What Went Wrong With… Michael Bay, The Transformers, & Mainstream American Film?

Caricature Of Michael Bay by What Went Wrong With. Shown in front of a crying Transformers logo

It’s strange to think that back in the mid-nineties Michael Bay was a credible up-and-coming Action Director who made three enjoyable films back-to-back. Between 1995 and 1998, he Directed ‘Bad Boys’, ‘The Rock’, and ‘Armageddon’ all of which perfectly romanticised 20th Century Americana. In those days, seeing Bay’s trademark low-angle slow-mo spin shot made you feel like you were watching something special and exciting; an All-American Action thrill ride peppered with just the right amount of patriotism. But as Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing” played over the end credits to ‘Armageddon’, little did we know that Bay was more intrinsically linked with the good ol’ US of A than we thought, and as America’s credibility waned; so too did Michael Bay’s.

Parallel with America, Bay since the Millennium has become a cold-hearted caricature of himself. Whereas we once looked upon the Stars And Stripes as harmless and superficial patriotism, after 9/11 when we see the Star Spangled Banner we see a Nationalistic and xenophobic flag of oppression. Similarly, Bay is now a creator of hollow and soulless Pro-American Action films which are made solely for profit and the promotion of the USA. Take Michael Bay’s nineties Action trilogy, as an example of how both America and the Director has changed over the years. In ‘The Rock’ the antagonists were a terrorist group formed by a bunch of US Soldiers, the protagonists were a nerdy scientist and a wrongfully imprisoned foreign Spy who was also a senior citizen. In ‘Armageddon’, the US Government and even NASA couldn’t save the world without the help of a middle-aged man and his overweight, divorced, and possibly uneducated team of working-class oil riggers. You would be hard pressed to find these types of characters in any American Action movie today, let alone a Michael Bay film. It is strange but in a post-9/11 America, the Military, the State, and the social elite are the only people we are allowed to cheer for.

This horrid rise of American Statism and Classism has destroyed the public image of an entire country and when it comes to Michael Bay; his entire filmography. Take a look at any of Bay’s 21st Century movies and you’ll realise how much has changed. Gone is the focus on the “regular Joe” saving the day, now his movies are supplanted by the “regular Joe” being either secondary to the gigantic robots (Transformers 1-4) or the “regular Joe” as an idiotic criminal (Pain And Gain). So skewed is Bay’s filmic world view that a cynic would not be blamed for thinking his output since 2001 has been solely for the purpose of propaganda.

I mean in contemporary Michael Bay movies, there’s characters like Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky; an upper-middle-class kid who was helped by the US Military and a team of alien Robots who sided with the USA. The Transformers themselves consisted of a white-male-voiced leader “Optimus Prime”. He was helped by a Transformer called “Jazz” who had a black voice and conformed to Hollywood racial conventions by becoming the first Transformer to be killed in the movie. We also had “Mudflap” and “Skids” who were offensive stereotypes of “Hip-Hop-takin’” black men; one of them as I recall despite being a robot had a gold tooth. This was a far cry from Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s lead characters in ‘Bad Boys’, who even for the nineties were less stereotypically “black” than these distasteful robotic creations.

Animated robots aside, even the humans in the Transformers movies were unashamedly stereotypical. We had Megan Fox’s character “Mikaela Banes” a daughter of a working-class criminal who was simply there to be oogled at by Witwicky and the hetero’ male audience. Banes who straddled a motorbike suggestively wearing “trailer-trash” Daisy Dukes essentially served as a sexist stereotype of working-class American women. We then had the Latin American Soldier character “Jorge Figueroa” who constantly resorted to speaking Spanish or Spanglish. He was then derided by his fellow US Soldiers who yelled “In English!” at him. We also had a scene in the first movie when one of the signal-decoding analysts at the Pentagon Command Center said “c’mon man, this is waay too smart for I-ranian Scientists”. I mean, at least pronounce Iranian properly you fucking xenophobic Yank; it’s this kind of prejudice pro-US crap that has made Bay’s films completely unpalatable to anybody who isn’t a white heterosexual American male.

