By R. David
Published June 30, 2011
Michael Bay is generally considered by critics to be a terrible director. Not just a terrible director, but a soulless monster who has ruined cinema as we know it. Most of the pundits go on about him in their reviews as if he broke into their house, killed their dog and made off with their wife. He gets so much shit that I fear many critics have given up even trying to be objective and simply call whatever his latest film is the worst movie since the last dung pile he flung at us. With each film comes a bevy of soundbites from various critics saying things like, “I died a little inside.”
The truth is Michael Bay is a very good director. A hugely talented one, actually, as far as judging directing as an art form is concerned. His films – his shots – are simply gorgeous. He simply chooses to work with scripts that are often dumber than dumb. It’s not exactly fair that he takes the brunt of the criticism for what’s written on the pages of the scripts he works with (after all, he doesn’t write his films, he’s simply the guy responsible for bringing as much life to the material – as written – as possible, and that is one thing he does exceedingly well). I’m not making excuses for him, however. No one forces him to work with these dopey screenplays that treat things like story and character development as an afterthought (if it bothers to tend to them at all). He clearly is more concerned with spectacle. Epic, awesome, thundering spectacle. Its all about visual flair and ain’t-that-cool camera moves. Less is not more for Michael Bay. More is more. And that is fine. There is a place in cinema for a guy who wants to push the boundaries of what an action extravaganza can be and how great it can look. James Cameron is generally thought to be this sort of director, and he gets all sorts of respect for it. Many would argue that is because he combines original and interesting stories with his eye-popping visuals, whereas Bay makes the equivalent of a 13 year-old’s wet dream with each film. Fair enough, but I’ll take “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” or “Bad Boys” over any of the pretentious crap Cameron has churned out over the last two decades (and yes, that includes that bloated, hokey ball of cheese “Avatar”).
Notice I didn’t include the “Transformers” trilogy in that list though. With the “Transformers” films (and “Pearl Harbor” before it), I feel Bay is playing right into the hands of his detractors. They are dumb. Too dumb. Too childish and too silly. Yes, even for movies based on a cartoon and line of kids toys. They are also too much. Even for Bay. His muchness is generally what makes his films so damn off-the-rails cool in spite of their shaky scripts. But the “Transformers” films are simply too much muchness. The action scenes are a jumbled blur of color and metal, making it all but impossible to tell which Transformer you were looking at, and who’s clobbering who in the battle sequences. And despite Bay working on some of his largest scales to date, and certainly with his largest budgets to this point, these films seem to show him regressing as a director. Many shots are poorly framed, the camera work is herky-jerky, and there are continuity and flow issues that seem more glaring than in any of his other films. Maybe working with so much more CGI than he was used to was tough for him to bite off. Who knows? But the bottom line is that the first “Transformers” was mediocre (too long, too silly, too jumbled, but with some of Bay’s usual impressive chase and action sequences), while the second film, “Revenge of the Fallen,” is the first time I agreed with critics, not that “I died inside” for having watched it, but that Bay seemed to have jumped the shark, submitting a film that was stupid, incoherent, boated, nonsensical, boring, ugly and pointless. It’s his worst film to date and it would be an amazing feet if he were ever to top it’s awfulness.
“Dark of the Moon,” while not a great film by any means – it still suffers from the same problems that critics have been carping about with all of these films – is an improvement over the second “Transformers”. That may sound like faint praise, but it’s all anyone could realistically have asked for at this point. “Transformers” has become big business, a successful product that no one in their right mind is going to tamper with at the risk of losing potential hundreds of millions of dollars. So credit Bay for at least acknowledging number 2 was crap and that there was room for improvement. This is no revamp – the same issues with laden comedy, bloated action sequences and crazy over-length remain – but there is a more focused story, you can tell (most of the time) which robot you’re looking at and who’s fighting who, there are some eye-popping action sequences (nice knowing you, Chicago!), and hey, at least they fired Meghan Fox.
The plot being somewhat more focused, however, doesn’t mean it’s any less beside the point. It’s still just an excuse for Bay to inflict his usual Bayhem on the viewer. Something about NASA discovering a Transformer spacecraft on the moon, which the Autobots need to stop the Decepticons from retrieving or they will be able to take over the universe and enslave our planet (yeah, that old story again). So, cue Shia LaBouf screaming like an annoying little girl as everything explodes around him.
It’s all goofy and ridiculous, but then again, it is a movie about waring alien robots, so you get what you signed up for. At least it’s all pretty tolerable this time, as opposed to the grating second film. Still, if you hated the others, this won’t win you over. If you loved the others, you’ll love this one. At least Bay knows his audience enough to be consistent in giving them what they want. It is pretty clear though that this franchise is about out of gas. I think its about time Michael Bay stops making movies about alien robots blowing shit up and gets back to making movies about wise-cracking cops blowing shit up.
2.5 stars out of 4.