Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Director Retrospective: Michael Bay Part 2


(Terribly sorry this took so long…between CTCon and just plain not wanting to watch these movies, this took much longer than I expected. And if you’re a new reader from CTCon… Hi. Thanks for coming here.)

The first half of Michael Bay’s career brought him unprecedented success and, with the exception of The Rock, heaps of critical scorn. As the new decade dawned, Bay began producing films, mostly horror remakes under the heading of his new Platinum Dunes production company, and both he and Producer Jerry Bruckheimer began moving away from each other. But, while Bruckheimer would begin to improve, for a time at least, with some solid titles, Bay would somehow get worse outside the influence of Bruckheimer. And given that he did Armageddon and Pearl Harbor with Bruckheimer, that’s pretty impressive.

 



Bad Boys II

…Meh.

Sorry, I just don’t have a lot to say on the subject of this movie. I know I should. It’s Bay first sequel, his last movie with Bruckheimer, and a movie I know a lot of people like, but I just can’t think of anything exceptionally interesting to say on it. It’s better than it’s predecessor, it’s nowhere near as bad as some of the movies in Bay’s career, but nowhere near as good as The Rock. It’s just a middle of the road movie, so okay it’s average and therefore kind of boring.

I will say this, compared to a lot of Bay’s other movies, it moves at a good clip. A lot of my issues with Armageddon and the like are that they take too goddamn long and feel it, but this one actually moves pretty fast. I dunno how long it is off the top of my head, but unlike say Pearl Harbor it doesn’t feel like it’s 3 times as long as it actually is.

The script is still on the flat side, the characters are still pretty thin across the board but Smith and Lawrence’s chemistry still manages to carry a good portion of the movie. It’s not an exceptional buddy comedy, but it’s not offensive in any way, and it’s kinda engaging in spots, especially during a couple of well put together chase scenes. So…I guess it’s not too bad. Especially given what it’s bookended by.

And, despite once again getting a critical thrashing, Bad Boys II was a big hit. Big enough that they’re currently planning a third one. Though I can’t say I’m surprised. Smith’s career has been on the downturn lately and I would say Lawrence’s career has been too, but that would imply that he had a career that I even borderline respected at any point.


The Island

Michael Bay, out from under the umbrella of Bruckheimer, decided that he wanted to do something new, bold, original. And what he wound up doing was…a rip off of Parts: The Clonus Horror. And no, I’m not just talking about the plot, that’s been featured enough times in media to be forgivable (go see Never Let Me Go, it’s really good, but it’ll make you want to hang yourself) but literal scenes and sequences are pulled wholesale from Parts to the point where the director of Parts sued…and won. Which makes me have to ask…why would you want to do that? Not to put too fine a point on it, but Parts sucked; good movies rarely wind up on MST3K. And that would be bad enough, that it’s a ripoff (ignoring, for the moment, the visual clues it rips from other movies, such as the entire city looking like the city from Logan’s Run). But it’s also just sort of bad in it’s own right.

Stripped of the ripoff status and regarded as a standalone film, it’s a completely paint by numbers ‘cautionary sci-fi’ movie, with clone buzzwords written into the blanks. It can also be hilariously unsubtle at times, such as the fact that the lead (played by Ewan McGregor, who by this point should probably know better) is named, of all things, Lincoln.

It’s got other issues, most of them the standard to Michael Bay; A flat script (how do Kurtzman and Orci keep getting work?), some bizarre pacing, mostly in the fact that it takes us nearly an hour of boring foreshadowing for the movie to start properly and some incredibly obvious and annoying product placement. I remember, somewhat vaguely, that there was a lot of talk about the film’s so called politics, vis a vis cloning and stem cell research, but I dunno if it’s worthy of being seen in those terms. It’s a boring, stupid and formulaic sci-fi film, which actually puts it on the high end of Michael Bay movies.

And, oddly enough it…didn’t do too well. It didn’t lose money in the strictest sense, but it just squeaked by getting over its budget, which was a first for Bay. He would then go down a path that would be a first for him; Adaptation. And it would change both his career, and Hollywood in general, forever.


Transformers

When this movie first came out…I didn’t hate it. I didn’t like it, not even a little, but I didn’t hate it. It’s bad, pretty much from top to bottom, but I didn’t have any great opinions on it. But now, 6 years later with 2 horrifying sequels on it’s tail, I can barely stand a single moment of it. It might not be fair to judge a movie based on how I reacted to it’s sequels, but when have I ever claimed to be fair?

That’s not to say the movie is without some substantial flaws itself. Everything is pretty wrong with it, from the bizarre focus to the depressingly terrible characters to the awful screenplay. I think the entire movie can be defined by the fact that, about half an hour in, two of the robots have a fight (…the yellow one and the cop car, look I’m not a fan of this franchise, I have no idea what these character’s names are) and the entire time we’re focusing on a supposedly comedic scene where Shia LeBouf gets his pants pulled down by a toy car, and I’m just sitting there wondering why. This weird focus pervades the entire movie, with entire sequences devoted to completely stuff about ‘decoding the signal’ and a military outfit that ultimately accomplishes nothing, rendering the Transformer’s part of the somehow ridiculously overcomplicated and yet bafflingly stupid and simple plot more or less completely moot.

The design of everything, in particular the robots, is also repulsive. Again, I’m not a fan of this franchise so I have no investment in them looking like the show (I’m not 100 percent positive what they look like in the show) but the design of the robots is awful, visually repellent and just plain way too busy, and it makes them almost impossible to tell them apart, especially during the shaky cam action sequences. And while I’m complaining, seeing John Turturro getting peed on by a giant robot actually kind of hurts.