Remember the distasteful scene outside the abhorrent Guantanamo Bay, or the crappy “since 9/11 we’ve gone hi-tech over the water” line in ‘Bad Boys II’? It’s as though this Hollywood hack along with mainstream America can’t help bringing up the events of that decade at every opportunity, and whereas we may have had a US Military antagonist in ‘The Rock’, both Michael Bay and mainstream USA would never dream of portraying the Military as anything but righteous and heroic since the dawn of the Millennium. Just look at the Transformers movies, the first instalment opened like a typical Army kiss-ass; in the Middle East. I mean this is a film about huge alien robots is it not? At what point did it become okay to transform a kid’s movie into a propaganda vehicle? And after killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan, when a giant robot is killing US Troops on screen, it’s more likely the international audience sympathises with the Decepticons; especially when you drag the Pentagon, the NSA, and a fucking red sock wearing President into the mix.

This shift in Michael Bay’s tone began more than a decade ago. It was one of the most laughable moments of Bay’s crappy career when he tried to emulate James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ by making the wannabe sentimental ‘Pearl Harbor’. It was downright hilarious at the time that Bay thought his horridly loud and emotionless crapfest would win an Oscar. With the tacky scene where blood was poured into Coca Cola bottles or Josh Hartnett’s character yelling “I think World War II just started”, the film was wrong on so many levels. And yet, if Bay had waited three or four months until the whole world lost its nut over the Pearl Harbour tribute act that was 9/11; maybe the idiotic public would have bought into this three-hour patriotic vomit-a-thon. But I guess prior knowledge, when it comes to Pearl Harbor the event, Pearl Harbor the movie, or even 9/11 is rarely admitted to or acted upon. In either case since the nineties have drawn to a close, Michael Bay has been unable to make another credible Action movie. He has instead, worked tirelessly to simultaneously ruin the perception of both America and the Summer Blockbuster.

Another parallel between Bay and the US, is the ever increasing focus on hierarchy. You have to contemplate why talented Actors were involved with the Transformers Quadrilogy. Shia Labeouf, was a decent actor until he featured in these movies. Shia who was quoted saying “There’s no room for being a visionary in the studio system. It literally cannot exist. You give Terrence Malick a movie like Transformers, and he’s fucked. There’s no way for him to exist in that world.” loves to back-track. He should have never appeared in a Michael Bay movie if this was his true opinion. But alas, Shia was not the only one who looked out of place in these shitty flicks. There was John Turturro playing the weird Sector 7 character; probably his worst work to date. Turturro, who hasn’t “Done The Right Thing” since the early nineties seemed to be there just to get a pay cheque; but why did the likes of the relatively popular and credible Hugo Weaving do voiceover work on this crap? For that matter, what was the talented Jon Voight, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and even the late Bernie Mac, doing in this horridly tacky trash? I guess anybody can be bought for the right price; and herein lies the problem with mainstream American entertainment.

People, especially Actors need to realise that mainstream entertainment is a fickle place to work. When Megan Fox said “[Michael] wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is,” adding “…He’s so vulnerable and fragile in real life and then on set, he’s a tyrant.”. This wasn’t exactly offensive, I mean it was a simile for fuck’s sake. But after being the object of desire for countless drooling boys and maybe even helping sell the films to a particular section of the population; Fox was sacked at the drop of a hat. When Michael Bay told GQ “…you know, the Hitler thing. Steven [Spielberg] said, ‘Fire her right now.’ “ it was clear that even Bay was subject to pressure from an infallible Director turned Producer. This was a great metaphor for a Country who promotes “Freedom Of Speech” as one of its holiest of attributes, but who then fires anybody who speaks out of line at the behest of their “boss”. It is this system that rewards arse-kissers and yes-men whilst quashing people with opinions. It is this very system that is destroying both our society and our artistic endeavours. It keeps people like Michael Bay with his lack of talent at the top of the pile; for the simple reason that he follows orders and tows the line. How proud we should be of our “Free” society.

