A Look Back At The Films Of Michael Bay

A chronological look back at the films of the infamous Michael Bay.

Ahh, good ol’ Michael Bay. His films make billions, but are torn apart by critics. They’re pretty on the outside, but hollow on the inside. He’s corporate Hollywood’s wet dream, and a film major’s worst nightmare. If anything, he’s a purely American filmmaker.

Michael Bay’s 21 years of filmmaking has turned him into one of the most polarizing directors in the business. Love him or hate him, ears prick up when he makes his next move. This weekend the world witnessed his 12th turn in the director’s chair, the true-story action movie 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. Until then, let’s take a look back at his resume to see how alien robots and planet-killing asteroids hold up.

Two actors you’ve probably never heard of
Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Bad Boys (1995)

1995 was a simpler time: Martin Lawrence and Will Smith were budding TV stars and Michael Bay was known for advertising milk and songs about masturbation. His skills making things pop on TV caught the eye of producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson, and the rest is history.

Bay’s feature film debut follows Miami PD detectives Mike Lowrey (Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Lawrence), two wise-cracking buddies who are investigating the theft of heroin they seized in the biggest drug bust of their career. They eventually become protectors of a murder witness (Tea Leoni) who may have information about who stole the drugs.

While Bay would eventually be known for rapid cuts and breakneck pacing of scenes, Bad Boys can actually be boring on occasion. Despite it barely reaching a two-hour runtime, it feels like twice that length. To Bay’s credit, it feels as if he has a lot more restraint here as he shoots scenes with little editing or rapid zoom-ins. He shoots it all like a buddy cop movie a la Lethal Weapon and focuses more time on the interplay between the leads than action scenes. Granted he does pull those out (especially in the final shootout), but he wants the focus to be on the people. Not so much the plot though, as every development in the story comes after more banter. Granted, he gives Lawrence and Smith plenty of room to banter and make for the more enjoyable parts of the movie.

Bad Boys may be one of Bay’s lighter projects, but it’s only because it was his trial run at a movie. He shows glimmers of his passion for fast cuts and slow motion, but not enough for it to be called a trademark (not yet, anyway). Bad Boys could be mistaken as just another buddy cop movie, admittedly a more explicit one than most. It’s more memorable for being breakout movie roles for Lawrence and Smith, but Bay would hone his craft again with the duo later on.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: Light Bayhem

CRY FREEDOM!!!….wait, wrong movie
Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

The Rock (1996)

“Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and **** the prom queen.” Bay may not have wrote that line, but I’d bet good money that he abides by it like it was a verse in The Bible. The Rock is one of Bay’s few well-received movies by critics, and it’s easy to see why. Bad Boys was an okay start, but he clearly wanted to go bigger and more macho. Who better to amp up the manliness than the guy who played James Bond first?

The Rock is also the codeword for Alcatraz Island, which becomes a hostage holding area/military base for rogue General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris) and his squad of rebellious Marines. Hummel and co. threaten to fire missiles filled with toxic nerve gas on San Francisco unless the government pays money to the families of fallen soldiers who were not properly honored. The government’s response is to send in geeky FBI chemist Stanley Goodspeed (Nicolas Cage) to disarm the rockets, but first they have to get on The Rock. Only one man has ever escaped Alcatraz before (no, not Frank Morris): John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) who has been locked up for decades and practically erased from the grid. The FBI has to spring Mason to lead a team (with Goodspeed) onto The Rock and save the city.

This is the first time Bay would show his talent for bringing constant tension to scenes. Anytime something is set up, whether it be Goodspeed defusing a mysterious package or the shootout in the shower room, it’s backed by a constant sense that something is about to go off. It’s also a more prominent sign of Bay’s trademark of constant regurgitation of shots. Look at all the different angles he gives to Goodspeed crashing through glass with a Ferrari or just a mere conversation between Mason and Hummel. There’s also the dark blue tint and occasional sun-drenched shots outdoors, along with plenty of low angles to make everything seems bigger and more outstanding. And then there’s the cast of nothing but manly men. Hulking Connery, zany Cage, stern Harris, and supporting players like John Spencer, David Morse, William Forsythe, Tony Todd and John C. McGinley. This is a movie for a “MAN” and a “MAN” only, the one you watch with the guys and go “YEAA!!!” at every thing said by a man in this movie.

