An open letter to Michael Bay
Dear Michael Bay,
Some years ago Entertainment Weekly, long before it became dedicated solely to Sex and the City and Twilight, ran an article called ‘Is Michael Bay the Devil?’ It suggests that your brainless, bombastic, bigger than life directing style is either the future of filmmaking or a harbinger of its doom. I don’t know about you, but I think my favorite part is the producer who claimed other directors could have a career as successful as yours if they just learned to not be so artistic. Yep, that’s pretty much what he said. Since the article ran you went on to direct Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, Transformers and most recently its sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, all of which have made millions and millions and millions of dollars, and it appears that the only thing that’s changed about your style is that the colors have gotten brighter, the explosions have gotten bigger and the volume has been turned up to eleven.
I don’t think you’re the Devil, Michael. Oh sure, I did for a little while after seeing Armageddon, which at least temporarily surpassed Showgirls as the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Have you seen Showgirls? It’s horrible, misogynistic trash, so kudos for you for managing to top it (and what a coup in scoring the worst theme song of all time to go with it!). Eventually that was surpassed by the remake of The Wicker Man, so I got over thinking that you were the Devil, even though more than once I woke up in a cold sweat after a nightmare in which Nicolas Cage actually replaced Bruce Willis in Armageddon. While I do not believe you’re the Devil, I do believe that you’re a trickster of some kind, perhaps a mesmerist. You’ve managed to convince the people who hand over their hard-earned money to you time after time that you love them and make movies they really want to see. You’ve somehow become a hero to the common man film viewer, who doesn’t go to the movies to think, but to have their eyes melted out of their skulls by CGI effects.
I’m on to you, though, Michael. You don’t love your audience. You think they’re morons, and I can picture you cackling in delight while you count your money in a big room like Scrooge McDuck, marveling over how you can just keep smearing movie screens with the same shit over and over again, and people will line up for it at theaters like they’re giving out free tattoos and cheeseburgers. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is your valentine to them, your love letter.
Now, before I go on, let me clarify that I occasionally like big, dumb movies. You know what’s a guilty pleasure of mine? Independence Day. Yeah, you have to accept that aliens from a distant planet use Windows on their computers, and that they can be conveniently knocked out by a punch to the face just like humans. Really, it’s as dumb as a doorknob. But I fucking love it, and I will hear no argument that it’s anything less than a lot of fun. I also greatly enjoyed the first two Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Hell, I’ll go one step further and admit that I enjoyed the first Transformers. It wasn’t great. It wasn’t even good, or at least not by the normal standards of “good.” It was, however, entertaining, and it looked cool, much like your other movies do, though it’s usually at the expense of a script that seems like it was written in crayon and characters you want to see incinerated alive, their ashes cast away to the four winds. It was, yes, the ultimate summer movie.
Now comes the inevitable sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. People complain when movies like this get a bad review that we “expected too much” out of it. Honestly, Michael, is it too much for me to go to a movie and expect to not be treated like a fucking idiot? Because that’s the impression I got while watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, that you and your three (three!) screenwriters deliberately made the stupidest movie imaginable, because you think your audience consists entirely of idiots. I was barely a half hour into it before I found myself lamenting the sixteen dollars I spent for me and my kid to see it, picturing each dollar bursting into flame with a barely audible shriek of lament. No, I wasn’t expecting art. I wasn’t expecting it to be as entertaining as the first one, as sequels so rarely are. Hell, I wasn’t expecting more than a series of chaotic fight scenes and explosions held together with the barest hint of a plot. However, I was certainly expecting a little more from that plot than ugly racist and sexist stereotypes, tired, juvenile sight gags and dialogue taken from a checklist of action movie cliches.