When responding to all the criticism he has encountered, Bay once said: “I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime.” I assume he meant “heterosexual American Caucasian patriotic teenage boys with no artistic sensibility”, which in terms of demographics is a perfect target for future Military inductees. In that respect, yes; it was and is a moral crime.

Back to the subject of Bay’s movies, after being suckered into watching the first Transformers film and subsequently watching the next two on TV, I refuse to pay for a fourth trip to Action-movie Hell. So bearing in mind I refuse to watch ‘Transformers: Age Of Extinction’ on artistic and political grounds, I will continue to critique Bay’s movies with the assumption that the fourth Transformers film is just as horribly tacky and offensive as the previous three. That being said, it isn’t just the Pro-US stance of all of his flicks that I find unpleasant. His whole aesthetic (which I assume is actively taught at Pasadena’s Art Center College Of Design) is ghastly, especially since both graduates Michael Bay and Zack Snyder are collectively responsible for spoiling mainstream movies as we know it.

Bay who started his career as a commercial and music video maker, makes films as though he’s focussing on the outer layer rather than the inner heart. It isn’t surprising that with his background in the design side of the visual arts, his films lack any substance. ‘The Island’ for instance, which in anyone else’s hands could have been a great Science Fiction movie, with Bay at the helm lacked any depth or feeling. Bay’s soulless films would probably be great as thirty second ads, the end of the aforementioned ‘The Island’ was even reminiscent of an old British Airways advertisement. But making a two-hour plus movie is where Bay’s failings are the most obvious and noticeable.

In the nineties, he repetitively used and subsequently wore out the low-angle spin shot and now seems to be obsessed with either trucking or craning up and down. To this day, the majority of this hack’s shots are still at ground level looking up, shoving the camera up the noses of the actors like a dog’s eye view. The cameraman’s sciatica on the set of a Michael Bay film must max-out their Medical Insurance. Michael is basically a one-trick pony, and as suggested by his “Steven said…” comment, he’s also one big trick, if not one big prick and a phony. But aside from his repetitive “Bayisms”, there is also the fact that he tries to crow-bar elements such as car-chases into almost all his films. That being the case, it’s surprising that after filming numerous chases, he is yet to make anything even resembling exciting. Michael Bay is no John Frankenheimer or William Friedkin; his positioning and framing of any Action shot is almost always the wrong choice, resulting in messy, hectic motion, and unnecessary movement within any key scene.

Ignoring his lack of Action-prowess, there is also his gaudy visual stylings. In a Bay movie it’s always sunny and almost every frame always contains the most brash and cocky shot possible. Since the nineties, Michael’s style has changed very little. Evolution in Bay’s world is going from bright, tacky, and high-contrast to bright, tacky, high-contrast, and grainy. His films usually resemble a late eighties TV ad or a nineties music video. This look may have been tolerable back in the day when he made “believable” Action movies like ‘The Rock’ and ‘Bad Boys’, but since his millennial switch-up to a Snyder style of Directing (louder and more superficial) his output has become more and more boisterous whilst becoming less and less enjoyable. It was quite apt therefore, that when he made ‘Pain And Gain’ which was smaller in scale and also set in the nineties, that Bay finally made a film that at least didn’t make me want to throw up. Michael Bay was a product of the nineties, his best work was in the nineties; maybe he should stick to making movies set in that time period, because all his noughties and now teenies set stuff has been wall to wall garbage.

Switching from Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, to just Bruckheimer, and finally to Spielberg as Producer for his films, has strangely resulted in progressively worse movies. I suppose Spielberg has never really been great at producing (aside from maybe the Back To The Future Trilogy); remember his meddling on Poltergeist? But at least with Bruckheimer and the great Gale Anne Hurd, Bay made ‘Armageddon’; probably the last “not bad” Action movie of his career. After the turn of the Millennium however, and whilst under the thumb of Steven Spielberg; he’s made nothing but digital offal. And with a Transformers movie being released every two years for the past several years, Michael Bay has essentially been working almost exclusively for a toy company; what a credible film maker he must feel.

