called Transformers. Having a tie or a hook to reality, almost forces Bay I think into making the better decisions, as opposed to when he has more freedom in his narratives. It also helps to eliminate smaller sub plots that are less essential to the over all plot, and help keep the movie moving at a better pace, with better story telling. Keeping his stunts and effects as real as possible also allows for him to create and keep a much greater sense of danger and suspense to his action scenes.
What doesn’t work:
Now these are probably the sides of Michael Bay that a lot more people are familiar with, they are some of the go too reasons for hating on Bay and his movies. The real questions we should be asking here are why don’t they work, and why he keep returning to them? Here are Bay’s fail rules.
Rule number here is a big one, and one that he’s super famous for, and one that I like to call the “Explode all the things!” rule. We all know, if its Michael Bay, shits gonna explode, and that in itself isn’t the issue here. The issue is two fold, one are his use of seemingly only one type of explosion, what i like to call he fireworks bomb (where some real random firework like effects shoot out of anything that blows up), and the second is the frequency with which pretty much anything that a bullet hits goes up in a giant ball of fire. Those firework explosions always pull me out of the movie, because I’m always sitting there wondering what the hell would cause an explosion like that, and when EVERYTHING is exploding, the action itself gets so lost, confused and frantic that it loses its tension and desired affect.
Going off of the 10 rule from earlier, I had said it was a two sided coin, and it is. the real downside of the 10 rule can be seen in most of Bay’s more recent work, when the real change over to the genuine model turned stress instead of just great actress phase began. Transformers 1 is a great movie, and it stars Megan Fox, a woman not renowned for her acting, and that movie was very successful and so was the second installment she also stared in. Her being in those movies however, wasn’t the be all and end all proof that a movie could coast by on the looks if it cast, and this point was further proven by the revolving door of model actresses at would headline the future transformers movies, which have all made money, but received immense critical backlash, and all have been seemly getting worse and worse. This also goes against the reason I put this in the pros in the first place, and that was that it was allowing for roles for great actresses in blockbuster filming making. When the ONLY criteria of a female lead be “Hot according to Michael Bay”, then we have a problem.
Number three, is the “Bud Light” rule. We’ve all seen it, huge billboards in movies, only one car brand, some one literally stopping mid scene to open a beer that just spilled out of a truck full of those beers on a busy dangerous street to drink said beer on camera….Bay’s movies are filled with product placement. This rule like some of the others goes in the same camp of, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing until, and the until, is when someone does something ridiculous or out of character, just to have a freeze framable moment of them and said product on screen. Product placement isn’t a bad thing, and it can be done from the biggest to smallest of movies, its how you do it that matters, and over the last few years Bay has become more and more blatant and un-caring with his use of it. I know it helps keep budgets down, I know it might keep some producers and companies happy, but if the goal is the make a good movie, nothing should come in its way, especially not a paid for ad, that makes the audience feel like they’re still seeing the pre movie commercials.
Last but not least, this isn’t a rule, its just a piece of advice. For the love of God Michael Bay, branch out. In the last 10 years, Michael Bay has made 7 movies, 5 of which are Transformers movies, and his probably 2 best movies in that time, have been Pain and Gain, and 13 Hours. Both movies based on true stories, but movies with elements at least out of the typical action genre, both also following less of his don’ts, and more of his dos. I would love to see Michael Bay direct a horror movie, a thriller, sci-fi, fricking anything else at this point. Anything that would actually challenge him, and maybe he doesn’t want that challenge I don’t know. I just know right now the world loves to hate him, but some of favorite movies of all time are because of him, and hope he can get back to that Michael Bay, and maybe never step foot on a transformers set again in his life.