And despite an at best indifferent critical reaction the movie was a massive hit, tripling it’s budget. And with his biggest hit on his hands, Bay was obviously going to stick with the Transformers, despite never seeming all that interested in making them. So a sequel was obviously in the works.


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Hate. Hate. Hate.

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate.

I hate this movie. I hate every simpering, ugly, noisy, stupid, insulting, boring moment of its interminably long runtime. I hate the characters, I hate the design, I hate the script, I hate the action, I hate the story, I hate it all. This is a staple of my least favorite movies of all time lists and the only movie I’ve ever seen that physically hurt to watch.

The biggest issue is the bloat. The movie is 2 and a half hours long, and it’s 2 and a half hours of nothing. The human nonsense, which consists of Shia LeBouf and a series of increasingly annoying sidekicks (including, yes, the Twins which are, for those of you who don’t know, are robots with monkey faces and gold teeth who speak in ebonics. That is not a joke.) goes on an unending maddening hour in the middle. As I’ve said before this article, and I’m sure I’ll say again, I’m not asking the Transformers movies to be high art, or meaningful or even particularly smart; I like the Mummy movies, so I don’t need everything to be a meaningful art film. If the movie was entertaining, I wouldn’t mind it, but it’s not. It’s boring, it’s not funny, it’s not exciting, it’s just dull.

And this is before we get to the action. By the time you’ve literally had the camera zoom straight in on John Turturro in a thong, you might be begging them to get back to the action, but that’s before you remember what the action is like. It’s loud and shaky and rapidly edited, like all Michael Bay films, but here it’s driven up to 11 here, to the point where the way this movie was edited and the way it sounded gave me a headache in the theater.

And then there’s the weird plotholes, supposedly the result of the action scenes being made before the script was completed (that’s a good way to start a movie). The geography of everything is incredibly off (at once point they leave a museum in DC and wind up in an air force base in Arizona) and really when you consider the insane geography of the Pyramids somehow being next door to Petra, it’s really one of the lesser geographical fuck ups. And then there’s…

You know what, fuck it. I cannot keep this up. If I list every fault this movie has, I’ll be here for days. Suffice to say, it’s awful, a worthy member of my worst movies of all times list. And, befitting a movie of such complete lack of worth and despite its complete critical derision, it was a MASSIVE hit, the second biggest hit of 2009, behind Avatar. So, Bay not wanting to leave the franchise that was bringing him unprecedented wealth, was obviously going to sign on of a third film.



I’ve reviewed this before, so luckily I don’t need to dwell on it. It’s…bad, in many ways worse than the first, though as you’ve heard it’s better than the second. And good thing to, if I had to sit through another movie as bad as Revenge of the Fallen in a row, this review would probably just be 10 pages of me screaming like Rain Man.

But yeah, the action looks the best of the trilogy, mostly cause of the restrictions imposed by 3D keep Michael Bay off the caffeine (he substitutes it for liberal use of slow-mo, which is also annoying but at least I can tell what’s going on). The CGI is really good, it is for all three movies. And yeah, the big final action sequence is really cool, at least physically. I mean, I don’t care about a single moment or character in it so it’s completely dramatically unengaging, with the focus still being disproportionately on the human characters (how bad does this get? At one point the yellow Autobot gets captured and nearly killed completely offscreen so we can focus on Shia and a team of human characters trying to get Shia’s girlfriend back) but at least it looks nice, which is an improvement over the last two.

Of course, to get to that big battle, you have to slog through literally 90 minutes (basically an entirely separate movie) which is just awful. It contains not only John Turturro continuing to humiliate himself (which is basically the series’ mascot at this point, a fact that makes me want to curl up into the fetal position) but also Francis McDormand and John Malkovich, two otherwise great actors, giving inhumanly awful performances (at least Malkovich’s time in the movie is mercifully short…though it does lend odd credence to my theory that Bay is trying to get every actor who ever appeared in a Coen brother film to appear in his movies), plus a shockingly miscast Alan Tudyk. And one has to wonder about what kind of mind thought that naming an Asian character Deep Wang would be funny (and the less said about Ken Jeong’s performance as the aforementioned, the better).

But like it’s two predecessors, Dark of the Moon was a massive hit, at time of writing the 6th highest grossing movie of all time. Michael Bay was contracted to return for the 4th installment come 2014 (supposedly) despite not a single other human character returning, I imagine to keep the fourth one from seeming like simply the Transformers B-Team. He also had an original movie in between entitled Pain and Gain, which I’ve heard mixed and…let’s call it interesting things about it. I’ll probably see it when it hits DVD. We’ll consider it an epilogue to this article.


So, the entire point of this (extremely difficult) experiment was to figure out what it is about Michael Bay that attracts people. And…well…I have no idea. I hate to give up so easily, but I honestly can’t figure it out. His movies aren’t just bad, they’re alternately boring or annoying, some of them outright physically painful. There are literally dozens of other blockbusters that come out every year, I cannot figure out why people decide to go see Bay’s. I would say it’s that he’s hard wired to understand 13-17 year old douchebags, but really a lot of movies pander to them and most of them, The Fast and the Furious franchise for example, are at least less bad, if not exactly good. If someone wants to try I’m certainly all ears. So I guess that’s it. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful in this regard.

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