The Rock feels like a movie the combined the character driven war movies of the 70’s with the macho attitude of the 80’s and a 90’s sheen. It’s aged very well 20 years on and still has its enjoyable moments. Connery and Harris are the toughest SOBs on the planet here, and Cage gives another cool performance. This is where Bay established himself as more than a one-hit wonder. You wanted more of what this guy was offering. Too bad nobody told him how much more.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: Macho Bayhem

“Talk about the wrong stuff!”
Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

Armageddon (1998)

If there’s one thing people know about Michael Bay, it’s that he LOOOOOOVES explosions. Big ones, small ones, long ones, tall ones… you know. If there was ever a movie that exposed his fetish for freewheeling fire, of course it’d be the one about a giant asteroid about the hit the Earth (no, not that one).

One of the dumbest premises in sci-fi history (co-written by J.J. Abrams and Tony Gilroy, mind you) starts with a giant asteroid hurtling toward Earth and its remnants crashing and destroying major world cities like New York. NASA scientists, led by Dan Truman (Billy Bob Thornton), decide the best course of action would be to send a team of oil drillers (the best in the world, obviously) up, land on the asteroid, drill a hole deep enough to plant a nuclear warhead into and destroy it. They recruit Harry Stamper (Bruce Willis) and his ragtag team of blue collar drillers: Chick (Will Patton), Rockhound (Steve Buscemi), Oscar (Owen Wilson), Bear (Michael Clarke Duncan), Max (Ken Hudson Campbell) and A.J. (Ben Affleck), who also happens to be dating Harry’s daughter (Liv Tyler).

You ever think Bay saw Independence Day two years earlier and said to himself, “Who needs aliens when you have explosions!? Also, there’s not enough America here.” Bay looks at Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie blueprint (multiple characters spread around different areas all affected by the same event) and localizes it onto one specific group. This way, more focus can be spent on the big name stars since they’re already bunched up with the expendable supporting cast. Bay also uses this to add more focus on the visuals of the space scenes and asteroid bits crashing on Earth. The editing is like a test of your nerves, as Bay chops and shuffles scenes at the blink of an eye. While his intention was to make scenes hit harder, it can occasionally be groan-worthy and tiresome. The scenes themselves, filled with flashing lights and shaky cameras, don’t help either. This movie wants to be in your face so you can feel all the seismic activity. Even the title credit explodes…seriously. What’s interesting is that, story wise, it plays more like a soap opera than a disaster movie. The daddy/daughter drama between Tyler and Willis, the separation of the team when they land on the asteroid and the romance between Affleck and Tyler (soundtracked by Tyler’s father’s eternally cheesy “I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing”). And that ending….good lord, talk about melodrama. The shot of Tyler with her hand on the monitor with a tear in here eye as Willis’ face turns to static and she whimpers, “Daddy, no!” It’s almost meme-worthy.

That said, there’s a reason Armageddon gets constant rotation on basic cable. It’s a movie for everyone, with explosions and rock music for the guys yet drama and romance for the ladies. You could’ve seen a movie like this at a drive-in during the 50s, yet it’s equally worthy of riffing from the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000. You either love it or you laugh at it, but it’s pretty hard to hate. Is it a good movie? No, but there are worse ways to do popcorn entertainment. That comes later.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: Explosive Bayhem

Michael Bay: American Patriot
Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures

Pearl Harbor (2001)

And now, a reenactment of a meeting between Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney circa 2000:

Disney: “So Jerry, we’ve got this script for a movie about Pearl Harbor”

Bruckheimer: “Yeah I read it, not too bad!”

Disney: “Right? So we were thinking about giving it the green light, but we’re not sure who should direct it.”

Bruckheimer: “Well, who do you have in mind?”

Disney: “Well we were thinking someone big like Spielberg or Eastwood or Malick or..”

