My Swansong of Support for Michael Bay Or: Why You Shouldn’t Direct The Same Movie Four Times
By Bret Dorman
Remember that scene in Hot Fuzz when Nick Frost holds up Bad Boys II as a shining example in action movie history (alongside Point Break)? I love that scene. I always try and point to it when people pick on Bay. “Yes, but this action movie everyone loves that is made up of referencing other action movies is telling you he’s good!” To me this is proof that smart people who like action movies can also like Michael Bay. It is possible. And up until now, I mostly have…
Before I get started I just wanted to get some trivialities out of the way.
1) I was born in 1986. I’m not sure when Transformers the cartoon took off and was popular. I didn’t watch it. My two big cartoons of choice were Ghostbusters and TMNT. So I have no sacred connection to the show.
2) I like Michael Bay. I’m a semi-apologist. I am aware of his flaws. For the most part I will defend his movies. Overall, as movies, they lack something, or even many things. As an action auteur, I can safely say Michael Bay is the king of mass destruction.
3) My Transformers rankings go 3-1-2. Again, I am aware of all the flaws. It should be noted that other than some occasional TV flip-bys, I have not seen these since the theaters. I can defend them as explosion movies, but I do not own them and they are not and will not be part of my regular rotation (unlike Bad Boys II has been/is a regular).
4) I am not a Hollywood VS Indie guy. I like all kinds of movies. I think it is interesting though that most people who do fall into one of two categories are always willing to tell you what a movie isn’t. Examples: “Well that movie isn’t going to win any awards but come on its just dumb fun!” or “Well the movie isn’t filled with explosions but at least it is trying to say something about human nature!” I have done this in the past because it is easy to do. It is common language. I have given up on this though and it drives me nuts now every time I see/hear it.
5) As much as I love action movies, I don’t like to simply ‘turn off my brain.’ I dissect action movies just like any other movie. Maybe a different set of criteria, sure. I don’t like dumb fun movies. I like fun fun movies. So while yes I do know that there are elements of Bay films that work better when you turn your brain off, I see them mostly as a balancing act and put up with the crap as long as the action is really good. I’m an action snob but I’m also pretty lenient too. When it comes to comedy though I’m mostly just a snob.
So let’s get into it. Because this is a breakdown of why I hated this movie, there may be loose spoilers ahead, but ultimately I don’t remember much or care enough to delve into absolute specifics. The plot of the movie is some guys and robots must fight some other guys and robots. There’s really not much to it. Which I don’t mind. AT ALL. Yet even with the fact that this movie could ultimately be summed up in one sentence it still manages to reach an almost 3 hour run time. THIS IS INSANE.
At the middle section of the movie, when Optimus is kidnapped, I looked down at my watch having realized this may as well have been the first significant plot point of the movie only to realize I still had another movie to go! There’s absolutely no reason why this movie needs to be as long as it is. None. Except that Bay & Co. want to give you the most bang for your buck. Even then there has to be a way to cut down on side plots and condense things down.
Except Bay doesn’t condense. He doesn’t follow the rules. Normally this is a trait we admire in directors. When the system tells you “you can’t do that” you spit in its face and do it anyway! YEAH! Only here, it somehow went in the opposite direction.
Producers “Are you really sure we need a bad corporation antagonist? We already have one bad robot, one bad CIA guy, another main bad CIA henchmen, and another bad robot. Are you sure we need another bad guy?”
Bay “YES HE WILL BE REALLY BAD!!! EXCEPT ONLY FOR HALF THE MOVIE THEN HE WILL GROW A CONSCIOUS AND REPLACE THE LOVABLE COMEDIC RELIEF WE KILL OFF! THEN THIS BAD GUY WILL BE NICE EXCEPT HE WILL STILL SAY MEAN THINGS TO PEOPLE BE ANTAGONISTIC TO OUR MAIN CHARACTER!”
