As the Transformers franchise continues to destroy the box office, we wonder what about Michael Bay still speaks to audiences.
“…If anyone here is in advertising or marketing, kill yourself. Kill yourselves, seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good. Seriously, no, this is not a joke. ‘There’s gonna be a joke coming…’ There’s no fucking joke coming, you are Satan’s spawn, filling the world with bile and garbage, you are fucked and you are fucking us, kill yourselves, it’s the only way to save your fucking soul. Kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show.”
Michael Bay doesn’t make films, he makes adverts, promotional videos that scavenge the shallowest depths of Americana, capitalist manifestos that ignore the poetry of cinema as we’re bashed over the head repeatedly with his rolled-up catalogue of bellicose morality. To Bay, bigger is better, fast isn’t quick enough, and if you’re not the hero then you’re not anybody. His is a consumerist vision, an apophthegm that reads “WE RULE!”; a package of ideas that, when put together, amount to something approaching the worst ideals of the American Dream.
And he can’t be stopped. Because, despite the above reasons, and, despite the notion that his Transformers franchise might be the most hated in the history of cinema, the fact remains that the latest instalment of it – Transformers: Age of Extinction - has absolutely crushed the competition at the box-office. Despite everything, people are watching Bay’s films. But why?
There’s something unsettling about the numbers Bay’s movies generate. Stupid blockbusters often do well, but rarely are they as harmful, as covertly fascist as Bay’s
Of course, not all of us are critics, and not all of us devote our time – our lives – to dissecting cinema and championing it as an art form. But even still, there’s something unsettling about the numbers Bay’s movies generate. Stupid blockbusters often do well, but rarely are they as harmful, as covertly fascist as Bay’s. I can live with a superhero movie taking close to a billion dollars, because, senseless as they can be, they’re rarely corrosive. But Bay’s pictures, in all their entrenched materialism, melt through the moral compass of the America they represent. They adhere to the worst of ‘late-capitalism’, high-fiving their way through a world where the jock rules and the wimp wimps. If your car sucks, you suck; if your girl isn’t hot, neither are you. Gadgets are cool, guns are cooler, explosions are coolest. Bay’s appetite for destruction cannot be cooled.
Yet still people flock to his films. If we exempt the fans of the original Transformers toys and subsequent cartoons, then there is still a sizeable portion of the globe who go to see the latest Transformers movie because they seemingly enjoy the franchise as a standalone entity. But what’s to enjoy? Yes, the CGI, on a technical level at least, is magnificent, but that fact is rendered obsolete in the way it is directed. To see a car ‘transform’ into a robot is impressive; to see it 20 times and then watch it crash around incoherently with another one in a miasma of metal, fire and bullet-hail is not. Bay ignores the rhythm of film – he is bereft of anything requiring more than three seconds of attention. His is cinema for the Snapchat generation.
Bay’s films are categorised by the three Ms that sadly mean so much to so many: machismo, materialism and money
And what a shame that is, because Bay, believe it or not, can present some gorgeous images, an idea re-enforced by all-round Bay-hater Matt Zoller Seitz, who states that “he has a facile eye, staging terrific one-off sight gags and tossing off dozens, even hundreds of glorious widescreen tableaux that most filmmakers would be lucky to compose once in a career.” But Seitz goes on, as I will, to denounce that grandeur. Denounce it because the shot is never held, is never allowed to linger, is never allowed to be more than the sum of its parts; why have splendour when you can have destruction, why have flowers when you can have guns, why have peace when you can have war? This is Bay’s mantra, a glittering externality that somehow draws in the crowds.
Bay is a trailblazer is the worst possible sense, his flaming footsteps seemingly leading the way towards a cinematic annihilation, toward a new style of filmmaker who says “hey, we can do this and make money, let’s keep doing it”. He is categorised by the three Ms that sadly mean so much to so many: machismo, materialism and money. Maybe that’s why people – and men in particular – see his films, then, because they see in them something approaching society’s warped idea of the Ultimate Man: a ripped, gun-toting, girl-getting, world-saving jock; an all-fucking, tank-driving, bazooka-firing, weapon-of-war; a Man with a capital ‘M’: women are hot, fire is hotter, I’m hottest. How depressing.
I very nearly titled this piece ‘Bay Time is Over’. But I can’t, because it’s not. His juggernaut rolls on, crushing the flowers as it goes.
Read more: The waning imagination of the blockbuster
All images: Paramount