Bruckheimer: ” OR, and bare with me here, what about this guy I’ve got who makes HUGE explosions?”

Bay: *walks in wearing an all-white suit smoking a cigar* “Who’s ready to honor America?!”

Disney: “BRILLIANT!’ *cuts check for $140 million*

Released on Memorial Day 2001, Bay’s fourth film was meant to show the gritty and tragic realism of the events of December 7, 1941. What better way to do that than turn it into the backdrop for a three-hour love triangle? Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are life-long buddies who sign up to be pilots for the Army in January 1941. In the midst of this, Rafe meets a beautiful nurse named Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) and the two spend a night on the town. The trio are among the many transferred to Pearl Harbor to serve their country. When Rafe is presumed dead after a dogfight in the sky, Evelyn is devastated and turns to Danny for comfort. The two develop feelings for each other until Rafe shockingly returns on the night of December 6th. Despite their lovers quarrel, they could’ve never predicted what was to come the following morning.

First off, not all the blame for this should be put on Bay here. Most of it should be directed at screenwriter Randall Wallace for using the events of Pearl Harbor as a backdrop for a Lifetime movie love story. Then again, Bay should be faulted by stretching said love story to a 183 minute runtime. Yes, a THREE-HOUR Michael Bay movie. Though the finger of blame should be pointed at one culprit: Titanic. Yup, Disney saw James Cameron’s historical romance become the highest-grossing movie of all time and wanted to hop on the train.

To Bay’s credit, he doesn’t unleash historical Bayhem (the actual Pearl Harbor attack) until midway through the movie. Until then, he devotes most of the movie to character development and setting up the WWII environment. The actual Pearl Harbor attack is done very well with some impressive visuals and intense editing to make the audience feel like they’re on one of the ships. But the real problem here is the fact that Affleck and Hartnett aren’t on the ships when they’re attacked (the previous scene has them in a car by a beach off-base sorting out their issues). Everyone you see on the ship are just faceless extras (sans Cuba Gooding Jr. who’s barely in the movie) that have no connection to the actual story of the movie. So this tragic moment in American history is turned into just another set piece for Bay’s bloated fireworks show. It’s probably this movie in particular pisses so many people off.

Pearl Harbor may be one of Bay’s worst and most forgettable movies of his career. It’s one of his worst for him misusing creative liberties on such a serious event, and forgettable because the main story is such a bore. Constant sweeping orchestral music, sun-drenched skies and tattered American flags are scattered throughout the picture, but it doesn’t really say anything about Pearl Harbor. The worst thing is that, to this movie, Pearl Harbor doesn’t even matter. It’s all about the love triangle, boring as it is. It’s convenient that we’re on the verge of Bay doing another movie about a historical event and talking about this movie, so hopefully he’s learned from his mistakes. Or else buff, bearded John Krasinski might end up falling in love with whatever woman was at Benghazi and he’ll be in more trouble.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: WAR CRIME BAYHEM (history-related)

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

Bad Boys II (2003)

People give Michael Bay a pass for two reasons: Because he made one good movie (The Rock) and one of the ultimate cinematic guilty pleasures. People know this movie the same way some people watch The Bold and the Beautiful behind closed doors, or weep at Steel Magnolias when no one’s looking, or buy Taylor Swift records and say it’s for their little sister. When most people admit to liking Bad Boys II, there’s a sense of shame coming from their admittance. Everyone knows it’s dumb and knows it’s meant for the lowest common denominator. But lord forgive us for not gawking and laughing at this much testosterone laced fun.

Bad Boys II has us rejoining Miami PD detectives Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) and Mike Lowrey (Will Smith). Marcus has somehow gotten even more agitated, Mike has somehow gotten even hunkier and Miami has somehow become home to more drugs and guns. When a drug kingpin (Jordi Molla) starts rolling in big batches of ecstasy, Mike and Marcus are assigned to take him down. On top of that, Mike is secretly dating Marcus’ sister (Gabrielle Union) and hijinks ensue (sexy ones, of course).