Michael Bay’s films are quite obviously getting worse the more he makes, especially in terms of watchability; and yet weirdly his profitability is ever increasing. These days everything he touches turns to multi-million or even multi-billion-dollar-grossing visual grossness. With his popularity also growing, I guess the paying public deserve the crap that is fed to them. With almost all of his films looking like ads for a corrupted American Dream, Bay, his films, and even America are looking increasingly out of date the more they focus on the past.

Resembling a Michael Bolton lookalike, with an out of style mullet and some eighties looking clothes, Michael Bay himself is like a time capsule of Middle-aged American tat. So out of date and out of touch is his look, that Bay is basically a walking, talking, badly constructed billboard for his films. Even quickly glancing at Bay these days and most people will instantly think of the cheap Hasbro toys rather than an Action Film. Whether intentional or not, his name is now synonymous with The Transformers rather than the Action genre. But not content with obliterating the memory of one kid’s TV show; he is now Producer of the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For the past seven years of his life, Bay has for some reason dedicated himself to destroying eighties cartoons. It was quite ironic that the likes of Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel appeared in the very product that would bastardize their childhood. A Director in his 50’s ruining the cartoons of the eighties is a strange situation; it’s as though Michael has a calling for either sucking up to, fucking up the memories of, or just wishing he was in his 30’s. God Bless Hollywood.

Nobody Wants To Be Like Mike.

4 replies »

  1. This article is so accurate.

    I loved how Mark Kermode used to sum up his movies “Cool cars WOAH, Robots WOAH, Hot chicks WOAH AYE WOAH AYE WOAH”, when Kermode and Mayo ripped Transformers 3, that was the funniest 10 minutes ever spent listening to them.

    I have to agree with Kermode too about Michael Bay directing porn. If he wasn’t big in Hollywood, he would be directing porn. The way he introduced Megan Fox and the other girl in the Transformers films was zooming in at a shot of their ass. Even Scarlett Johansson was bothered by him during shooting The Island cause of how he wanted her character to just be eye candy.

    Not to mention the other patriotic jackass in the new upcoming movie, Marky Mark Whalberg who just got done with the recent propaganda Lone Survivor movie.

    The problem with Michael Bay is he don’t know how to write scripts either. Did you know the Transformers plot was ripped off the Animorphs book series? Yeah no lie! The crap about taking the glasses and putting it up on Ebay to lure out the robots, was identical to the same plot device in those children’s books.

  2. Good gosh its bad enough that these filsm are full of ridiculous pro-american crap, its worse that the yanks eat it all up. What a self-respectless nation

  3. The Transformers Trilogy was absolutely awful. Nonsensical plot, nauseating patriotism/nationalism, bad acting, bad editing, lazy direction, fake lifeless CGI, forgettable dialogue, prejudicial characters, and worst of all, shameless product placement. Yet this shite trilogy, along with Age of Extinction made $3.76bn in the box office. What did the people see in this crap?

    The only Michael Bay movie that I liked was Bad Boyz and that wasn’t any different from other buddy cop comedy films like Lethal Weapon and Beverly Hills Cop.
    After Bad Boyz, Michael Bay has never made an enjoyable movie ever since.

  4. Just wondering are you familiar with this YouTube channel called Red Letter Media?

    They’ve made several notable YouTube movie reviews such as the Star Trek movies, the Star Wars prequels & since then they’ve been reviewing many more movies in a series called Half in the Bag. They’ve even made a YouTube video of them watching all the first 3 Transformers movies at the same time and making fun of those movies …

    Speaking of Transformers movies, there’re two screenwriters who worked with Michael Bay in the first 2 Transformers movies that are also to blame, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci… They’re the same screenwriters who also wrote the awful Amazing Spider-Man 2 movie and dumbing down the JJ Abrams first two Star Trek movies.

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