Producers “Okay, but are you sure we need an antagonistic Autobot?”
Bay “YES ONE AUTOBOT WILL BE GREEDY AND SELFISH AND ANTAGONISTIC EVEN THOUGH THOSE ARE THE TRAITS OF DECEPTICONS HE WILL BE THE BAD BOY OF THE GROUP EVERY GROUP NEEDS A BAD BOY TYPE!”
Producers “Okay, but the Dinobots are good right?”
Bay “NO DINOBOTS ARE NEUTRAL THEY ARE SORT OF BAD THEY FOLLOW ORDERS AND ARE SLAVES AND IN ORDER FOR THE TRUCK ONE TO WIN THEIR FAVOR AND FREE THEM HE MUST FIGHT THEM PEOPLE LOVE FIGHTS MUST HAVE FIGHTS!”
Producers “So what is their motivation and why must they fight?”
Bay “I DIRECT MILLION DOLLAR GROSSING MOVIES THEY FIGHT BECAUSE THEY FIGHT THEY ARE DINOSAURS AND THE TRUCK MUST FIGHT A DINOSAUR.”
Producers “Okay…. fine. But this movie will be about America right?”
Bay “THIS MOVIE IS ABOUT FAMILY PEOPLE DON’T LIKE THE GOVERNMENT PEOPLE DON’T LIKE CORPORATIONS THEY ARE THE BAD GUYS MARKY MARK WILL FIGHT FOR HIS FAMILY THE TRUCK FIGHTS FOR HIS FAMILY THEY WILL DO ANYTHING TO PROTECT THEIR FAMILIES EVEN GO AGAINST AMERICA WHICH IS CORRUPT BUT AMERICA IS GREAT SO ALSO CHINA MUST BE DESTROYED!!!”
I’m sure a lot of hard work went into the script to make it a big epic movie. However this movie reeks of the “One step forward no steps back” mentality that Hollywood has. A problem can never just be undone solutions must be added onto it to fix the script’s problems. What’s that? We have too many antagonists and plot lines? Can’t go back now that would be admitting defeat. Just add another character that should straighten things out.
The major problem is Bay movies work in sweeps. Sweeping moments instead of actual scenes. The movie works best for people who have mostly one syllable vocabularies:
“CAR. BAD! HUMAN. FUNNY! TRUCK. BACK! GIRL. HOT! CARS. GOOD! ROBOTS. FIGHT! EXPLOSIONS. MORE!!!”
This is the only possible way anyone can truly enjoy this movie. Otherwise you would see right through every scene as a gigantic waste of time. The beginning of this movie has fantastically simplistic sweeping moments. Mark Wahlberg is all American! Nicola Peltz is a hot girl! TJ Miller is a care free goofball! Kesley Grammer is mean! Stanley Tucci is a genius a-hole! All of these are instantly established by the character’s introductions. Then the movie goes out of its way to really let it sink in. The problem here is the comedy.
Bay movies work best when the comedy is being used along side the action. Whenever characters start going out of their way to be funny, the movie takes a horrible nose dive (i.e. pot brownie mom in Transformer 2, still one of the most painful cringe-worthy attempts at humor I’ve seen in any movie). Mark Wahlberg can’t make good inventions! Bumblebee is mad he’s not ‘cool!’ Stanley Tucci falls in love with his secretary lady! TEHEHEHE! By trying to make every character a comedic relief type character with their own goofy set pieces, it looses vision of what the movie is really trying to be: an ultra violent badass robot movie.
This movie should really be Rated R. I mean, really. For starters they openly embrace and educate the public on statutory rape laws (as a joke! hehehe), they swear non stop (especially the John Goodman-bot), and robots are mutilated and dismantled by bullets and swords left and right, as well as some gruesome people deaths. And the not-so-nude-nudity. Nikola Peltz is basically a trophy on display for both her husband and dad to drool over as well as the rest of the audience.
