The Hot Seat – Michael Bay

We are but dust, meant to decay. This is the beginning of my end. 

So there’s this guy, known to filmgoers all over the world for his explosive spectacle and bafflingly mindless filmmaking. His name is Michael Bay, and I don’t like much of anything about the guy. He’s got some qualities I admire, but for the most part he’s just peddling garbage to the masses. It is, unfortunately, pretty good garbage in some places. See, now I have to go take a shower because stating that made me feel dirty.

I had to watch his filmography out of order just to keep from losing my goddamned mind. If I had to watch three Transformers movies in a row I might have paid someone to bury me alive in their backyard so I could just go slowly, contemplating my life as I suffocated and wondering why I bothered with Michael Bay. Instead, however, I spread those suckers out and peppered in these fun-but-bad movies that…really rip. I mean it, some of Bay’s films actually rule and I hate myself a little bit for admitting that. He has weird fetishes and a strange view of America that is bizarre to watch but America keeps eating it up.

Let’s just do this. I’m going to go insane trying to talk this out. Come, witness my decay.

14. Transformers: The Last Knight [2017]: It should shock nobody that this is on the bottom of this list. It’s a bit of fluff that might be actually offensive to the eye. I was gifted the chance to watch it in Ultra4K at a friend’s house (hell no I didn’t go pay for this shit) and it is so layered with CGI that it doesn’t even feel like a film, but rather an…alien object? I genuinely don’t know how to feel watching it as Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) sprints across an unrealistic landscape while giant robots run alongside him. Also…don’t name a character “Cade Yeager” because…ugh. I do, however, dislike openly shitting on a film when there’s at least one saving grace. It’s time to talk about that one. It’s time to talk about the heaping handful of Stanley Tucci we get as MERLIN THE FREAKING WIZARD. I don’t know if there’s anything in any of this franchise’s films that is as mindblowingly fun as Tucci just gnawing on the scenery. But other than that…the movie is trash.

13. 6 Underground [2019]: Look, I absolutely hate this film. I mean, I guess it’s nice that it made me feel something but when that sensation is pure rage at the time I’ve wasted…is that worth it? Turns out no, it’s absolutely not worth it to take 128 minutes out of your day to watch this nonsense. Michael Bay has a true fetish for the American military. There’s a lot of America that does, so putting it on film brings in a lot of Americans viewers and, for some reason, plays really well overseas. Here, however, he puts a ragtag group of people together to be a mini super-military that does what the government won’t let the real military do. His other fetish? Absolute hatred of the American government in any form. I don’t really ever see how he connects these threads, but here he doesn’t even try. It’s a bizarre thing to watch, but unlike Tarantino’s adoration for feet (which doesn’t derail any of his films) Bay gives us something that feels like a completely different movie tossed into a blender with explosions and e-mailed to Netflix as a jPeg. This is one of those moments where I watched a film that I truly despised and will never touch again, even if there’s a gun to my head.

12. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi [2016]: I’m going to get so much shit for putting his biggest military fetish-object this low, aren’t I? My issue with it isn’t actually Michael Bay diddling himself at an airshow, which he almost certainly does. Instead, my problem here is that it’s just so…bland. He doesn’t always do “middle-of-the-role” very well, but here that’s all he manages and it’s such a nothing of a film that it is only better than the previous two on my list because it’s not blatantly enraging. The concept is actually a fascinating true story, one about a few Annex Security Team members that defended the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The actual story of these people, all the political garbage surrounding this story aside, is quite inspirational and uplifting. My issue with making it a film is…how did someone that adores the American military make one of the most interesting modern stories so boring? Just a question I’m posing, something I felt needed addressing. 

11. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [2009]: This is the movie that broke me when I was younger. I came out semi-enraged over just how bad it was, pissed over how it had made every absolutely horrid decision at every turn. From the swingin’ robot ballsack to the really racist caricatures that turned into motorcycles, everything is wrong. Perhaps the most egregious filmmaking sin in the film is an action sequence, robots beating the hell out of each other, that is intercut with two comically small dogs humping. Michael Bay has the humor level of that guy you know from high school that still cracks jokes about homosexuals because he’s a douche. I don’t think this is Bay’s worst film, but it’s definitely one of the most openly offensive he could have cobbled together. He has characters that are ostensibly playing blackface, a military subplot that has zero reason to be there except for the fact that it turns him on when he sees camo, and an absolutely painful romance between two people that were able to pretend they liked each other in a previous installment and now seem to hold each other in open contempt. It’s disgusting, and this blu-ray should not be on your shelf. 

