DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE
In which Keith defends the things the whole world shits on.
Poor, poor Mikey.
Michael Bay has taken more abuse than Rihanna’s face from all ends of the spectrum. He’s been called simplistic, derivative, racist, sexist, a rapist of childhoods, a harbinger of the death of film. His very name has become synonymous with explosion porn and cinematic retardation. Let me reiterate the extremity of that sentiment. In a world where Uwe Boll lives, breathes, and most likely owns and operates a rape dungeon that is still a better way to spend two hours than watching House of the Dead, Michael Bay is the official poster-child of bad movies.
I’ve never understood people who want filmmakers to be something they’re not. The following is a transcription of an actual conversation I had with a friend recently:
HIM: “Why is it just boobs and explosions? There’s no character development, the dialogue is terrible, the story is bullshit. This is stupid.”
ME: “This is fucking Transformers, dude.”
Any film school dropout who hates Michael Bay for using the same tactics in every movie doesn’t know how a great director works. Bay only uses fireballs and stereotypes? Big deal. Tarantino only uses spaghetti western angles and anachronistic visual devices. Scorsese only uses dark comedy and Robert De Niro (well, Leo DiCaprio now, I guess). Wes Anderson only uses wide shots and the fucking Kinks. You work with what works for you. You know why Michael Bay doesn’t make a thought-provoking, heart-warming family drama about orphans with leukemia? Because it would be completely disingenuous. He wouldn’t give a shit, he knows you wouldn’t give a shit, so why waste everybody’s time?
I’ve also noticed an interesting trend among Bay haters. Every rant is always followed with, “Yeah, but (Armageddon/The Rock/Bad Boys II/etc.) was alright.” No matter how cool and edgy and above it all you think you are, there is AT LEAST one Michael Bay moment that gets to you.
Therein lies Michael Bay’s hidden talent. The man is a master of “moments.” Moments that grip any warm-blooded American by the heart and make them cheer, even if only internally, with the uproarious abandon of a twelve year old that just figured out how to build bottle rockets in their back yard. The Island is an uneven film, to be sure, but there is no other response to the flying-steel-beams truck chase except, “HOLY SHIT WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU SEE THAT I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT WAS BUT AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!” The same goes for the reveal of Optimus Prime, Megan Fox’s ass in slo-mo on a Camaro, and pretty much every word that comes out of Sean Connery’s mouth in The Rock (to be fair, the same logic could be applied to most things relating to Connery, but I can’t credit them all to Bay. Even at his most ridiculous, he could have never conceived of Zardoz).
And the end of Armageddon. When Bruce Willis sacrifices himself so that the world can survive and Ben Affleck can fuck his daughter? You cried. You know you cried. Don’t fucking lie to me, we ALL cried.
One could argue that Bay’s films are a return to simplicity. We’ve reached a point culturally where, even among the less-than-literate, conflict and darkness have infiltrated pop culture. Take The Dark Knight. It outperformed any comic book film before it, and is widely recognized as one of the greatest offerings the genre has ever produced. The Dark Knight is fucking Heat with Batman in it. It’s dark, it’s layered, it’s brooding. And my god, the moral ambiguity. By the end of the film, you genuinely don’t know who the good guy really is, as it seems strange to call a millionaire with a God complex and an x-ray radar a “hero.” “Republican” seems more apt.
HACKY POLITICAL ZINGER! BOOM.
My point is that Bay doesn’t need that shit. Michael Bay works in the same black-and-white language of Golden-age Superman comics, or pretty much any Stallone movie that’s not Cop Land. The good guy is unassailably good, the bad guy is unquestionably going to get the shit knocked out of him, and the chick is essentially a trophy to be won. You can bag on this as being reductive and copy-pasta. I think it’s genius. Using tropes and expectations from the past as a framework for you to make insane stylistic choices? Isn’t that why The Artist just won Best Picture?
Well, that, and the fact that apparently nobody in the Academy bothered to see Drive. But I digress.
There is an unexplored depth to Bay, though. If there is any recurring motif to hang his career on, it’s the fact that dude is WAY the fuck into America. Like, you know how every “Christian rock” song kind of sounds like the singer wants to bone Jesus? Like that, but replace “Jesus” with “freedom.”
Which is funny, because the more patriotic he tries to be, the more profoundly offensive and accidentally interesting it becomes.
Pearl Harbor is a film about one of the greatest tragedies to occur on American soil. And man, does it look cool. I literally though to myself during the movie, “Shit, I bet this was awesome! I really missed out on World War II.” There’s literally a shot of a bomb hitting the ship…from the point of view of the bomb. That’s insane. If you made a movie about 9/11 where the camera is the nose of the plane, people would lose their minds. What he’s done, in my opinion, is crafted a statement on how we deal with tragedy. How many holocaust jokes do you know? I bet it’s a lot. Sometimes the best way to process unspeakable horror is to filter it into something we can deal with, be it comedy, art, or Cuba Gooding Jr. going buck wild on a machine gun. Seriously, he looks like he’s cumming in that scene.
Speaking of 9/11, let’s talk about Transformers: Dark of the Moon (the third one, for those of you not keeping track). There’s a point where the Decepticons take over Chicago, ostensibly because Starscream’s going to take lessons at Second City if this whole “conquer the earth” thing doesn’t pan out. The only hope for mankind is a crack team of disavowed soldiers (and Shia La Beouff, for some reason). Guns are loaded. Meaningful stares are cast into the distance. Somebody says, “Let’s roll.”
What follows is a three minute, country-music scored montage that is, I shit you not, the most poignant tribute to 9/11 that has ever been recorded. And that’s including the giant robots.
There is pain and hate in this world, a recurring loop of bloodshed, sorrow, and regret that the human race can’t, maybe never will, seem to shake. I’m part of a generation that watched hundreds of people jump out of a burning building on live TV. All I thought on that day was, “Why can’t somebody save them?”
Michael Bay said, “Okay.” In Michael Bay’s world, we fucking WIN. We always WIN. We’re the good guys. And no, that’s not the way it always works. But Jesus, sometimes, in this climate of gritty, edgy re-imaginings, it’s nice to be reminded of a time when blowing stuff up could solve pretty much every problem. Michael Bay lives in the same world as 11-year old me. It’s not the most elegant, cultured place, but there’s fire and swear words and sometimes a titty or two, and then everybody lives happily after. It’s a wonderful place to be.
This is not an assault on art cinema. I love subtle performances, well-crafted scripts, and thought-provoking ideas as much as the next guy. But to every ying there must be a yang. For movies, “yang” is a man who understands the power of walking away from a fireball in slow-motion because FUCK YOU, THAT’S WHY.
God bless Michael Bay, and God bless America.-KC