Normally I don’t mind any of this stuff in my Michael Bay Transformer movies which leads me to one of the biggest problems. This is the FOURTH time Michael Bay has essentially made the same movie. I’ve never just dismissed these as “cars turning into robot movies” or used that as an excuse for their shortcomings. But. COME. ON. Three. Three times is the most you should really be allowed to direct a movie in a franchise of movies. After three times, especially virtually in a row, there can’t be much else to say. This movie recycles elements from the first three: bad humans working with bad robots, humans betraying Autobots, girl in trouble, a scene on a highway of humans in a Transformer that transformers into a robot causing the humans to fly in the air then grabs them and transforms back, going back in time to rewrite history, Megatron reincarnated, a giant beam device, and racist/sterotypical robots.
And to make matters worse this movie stalls at every opportunity that it itself tries to rev up. Optimus says he is going to KILL a human as revenge. Then he doesn’t when he has the chance (although when he busts out of the barn I’m pretty sure he must have killed some on purpose or on accident then). The only time he kills a human on purpose it is completely anti-climactic and takes away from Wahlberg serving out Wild Western-like human on human justice. The gun face robot who captures Optimus leaves the movie and then simply returns when he realizes Optimus is gone (a similar waste of time diversion like the exploding rocket ship in Transformers 3). Optimus promises Dinobots their freedom after they destroy half of Shanghai then leaves them stranded on Earth in a world where humans are actively hunting robots for destroying cities. Transformiam robots are promised to be better than Autobots or even the other gun face robot but ultimately their strength comes in numbers and they are dispatched rather easily. Megatron never faces the gun face robot. Optimus Prime is “killed off” at least three times only to be saved because “oh well getting shot in the chest 5 times point blank and basically giving us his dying death bed words” is easily cured by not having him in the next scene or two. Optimus is constantly going back and forth on his stance on protecting Earth more times than Batman doesn’t want to be Batman oh wait no yes he does in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Optimus hates humans for betraying him? Fine. Mark Wahlberg instills humanity back into Optimus? Great! BUT DON’T DO THAT 5 TIMES IN THE MOVIE. You can do it once. That’s. It.
Now this is where things start to get bad. Some of you, the super hard core Bay apologists or the one syllable vocabulary people might be saying “But Bret, it’s an action movie! Just relax and enjoy the explosions!!!” (Translated from: “Bret. Action. Boom booms! Moovey! Good.”) To that I say no. As mentioned I don’t think explosions alone can make a good fun action movie. If it’s done right then yes a silly action movie can be fun (Transporter 2) but just having explosions doesn’t automatically qualify a movie for fun. This is where things get bad. This is where I turn my back on Bay.
This movie has no good action scenes. None. Not one. Sure, there are good seedlings of an action scene. There are good moments in the action on an isolated and individual basis. But no scene of action itself is actually good.
Like water and oil, Bay’s FOURTH Transformer movie has essentially separated most the Transformer action from the human action. Either the Transformers are fighting Transformers or humans are fighting humans. Every once in a while a Transformer will blast its way through a building or area that happens to have people in it, but there aren’t really doing anything proactive. This is most noticeable in the chase scene where Shane Dyson, the boyfriend, is driving away from humans in cars and then out of nowhere Optimus appears fighting gun face robot on top of a building the humans happen to be driving around.
And when it comes to grand set pieces there is no idea fully explored. For a movie that seems to have an unlimited budget, Bay seems much more interested in creating a bunch of things happening on screen at once than he does any one discernible thing. Want to make a scene where a bunch of objects are falling around our humans as they drive in reverse (and our now *sympathetic* Stanley Tucci character encourages the boyfriend to run over anyone he needs to)? Cool. Maybe you could even have the Transformers have to block stuff as the items fall almost onto our heroes? Eh. Well, maybe they’ll just block one or two things and the rest will be them running away. That’s COOL! Want to have a highway chase scene? Sure! Maybe the Transformers could do some cool stuff involving transforming that isn’t just a repeat of the third movie, you know, like them going out of their way to protect innocent people? Nah, let’s just blow stuff up and do that transform-humans-in-air-transform thing again!