10. Transformers: Age of Extinction [2014]: So…here’s where things begin to go insane for me. This movie sucks, but it’s got a lot to unpack and talk about. For starters it’s the first appearance of Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), perhaps the most ridiculously named character in all of cinema. Then there’s Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor), an actor I really adore that plays a person carrying laminated laws explaining why he can technically date Yeager’s daughter that is WAY too young for him. It’s creepy, and it feels like something Michael Bay plucked from his actual life. It also has Dino-Bots, which is absolutely perfect for what this bonkers garbage is. I had fun with it, but when I saw it the first time I was a bit tipsy. Something I’ll put out there now – to enjoy Michael Bay films properly, at least if you have any understanding of cinema and America as a whole, it might be better to be a tad inebriated. Watching this sober, only because I needed to do this ranking, was like waking up after a blackout drunk and slowly realizing you did something stupid the night before. Not wholly offensive, but just stupid. Actually, let’s go with this: Transformers: Age of Extinction is like waking up after a heavy drunk and realizing you tried to do a back handspring to impress the party. You failed, but everyone had a good time with it and the only downside is that you’re a tad sore. 

09. Transformers [2007]: Yup, I know, this is where everyone starts to hate me. Look, it’s an okay movie that I have a decent amount of fun with. Shia Labeouf isn’t a phenomenal actor, but this is where he starts to break away from his time on “Even Stevens” and really become America’s sweetheart. Sure, we were basically told he’s our favorite actor and we shrugged our shoulders in acceptance, but he’s not bad at this. Lebeouf is coupled with Megan Fox, a woman with a troubled professional history. After Jennifer’s Body I developed an appreciation of her, but it was a rough road to get there. She’s absolutely wooden in this and I honestly think Bay wanted her that way. She’s a sexpot in this, only there to be objectified and used as a motivation for the main character. As much as I enjoy seeing toys come to life onscreen, it’s so oddly captured that I’m still not sure how I feel about this film. I remember seeing it, a time when I worked at a summer camp and went to visit a friend on my day off. He had already seen it and convinced me to go check it out because he kind of enjoyed it. I wound up thinking I liked it, and I still don’t understand the film in its entirety. What can I say, Bay is a whackadoo. 

08. Transformers: Dark of the Moon [2011]: So I was dating this cool woman in 2011. When I went to visit her on my day off (I was still working at that same summer camp) we wound up going to see this with friends. It has the last major onscreen performance of Leonard Nimoy, and for that alone this one gets a pass. Sure, he’s voicing a robot that turns into a fire truck, but that’s…kinda cool. On top of that I get Alan Tudyk in a small role, a thing we underappreciate and need to hold up higher. Also Shia is weirdly better when paired with Rosie Huntington-Whitely, an actress you should know from her incredible performance in Mad Max: Fury Road. I feel like something went kind of right with this one, the third film in a franchise and one we thought would be the last. Remember, for decades we didn’t get tons of movies outside of horror franchises. Back in my day we only got trilogies, and this was something we thought would be a finale rather than a transition. I find it a strange little found object that amplifies everything Bay loves in filmmaking. It’s full of explosions, swirling dolley shots, and enough military fetishization to satisfy even the wildest alt-right cultist. 

07. Bad Boys [1995]: Look, we all enjoy these movies. I’m still reeling from the fact that this exists, but it allows Bay to do what he loves: film a music video as a cinematic experience. It’s not a good movie, with action sequences that make no sense and such bizarre geography, but holy hell is it a blast. The main thing Bay brings to the table here is the chemistry between Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. These two are the glue that holds the world together. Seriously, this doesn’t work without this level of chemistry between two people that just want to have fun together. There’s not a lot positive or negative to say about Bad Boys, a film that serves as Bay’s introduction to American audiences, but it’s a damned entertaining time. You could do a lot worse if you want to pop on a fun pile of hot garbage. This isn’t a trash heap, but more a heap of discarded nonsense that has been cobbled together by a decent artist and labelled “modern.”

06. Bad Boys II [2003]: It’s all uphill from here. Seriously, we’re getting into the Bay movies that are actually worth watching. Bad Boys II takes all lessons he learned in the first film and amplifies them with what he gained on the three borderline masterpieces he directed after (that’s right, you freakin’ heard me).  It elevates the film and adds more fire, giving it more heat and driving it to become a box office sensation. Will Smith’s career is guaranteed at this point, having starred in some of the biggest blockbusters of the modern era and returning to take his character (Mike Lowrey) to an entirely different level of post-universal understanding and drama. It’s a fantastic performance in a film that only asks you if you want to have a good time. I said “yes Mr. Bay, I’d like to have a good time,” and proceeded to have one. There’s not much I can tell you about this one other than it’s a blast, and I hope you hop up and give it a go.

