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Michael Bay. You have heard the name. You know exactly what to expect going in to one of his films and you are almost always satisfied by the fact that you have been given exactly what his name promises. Explosions (lots of them), slow motion shots of the characters, scantily clad women, manly men doing manly things, excessive violence, expertly staged action sequences and revolving camera shots, just to name a handful of trademarks, or Baymarks, as I like to call them. You don’t get a particularly profound movie, but you do get straight entertaining popcorn fare, which is something that Michael Bay seems more than comfortable providing his audience with. As Transformers: Age of Extinction prepares to explode into theaters this week, we here at the Fuse take a moment to examine Bay’s oeuvre.
Bad Boys (1995)
After directing a series of successful commercials and music videos, Bay burst on to the scene with his first feature, Bad Boys starring the popular television stars Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. The chemistry between the two actors is more than palpable and the film presents a great example of how well the two comic talents play off of one another. It is great fun to watch. This film marks the beginning of what is now known as The Age of Bay, as it already contains the aforementioned Baymarks we now associate with his work. There is also a particular look to this film that is not unlike that, which you might notice in the Transformers films, albeit to a slightly lesser degree. There is a sweatiness of the actors that is depicted and an almost glossy look to the shots. Bad Boys is solid action fare and caused audiences to take notice.
The Rock (1996)
Bay follows up Bad Boys with this classic high-concept actioner, which by the way, is in the Criterion Collection, if you did not know. This is a pretty big deal particularly because it says, at least according to the folks at Criterion, that this is an important film of note to be preserved in its highest quality and shared with the world. It also says that Bay is a master of his particular brand of the art of filmmaking. With a strong cast, which includes the likes of the compelling Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris, along with an interesting story, this is an entertaining flick and is still regarded by many as one of Bay’s best outings to date.
A story about deep core drillers in the employ of NASA who are charged to head into space in an attempt to destroy a large asteroid that would annihilate the Earth sounds like it would be the apex for Michael Bay in the ‘how big can you get’ game. Well, things don’t get any bigger for Bay, both in terms of the films premise and also in terms of the action, which is pretty big. It is this ‘go big or go home’ mantra that seems to carry over to every other Bay flick following this one. By the way, this film also has the distinct honor of being in the Criterion Collection.
Pearl Harbor (2001)
When looking at the body of work produced by Bay, Pearl Harbor is a film that stands out a bit like a sore thumb. See, if you’ve found yourself asking, say in the last ten years or so, ‘I wonder why Michael Bay doesn’t make more serious movies?’, think about this film in relation to all the other Bay films you’ve seen and you might have your answer. The film is also an important film on Bay’s resumé for the particular reason that this was an attempt at making a decidedly more serious film about a love triangle set against the backdrop of one of the more well known military raids in our country’s history. The film was more a romantic drama punctuated with action sequences than the standard action films Bay is known for. It is also one of his most critically ridiculed films. Apparently, the director’s cut of the film is much more appreciated by audiences, but the theatrical release did more than left a bad taste in the mouths of critics and perhaps Bay himself.
Bad Boys II (2002)
The results of his Pearl Harbor experience may have knocked Bay down a bit, but he wasn’t out of the game. Demonstrating he knew what audiences really wanted and that he knew what would work, Bay returned to form in a big way with the sequel to his 1995 breakout hit, which has come to be known as one of the more definitive Bay experiences. We are presented with more of everything that made the first film so successful and perhaps we get a bit too much. Smith’s Mike Lowry is more over-the-top and more macho, Lawrence’s Burnett is more of the “less cool” older partner, who to a larger extent in this film, becomes the butt of many of the jokes between the two. The film is stuffed full of bloody shootouts and far-out-there action sequences executed with the precision we expect from a Bay film. Bay comes back to the top here.
The Island (2005)
The notion of people who clone themselves in an effort to extend their lives has the potential of being very heady and existential. Does Bay make the most of the idea? No, but it is still an enjoyable film. However, the box office seemed to disagree with that sentiment, deeming it essentially a “bomb”. That aside, this film is probably one of Bay’s most thought-provoking films to date. You might think of it as a high-concept Christopher Nolan-type piece with gargantuan doses of Michael Bay thrown in to give this picture’s flavor some kick. It is not as subtle and lyrical as Nolan might have made it, but very effective as it was made by Bay.
With this hugely successful first entry in the franchise, Bay reaches new heights as he repackages his Baymarks and presents them to us in a fresh and exciting way, while ultimately doing justice to the source material. While the Autobots and Decepticons are the stars of the show, what Bay does here in this film, which can scarcely be seen in the succeeding films of the series, is he maintains the importance of the human component in the midst of all the robot on robot action.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
With the exception of the action sequences, which were as good as any ever shot for a Michael Bay film, this wasn’t the strongest entry in the Transformers series, nor was it one of Bay’s better films altogether. However again, as with Bad Boys II, Bay gives us more and too much. That film had the saving grace of the charismatic stars of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Revenge of the Fallen had no such saving grace. The attractive Megan Fox is extra sexualized, not only in terms of how she is photographed, but also in the ways her sexiness is reflected through other characters. The Decepticon traitor Wheelie humping her leg is a good example. Bay also amps up the humor with the Autobots, Mudflap and Skids, who are racially stereotypical and are unnecessarily dumb, for lack of a better term, and there is a massive bot attempting to eat one of Egypt’s Great Pyramids with a male “package” joke thrown in for good measure. There is also much more robot on robot action, with the humans taking a backseat. Whatever the complaints about this film though, it is still unabashedly, Bay. For better or worse.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Speaking of better, this film was definitely an improvement in the series. Here, Bay seems to have found the right balance of the human element and Autobot/Decepticon action, which is at its best in the series. Some of the humor was paired down a bit, but some of the seriousness from the original film had returned and the action of course, never let up until after the thrilling finale.
Pain and Gain (2013)
Macho men doing manly (and in some cases, very stupid) things. Look at this as a stripped down kind of Bay affair. By that, I mean less explosions. If The Island was Bay’s most thought-provoking film, this one could be seen as his least (although it might have to contend with Revenge of the Fallen for that title). Mark Wahlberg, in his first film with Bay, plays a musclebound moronic guy with a rather warped philosophy who becomes the mastermind behind a secret plan to kidnap a wealthy client. To assist him in successfully executing the plan, he brings in the talented Anthony Mackie, whose acting abilities feel stunted here. The same can be said for the scene-stealing Dwayne Johnson.
With Transformers 5 having already been announced and a sixth Transformers film soon to follow, Bay shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. Like his films, he’ll continue to push it.
Transformers: Age of Extinction opens Friday, June 27, 2014.