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Face-Off: Michael Bay vs. Zack Snyder

06.26.2014by: Dave Davis
Last week's Face-Off column put a couple of classic cinematic cops against each other, and most of you agreed that Clint Eastwood's iconic Dirty Harry had a more impressive police record than Mel Gibson's LETHAL WEAPON detective Martin Riggs.

This weekend, mayhem maestro Michael Bay is back with his latest mega-budget robo-blast TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION. Let's put Bay up against another director known for ambitious big-ticket blockbusters and distinct visuals, Zack Snyder.

(Please note: Face Off is an opinion column. We're not using any actual science to prove or disprove anything. It's just for fun.)
BACKGROUND
Attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA (classmate of Zack Snyder), and then gained attention for his commercial and music video work
Attended Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA (classmate of Michael Bay), and then gained attention for his commercial and music video work
TRADEMARK
Aside from his slo-mo "hero shots" and seemingly genuine chest-pounding jingoism, Bay's hyperactive storytelling quickly earned him a reputation for his rapid-fire cutting, where everything from shootouts to boardroom meetings are presented with a constantly moving camera and a maximum three seconds between edits.
While modern filmmakers like the Wachowskis and McG were already well-known for utilizing particular slow-motion techniques, it didn't seem ubiquitous until Snyder's adept use of speed-ramping in 300's action scenes helped define that hit movie's style and became the director's signature visual flourish.
FRANCHISES
Bay essentially made Will Smith a big-screen superstar with the smash BAD BOYS (later followed with the unrelenting excess of BAD BOYS II), and then proved there was more than meets the eye (beyond money shots, broad humor and abrasive characters) by turning Hasbro's popular TRANSFORMERS toy line into a global moneymaking movie phenomenon. Imagine if we also got the SUPERMAN movie he was once rumored for...
Snyder is following MAN OF STEEL with BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and JUSTICE LEAGUE, effectively setting the stage for DC Comics characters to (finally) follow in Marvel's wildly successful footsteps by putting several famous superheroes into a cohesive cinematic universe. While we don't quite know yet how that will turn out, he's basically the guy steering the future of DC's beloved comic characters on the big screen. (No pressure.)
ACTION!
His chaotic quick-cut pace can make action sequences nearly as exhausting as enthralling, but at his best Bay has proven himself one of the undisputed masters of slick widescreen fare packed with city-crushing devastation, high-speed vehicle pursuits and gratuitous gunfights. I ultimately find the TRANSFORMERS series more punishing than entertaining, but I'd love to witness Bay attempt to top the exceptional overkill of BAD BOYS II with another entry in that series.
Snyder filled the screen with admirably coherent carnage in DAWN OF THE DEAD and 300, and made owl-warrior combat look impressive with LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS. I thought his MAN OF STEEL was a tonally unpleasant, inordinately destructive superhero smackdown, but it's safe to say that Snyder's area of expertise seems to involve costumed characters striking cool poses and knocking seven shades of shit out of each other.
DIVERSITY
Bay firmly established himself with popcorn action like BAD BOYS, ARMAGEDDON and THE ROCK and is now on his fourth movie about giant intelligent robots causing massive collateral damage. But when he strays from bombast, he achieves uneven results -- the impressive attack sequences of the WWII movie PEARL HARBOR were offset by an eye-rolling romance triangle, and the (comparatively) cerebral sci-fi effort THE ISLAND and the musclehead crime-comedy PAIN & GAIN were among the director's lowest earners.

In his spare time (???) Bay also produces lower-budgeted genre movies like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE remake and THE PURGE through his Platinum Dunes company, and directs the occasional Victoria's Secret commercial.
Snyder's first feature was the surprisingly satisfying remake of George Romero's zombie classic DAWN OF THE DEAD, which he followed by adapting Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 into an ostentatious bloodbath blockbuster.

Snyder hung around the comic racks for a reasonably faithful adaptation of Alan Moore's classic superhero deconstruction WATCHMEN, and then took a stab at computer-animation with LEGEND OF THE GUARDIANS, based on Kathryn Lasky's fantasy book series The Guardians of Ga'Hoole.

His first crack at original material yielded the glossy clunker SUCKER PUNCH, a series of adolescent fanboy fantasies disguised as a female empowerment story. Now he's right back to digging in the longboxes with Superman, Batman and most of DC's heavy-hitters.
BIGGEST HIT
$1.1 billion worldwide for TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
$668 million worldwide for MAN OF STEEL
MICHAEL BAY
Bay and Snyder seem like a perfect match, college classmates who graduated to the upper ranks of Hollywood's elite Bro Club. While they're both determined to deliver colossal big-screen entertainment, their filmmaking sensibilities both align and deviate -- Snyder is technically competent but seems interested in engaging with slightly more mature material, and Bay continues a singular focus on spectacle and shameless exorbitance.

They've both had hits and misses (sometimes in the same movie), and Snyder is certainly establishing himself as a talented stylist, but could use a stronger storytelling grip and a few more features under his belt. Meanwhile, Bay consistently and reliably abandons intelligent narrative for mass-market appeal and thunderous showmanship. It's basically a matter of preference.

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?
POST YOUR CHOICE BELOW!

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