No action set piece is fully realized. No action set piece actually focuses in on any one character with any specific goals. Everything is just “ESCAPE! RUN! SAVE! TRUCK! BADGUYS! BOOM BOOMS!” Again, I’ve defended Bay because his action, nay, his destruction has always been worthwhile. This time? His action has succumbed to the sweeping vagueness of the rest of the movie. The action is just as tedious if not more boring than the dialogue scenes.
What’s most confusing is that Bay doesn’t condense. And n the surface it seems like the action here is expanded throughout the entire movie. There are entire orchestral-esque movements of action but none of them effectively hits anything resembling a crescendo. I’m confused as to why Bay seemed to take one giant action moment and break it up into three tinier moments (although still big when compared to most movies) instead of ADDING the tiny moments to the big moments.
There’s a moment almost halfway through when Optimus Prime is battling the new and improved human Transformer Galvatron. As Prime is laying the beat down on the supposedly superior robot BLAM-O! BLAM-O! BLAM-O! Prime gets hit and is eviscerated. Cut to: Giant spaceship hovering over a dust cloud and gun face emerging, walking tall, super badass. Holy crap! Awesome right??? Yeah… except we’ve already been through the Prime is beaten up/revived thing. And this won’t be the last time for this movie! And right after this cool moment we get a dreadful elongated rescue sequence that has no moment of any coolness and almost immediately undoes all the cool of gun face (although having a gun face isn’t really that cool).
The problem is this movie has no sense of urgency and no action has any meaningful impact on any character or plot line. This movie needs a shot of that Chinese shit from Crank. It needs to have tighter action where big moments have meaning and characters actually have some sort of impact on the story other than just delaying the final battle. While this movie features many action acts, there’s no actual beginning, middle, and end to any particular scene. There’s no moment in any city or building where you can cheer as THE moment. It’s just all one giant sloppy mess.
The thing about Bay is up until now I admired his attitude and cockiness. In a recent interview he said of his ‘haters’… “Let them hate.” He knew his haters were buying tickets for the movies and that’s all he needs. For someone like me that doesn’t really count because I buy tickets to almost every movie I can (sure I tend more towards the bigger releases and mainstream stuff but try almost just as hard for indie films as well). So I try to buy a ticket to summer blockbusters no matter what. Yet in that same interview he states
“I used to get bothered by it, but I think it’s good to get the dialogue going,” Bay said. “It makes me think, and it keeps me on my toes, so it’s good.”
THIS IS THE PROBLEM. Bay, who is on his FOURTH Transformer movie, thinks he is improving. He has stated else where he thinks the first three are lame and that they were essentially practice for this FOURTH movie. He thinks he is making progress. He thinks he is the HERO.
I’m sorry Mr. Bay, but after seeing this movie and keeping attitude in mind, I can not support your movies from this point on. I’ll defend your previous work (sans Armageddon), but from now on, you have to EARN it, just like everyone else. You can’t skate by on your action auteur talent alone because honestly, I don’t think its there anymore. This movie was a mess and worse the action was indistinguishable from any other crappy action movie. You did everything you needed and now it’s time to move on. It’s time for another director to make what has now become a robots turning into cars movie. And maybe it will suck. It probably will suck. But maybe it won’t. I do know that you can’t do it anymore. You just can’t. It is impossible. And I don’t say this as a dare or bad guy challenge for you to overcome and prove me wrong.
I don’t say these things as an Optimus Prime type who will go back on his word in the next scene.
I say this as the Nick Frost character trying to bring you back to your Bad Boys II masterpiece status.
Please Michael Bay. Give up Transformers. Bad Boys III is waiting. (Then give that up and move on to something else and not Bad Boys IV.)