You’ve never had strong female characters that do more than fuss over or fuck the hero in your movies, Michael, that much is true. In fact, it says right on your page at the IMDB that at least three of your films involve the female lead watching the climactic events unfold from inside a control room. The women in your movies are basically useless, pretty scenery. Megan Fox, who emotes mostly by parting her moistened lips and nothing more, somehow is given even less to do in Revenge of the Fallen than she was in the last one, if such a thing is possible. Her purpose is evident from the first moment she appears on screen, straddling a motorcycle while wearing a pair of hot pants. She spends much of the movie complaining that leading man Sam, played by Shia LeBeouf, has not yet told her he loves her, and has two scenes in which she gets to run in slow motion so that her breasts bounce in an appropriately masturbatory manner. She also tames a miniature enemy robot by cooing at it in a little girl voice. That’s the extent of her contribution to the plot, and yet she still comes away from the film with more dignity than the other women in the film. There’s also Sam’s mother (Julie White), who spends most of the movie shrieking and/or crying, and is so stupid she doesn’t recognize a pot leaf on a bag of brownies she purchases while visiting Sam at college. The rest of the women in the film are limited to nameless college students walking around campus in either minidresses or just towels wrapped around them, some of them inexplicably swooning over and making “come fuck me” eyes at an officious astronomy professor (played in a pointless cameo by Rainn Wilson). Oh yeah, and then there’s Alice, another student who forcefully comes on to Sam. Turns out she’s a Decepticon in disguise, whose identity is revealed thanks to a metal tentacle emerging from between her legs. Really, Michael? Really? H.R. Giger was more subtle than that.
I don’t even want to know where you were going with Skids and Mudflap, the two gold-toothed, ghetto talking robots who sheepishly confess to not knowing how to read and spend most of their time taunting one of Sam’s friends with vaguely gay slurs. Surely, Michael, you could have come up with some comic relief that was slightly fresher than that. Maybe a fat guy stopping in the middle of an explosion to stuff a foot long sandwich in his mouth, that’s something new and different.
I could go on all day with trying to decipher a plot that manages to be both incomprehensible and utterly arbitrary. Did you know you neglected to mention what the point of all those codes Sam kept seeing was? Or at what point the robots managed to achieve the ability to disguise themselves as humans? Oh wait, yes, you did, in a throwaway line in which, as part of a robot-human peace agreement, the Autobots didn’t have to reveal advancements in their technology. Boy, that’s convenient, what a genius explanation! No wonder you’re a billionaire. So instead of trying to waste any more of my last few precious remaining brain cells figuring it out, I just have a few more questions. Michael, please tell me, why is there a farting robot? Why is there a robot that humps someone’s leg (the second of two jokes about inappropriate humping, I should point out)? WHY DOES ONE OF THE ROBOTS HAVE TESTICLES, MICHAEL? There is no reason whatsoever for a robot to have testicles except for a lame sight gag, and I know you know this, because you trust that your core audience laughs at shit like that, just like they’ll laugh at a male character baring his ass, also for no reason whatsoever. What I don’t know is how you managed to resist the urge to have another robot kick that robot in the crotch. In a film that consists of nothing but excess, how did you not go there as well?
Considering everything that comes out of their mouths is cliche, why did you bother providing your characters with dialogue, Michael? The entire movie could have consisted of robots destroying something followed by silent human reaction shots and it wouldn’t have been any worse. Instead, you have them say things that real life people would probably never say, yet always seem to say in movies like this. “I’m not leaving without you!” “We’re in this together!” “You want a piece of me?” “It is your destiny.” I didn’t hate this movie because it was stupid, racist and sexist. I hated it because it was lazy. You know you have a built-in audience, and you didn’t even bother trying to make anything that was close to, in the same neighborhood, in the same galaxy as “good.” You’ve convinced your audience not to expect more from a movie than a lot of noise and explosions. So you’re not the Devil, Michael Bay, you’re a fucking genius. While I’m cursing your name I’m tipping my hat to you at the same time. Well-played, sir, well-played. I shudder to think how you’re going to top yourself for Transformers 3.