Few directors are known by name by the general movie-going audience, even fewer are hated as heatedly as action director Michael Bay. It’s difficult to exactly point out why so many so-called cinephiles and wannabes feel so strongly about a director who has not one but two films featured in the prestigious Criterion Collection (The Rock and Armageddon). Is it that he gets to work with a big budget and the best industry professionals despite his films generally getting horrible reviews? Is it the Victoria’s Secret models, hot cars and his passion for explosions that make people envious? Is it the fact that he doesn’t care about anything people write about him on the internet? I am still not sure.
My most likely answer would be that people enjoy his films, the box office numbers speak for themselves, but since critics hate everything that has his name on it pretentious moviegoers feel conflicted about his work. On one side his entertaining and hectic films are must-see events, on the other hand they’re not good enough to be declared favorites without losing a lot of street creed. This puts aspiring film experts in a tough position, where they ultimately give in to “peer pressure” and declare they don’t like his films, while still actively seeking them out and watching them. The excuse is that they’re “going to see how bad they are” or “laugh at them and make fun of how bad they are”, while secretly enjoying them.
While it is not socially acceptable to like a Michael Bay film, without the rare approval of Rotten Tomatoes or other “authorities”, his pictures are too big to ignore. It is a well known fact that Bay innovated the action genre with his hectic videoclip style editing and action set-pieces/explosion centered plots. Undeniably nobody can make objects, people or computer generated imagery look as sexy as Bay does. His fetish for visual perfection at the cost of anything else, be it story or characters, is in its own way a valid mean of expression. While his artistic statement might not be the deepest, it is certainly far more interesting than many pandering art house director’s annoying ideology and propaganda. That’s right, because much like say the Coen brothers Michael Bay is in his way an auteur. He has a clear vision, his films come from a very personal place and he makes most of the decisions on the projects he works on. So why is there no respect for the Los Angeles boy who likes to blow up shiny toys and is one of the few that still prefers practical special effects (when possible)?
One reason is envy. Many professional critics are self-centered egomaniacs, that take themselves far too seriously and believe only their opinion matters. It is only natural that critics would hate Bay, because he gets to ignore them. He doesn’t need good reviews to be successful. He stopped trying to make a critically acclaimed film after Pear Harbor, didn’t do it for him. Critics feel powerless against Bay (inferiority complex), because no matter what they say he doesn’t have to play by the rules. So regardless how we feel about his catalogue, we can all agree that Bay represents some sort of anomaly in the Hollywood studio system. As long as his films are profitable he can do whatever he wants. He gets to have fun, he gets to direct movies and gets to do them the way he likes them. Isn’t that every filmmaker’s dream (getting paid for what you enjoy doing anyway)? As a matter of fact isn’t that everybody’s dream (in a way)? Oh, and did I mention many people who become critics once were aspiring filmmakers? Does it start to make sense now?
Personally, I enjoy Michael Bay’s films, especially on a technical level and because I like to disagree and challenge with mainstream ideas, I admit it. I also think he’s a likable guy (based on the interviews I’ve seen) and a professional, with a work ethic I respect. Even if you like Bay however, let’s say you genuinely hate him or his films. That’s fine. You don’t have to like every director, it’s impossible. I myself tend to actively dislike certain directors, mostly when they make “cold” films that are hailed as masterpieces or when they are very judgmental and annoying about their “message”. Anyways, the reason or event that inspired me to write this piece was a news bit I read this morning about Michael Bay possibly being punched on the set of Transformers: Age of Ultron, in Hong Kong. Reading some people’s reactions I was saddened not only to find a lot of hate for his films, as expected, but also people rejoicing about the incident. The same people probably would define themselves against violence. Some gloating attitudes even transpired from articles written by what I consider to be respectable bloggers.
So when is hating a director too much? To me the answer is clear: When it becomes personal. We are here to judge their work, not who they are as a person. Sure that influences their work, but why should we be happy that they were possibly physically hurt? I guess it’s easy and even satisfying (in the moment) to hate someone and cheer when something bad happens to them, especially if it’s a person you envy. Then however I asked myself how I’d react if a public personality I hated got punched and I remembered when the ex Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was allegedly punched and I thought it was great. I could justify myself and say that Berlusconi has done a lot of damage to Italy and basically destroyed the country’s image and goodwill, while Bay can be merely held responsible for “ruining people’s childhood” by taking on the Transformers franchise and producing horror remakes, but that wouldn’t be right.
What can we learn from all this? Firstly, I’m no better than other people or bloggers: I just happen to dislike other people. In other words a little bit of healthy auto-critique every once in a while prevents you to become exactly what you say you hate in other people. Secondly, hating and envying famous people doesn’t make you feel any better about your life, in the moment it might be a gratifying feeling, but it’s destructive and will make you feel miserable in the long run and we should really focus our time and energy on things we truly love and enjoy. Thirdly, does there need to be a third point? I don’t know, usually it’s three, but I guess I had only two. So this is how I feel about Bay. I hope that whether you like him or not, that I still gave you something to think about. I’m not going to try to convince you that he’s a great director and that his films are masterpieces, but if you can watch and appreciate Bay’s cinema for what it is without the need to insult it or feel guilty about it: My job is done.