The View From Here

Blowing up the world -- or: how I stopped worrying and learned to love Michael Bay

Michael Bonner

"Is Michael Bay the Devil?" Screams the headline on a 1998 Entertainment Weekly article that's currently posted on Michael Bay's website. Certainly, there's a large number of film critics out there who seem to hold the director personally responsible for pretty much everything that's Wrong in movies.

As it goes, I like Michael Bay. I like the fact that his films -- principally, Armaggedon, The Rock and Bad Boys 1 and 2 -- are straight-down-the-line action movies, in which Shit gets Blown Up truly, brilliantly, specactularly. He seems a remarkably honest film maker to me -- he knows what he does, he knows what he's capable of, and he's happy to follow that path, regardless of whether it's what you might call credible.

The Rock and Armageddon are arguably his best films. With The Rock, Sean Connery and Nic Cage have fantastic on-screen chemistry, aided I'm sure by Dick Clement and Ian LeFrenais' uncredited script work that brought echoes of Fletch and Godber to their characters. Armageddon works so well because Bruce Willis is one of the great testosterone-swigging leads, and Steve Buscemi, Billy Bob Thornton and Peter Stormare add the kind of texture to the proceedings you'd expect from actors of their stature.

That's not to dimish the Really Important Stuff that Bay excels at -- you know, the bits where asteroids collide in deep space, or massive firefights break out in Alcatraz.

One way of looking at Bay is that he's the first director who, perhaps accidentally, is ideally suited to DVD. You can just skip chapters through all the boring exposition -- never his strongest hand. Here's a thing: I've got a 2 disc set of Pearl Harbour, right? I don't bother watching the first disc. Slam the second one in the DVD player and you've got Alec Baldwin's General Doolittle readying his men to bomb Tokyo. What follows is one of the most breathless sequences I've seen outside a Walter Hill film -- the speed and precision with which he cuts action is astonishing.

It's a long while since I've seen Bad Boys, but I do have fond memories of the sequel, where Will Smith and Martin Lawrence demolish what seems like half of Miami in pursuit of the bad guys, before heading on to Cuba, where I thought for a minute they were going to go all the way and take down Castro. That, possibly, might have been a step too far -- even for the Devil.

His latest, Transformers, seems to be the perfect Michael Bay movie. After all, it's Giant Robots Beating Each Other Up. No pesky exposition, minimum human characters... just Things Exploding. Brilliant, really.

And if I'm going to go and see a film where Things Explode, I don't want anyone else but Michael Bay to direct it. In much the same way that I'm looking forward to seeing Wes Anderson's new film, The Darjeeling Limited, because no one does quirky relationship tragi-comedies like Wes Anderson.

The thing, I think, that rankles some people about Michael Bay is that he's not some auteur, talking about Truffaut and Godard and redefining envelopes and cutting edge lenses. I doubt Michael Bay has the patience to sit through a Godard movie, except perhaps Week End, because it's got a body count. He's not an action director with an agenda -- like Ridley Scott, for instance, who basically makes high art action movies. Michael Bay is unabashedly popcorn, totally low art, and excellent at it.

Critics who thought Peter Jackson made modern movie history with a film about funny, pointy-eared elves should be ashamed of themselves. Tolkien is a rotten, tedious writer who nicked most of his ideas from Northern European myths. Peter Jackson probably used as many FX shots as Bay did in Pearl Harbour, but he's considered an Artist.

Nonsense.

If Michael Bay is the Devil, then I'm clearly bound for Hell -- 7th tier, next to Judas, watching Will Smith Blow Shit Up.


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