05. Pearl Harbor [2001]: I dunno, I dig it. I first saw this in high school as part of my Biology class. See, the teacher didn’t feel like dealing with us for a couple of days. He was a terrible teacher, but he at least had the clout to let me watch Pearl Harbor. This was meant to be an old-school Hollywood romance, piggybacking on the shoulders of Titanic as it tried to reach for Oscars. You can’t count on Michael Bay to deliver something like that, instead only worrying about how he’ll handle the characters. These scripted people aren’t treated like people because Bay doesn’t care about people. What he cares about is action, so the buildup and romantic bullcrap aren’t treated with much more than contempt. What he loves is action, and when things start exploding he winds up steeped in the things he loves. This is a military movie, a disaster movie, a war movie, and I’m shocked he hasn’t just stuck to this afterward. He puts pretty people in violent situations while in-uniform. That’s…everything he’s got. 

04. Pain and Gain [2013]: We love this movie, right? The Rock plays a man that freaks out when a priest gets flirty with him, Mark Wahlberg tortures people, and Tony Shaloub is seen as a financially viable option. How are we not all going gaga for this? Turns out people did, and despite it being a smaller Michael Bay picture it turned out to be a fun chapter in his life. The film is based on he real-life issue with the Sun Gym Gang, a group of fitness instructors that kidnapped and tortured people. Michael Bay is directing this so of course we have to add things that tickle him pink. These include character Noel Dorbal (Anthony Mackie), someone I guess is supposed to be funny because his dick can’t get hard after all the steroids he’s taken, and Rebel Wilson suffering. I don’t get why he gets his rocks off on this stuff, but I enjoy the energy of the film and the idea that he can slow down to make something smaller scale. It’s a ridiculously twisted film and…weirdly woke? Bay takes his time to discuss police dismissing evidence and testimony from those born outside of the US, violence against women as an issue, and while I find his humor a tad offensive it…kind of works. This is a weird one, but I think you’ll like it.

03. The Rock [1996]: This isn’t my favorite of Bay’s films, but it’s his best. The guy got Sean Connery to pretend he’s sneaking Nicolas Cage into Alcatraz. How rad is that? On top of that he got Michael Beihn, Ed Harris, and David Morse are in his thing. How is that not enough? The film follows a lot of Bay’s familiar threads, from military fetishization to a complete distrust of the American government. He’s got a weird ‘Nam thing going on, with veteran deaths going without compensation for their families. That’s actually the crux of the film, a man kidnapping a ton of tourists and threatening their lives for $100,000,000 to pay their families (can you imagine an era where that was a lot of money when Bezos went up by $73b yesterday?). That’s honestly a weird thing, a story where the villain is…right? Nicolas Cage is an FBI guy, one that recruits former Alcatraz escapee (the only one) John Mason (Sean-freakin’-Connery) to help him break in and save everyone. It’s a lot of rah-rah bullshit, but it’s also the most fun Bay ever has onscreen. No film in his collection has such an impact, and he gets away with a lot in an effort to make these whackadoos seem badass. Bay also finds some of his tropes here, with the dweebs becoming badasses and the military saving America from its own government. It’s just…wow.

02. Armageddon [1998]: This is a messed up movie, but I love the hell out of it. Any film containing the line “He’s got space dementia,” coming out of William Fichnter needs recognition. On top of that it’s a film about how the military and dweebs at NASA need middle-America to come in and fix everything, despite that making absolutely no sense whatsoever. It has Ben Affleck sticking an animal cracker down Liv Tyler’s pants and that somehow being sexy. We get Steve Buscemi riding a nuclear bomb like a pony. The film contains the brilliance that is the existence of Michael Clarke Duncan, which should be enough of an endorsement right there. I rarely seek this movie out, but if I want something entertaining to space out to I pop on the film with commentary because Affleck is drunkenly annoyed throughout the whole of it. He’s hilarious, and I think it’s more important than any other film commentary because it’s honest. Here’s a Criterion Collection release, approved by Michael Bay, that has one of the lead actors discussing what an asshole the director is. What…what is that?

01. The Island [2005]: I love this movie. Yeah, I know, it’s not a good one. Welp, screw you because I have a ton of fun watching it. If you don’t believe me just remember the way it sounds when Ewan McGregor says the words “little bug” and realize that this is glory. It’s a movie that posits Scarlett Johansson as a romantic interest for Obi-Wan Kenobi. It’s a film that has Michael Clarke Duncan being harvested for what I assume is his liver. It’s a film that has Steve Buscemi playing a horny dude that helps a horny clone. The sex scene between McGregor and Johansson should be legend, but instead it’s just forgotten. It’s also that moment where McGregor and McGregor have a conversation with weird sexual energy and Ridley Scott thought “I can do that with Michael Fassbender.” It’s a strange artifact that has gone mostly forgotten but it’s absolutely my favorite Michael Bay film, and one that I hope all sci-fi fans will give a shot to. 

That’s my list. I know a lot of people will be mad about my top, seeing as the two before it are classics with the populist crowd, but I’ve come to appreciate the oddities in Michael Bay’s career despite the fact that his military fetishization is…disturbing.

What’s your favorite Michael Bay film? Let me know!

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