The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Michael Bay
Last week, we took a look at the career of screen great Marlon Brando. This week, we're getting contemporary once again, with a director that's become a polarizing figure for fans. Some love him, some hate him...
Now hear me out. I'm aware Michael Bay isn't exactly a beloved figure to many of our readers. Granted, his Platinum Dunes studio has produced some really bad remakes, while Bay's own TRANSFORMERS-dominated work has become something of an onslaught, with each film seemingly worse than the one before it. However, Bay is a talented guy and with the right material he still has the potential to score a home-run, with early word suggesting this week's 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI may just be that film.
In his early days, Bay was among one of the most promising up-and-coming action directors in Hollywood. As much as it's popular to beat up on him, the fact remains that his films all rank among the biggest box-office grossers of all time, so clearly there's an audience out there that loves him. Early-on, I was part of that audience. I remember seeing BAD BOYS in theatres during the spring of 1995 and being amazed at how Bay (with a little help from producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson) was able to turn Will Smith – then known as The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – into a major action star. He did the same thing a year later with Nicolas Cage in THE ROCK, which remains he finest work. Following the tentpole success of ARMAGEDDON, Bay became Hollywood royalty, although the muted box-office reception (and critical mauling) of his ambitious PEARL HARBOR signaled a bit of a turn in his career, where suddenly it became hip to dislike him.
While Bay's work since then has been hit (TRANSFORMERS) and miss (TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN) he's still a force to be reckoned with and a guy who could very well have his best work all ahead of him if he's able to pursue more atypical fare than the tent-pole TRANSFORMERS world he's become an indelible part of.
As much as people like to put Michael Bay down, the fact remains that he directed THE ROCK, one of the best action films of the nineties. This is just an all-around great flick, with Sean Connery in his last great part as a kind of James Bond take-off, Nicolas Cage coming into his own as a legit action hero, and Ed Harris as one of the most memorably conflicted villains ever put on film. THE ROCK was so well-received in 1996 that it was chosen to be part of the Criterion Collection (a big thing in those days) as was his follow-up, ARMAGEDDON. It's kind of a shame Bay never made a sequel to this, as audiences would have no doubt loved to see another Cage/Connery team-up, but the movie itself remains a kind of genre classic, and one of the greatest summer tentpole action movies ever made.
A lot of Bay's defenders point to THE ISLAND as one of his most praiseworthy efforts, but I never understood why people enjoyed it so much. It's just as jacked-up and over-the-top as any of his other movies, but the product placement is so prevalent that it becomes a kind of visual pollution. The premise is actually not bad (clones being grown to be used as spare-parts for their owners) but it's too goofy to ever really be taken seriously as a legitimate film. Notably, it's the only Michael Bay film that wasn't a full-on box-office smash (aside from his low-budget experiment, PAIN & GAIN, which still turned a hefty profit).
I remember the critical mauling BAD BOYS 2 took when it came out in 2003. While the original was a relatively lean urban action movie, with Smith and Bay now megastars, the budget got jacked-up to tentpole levels, and the result was a completely insane, two and a half hour action extravaganza that took Miami cops Smith and Martin Lawrence and put them in the middle of an international caper with some of the most weirdest action sequences ever filmed, including a KKK-shootout filled with scatological humor and more. But you know what? It's kinda brilliant in that it gloriously embraces bad taste, working as a kind-of action movie send up that's turned it into a bit of a cult classic. This is the absolute definition of a guilty pleasure, but it's a film I really enjoy and part of me wishes Bay would just go out and make another ultra-trashy action ride like this one again.
While I was tempted to throw in any of the extremely well-crafted action scenes from THE ROCK, our video guy – Nick Bosworth – reasoned with me that if you're doing a tribute to Bay, you've got to throw in the freeway chase scene from BAD BOYS 2. I remember sitting in theaters absolutely astonished by how big-nuts insane this ultra-violent chase was, and I can't think of a single director other than Bay who would have had the guts to spend presumably tens of millions on a scene that likely made the studio very nervous with it coming within a very slight margin of being complete satire. Naturally, Bay himself crosses this line with his later "dumping the corpses" chase in the movie's midsection (complete with a young Michael Shannon in the trunk). “Shit's about to get real.”
Bay's 13 HOURS hits theaters this Friday, and with more TRANSFORMERS on the way, Bay's going to be a busy guy for years to come.
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