You know how Heat is regarded as one of the best crime dramas of the last 20 years, but most people remember the post-robbery shootout? Or how people regard Bullitt as one of Steve McQueen’s best performances, but all people remember is the car chaseBad Boys II is basically taking all of those scenes, turning them up to 11 and mashing them together into a movie. That’s the good part, with awesome shootouts and exciting car chases with rapid pacing and engrossing movement. The bad part is that there’s no dramatic tension. Everything in this movie is so unbelievable, you keep waiting for the Grand Theft Auto logo to pop up and for you to press the start button. Instead of intriguing characters with relatable situations, we get cartoon stereotypes and Martin Lawrence overacting. Oh and this movie is sooooo 2003 that it’s hilarious to look back on. The monstrous Hummer, the P.Diddy and Nelly songs in the background, the cell phones, RadioShack-esque stores still in business, white guys being awkward to the cool black guys, the works. Bay shoots everything in sun drenched day glow with slow motion and rapid cuts galore. He wants you to get a contact high from watching it all.

Bad Boys II is a marvel to watch, because you should hate this movie. If you pride yourself as a purveyor of cinema as an art form, than this should be everything you stand against. And yes, it’s so ridiculous and braindead, you wonder how it made it to theaters. But dammit all, it’s impossible to hate this movie. It’s like every male fantasy about what an action movie should be actually manifested into a motion picture. If the dictionary needs a visual aid for the definition of a “guy film,” look no further. Is it a good movie? No, it’s really only saved by it’s over-the-top action sequences. Otherwise, it’s predictable and cares more about the actions in-between the story than the actual story. But if the TV is on and you see Will Smith whipping out double pistols to break-up a KKK meeting, it’s pretty hard to change the channel.

Moment of Bay:

Moment of Bay (verbal edition):

Final Verdict: Unashamed Ungodly Bayhem

Fun fact: he’s only trying to shoot off his spiked-up haircut Photo Credit: DreamWorks Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures

The Island (2005)

Did you know that when it comes to Michael Bay, a $126 million movie that grosses $162.9 million is considered a box-office bomb? Such is the case with this other forgotten sci-fi story, which many blame on poor marketing. Maybe it’s because the movie didn’t know who to sell itself to, maybe it’s because it couldn’t compare to Bay’s previous cinematic bonanza, or maybe it was blocked out by that OTHER sci-fi movie Ewan McGregor was in the same year. Regardless, The Island is a surprising and much-needed change in style for Bay.

Co-written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (easy, nerds), The Island is set in the year 2019 where the planet has been ravaged by a plague and the last bits of humanity are protected in an enclosed facility. Every week, there’s a lottery to determine which of the residents are allowed to go to The Island, the supposed outdoor safe haven where humans are slowly repopulating Earth. One of the recent winners is Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson), who’s very excited to go. Her good friend, Lincoln Six Echo (McGregor), is not because he doesn’t seem to understand the purpose of just waiting to have his name drawn. To his shock, he discovers that The Island is a lie and that he, along with everyone else in the facility, is a clone of another human. He and Jordan escape to the outside world looking for answers, while the facility’s overseer (Sean Bean) hunts them down.

The Island is another one of Bay’s more restrained features because it’s not all about action set pieces. The story requires Bay to set up an entire universe in the first third of the movie along with a near-future for the second act. To his credit, Bay sets up an impressive world with the underground facility the clones all live in and shoots the movie like a utopian fantasy while giving hints to the big reveal. It’s not until the halfway point that the chase scenes come into play, and even those aren’t annoyingly over-the-top. As he did to lesser success in Pearl Harbor, Bay wants the audience to stay immersed in the story and merely note the background instead of the other way around. But, like Pearl Harbor, the main problem with the movie is the story. Not that it’s not interesting, it’s just how ripped off it all is. The likes of Logan’s RunThe Matrix, and THX 1138 could’ve sued this movie for copyright infringement as many elements from the films are cribbed for The Island. It doesn’t say anything truly deep besides “cloning is wrong” and “break free from the norm.”

At its core, The Island is dollar store sci-fi: something quick, easy and is meant to entertain more than to challenge. That said, it’s a gorgeous looking deviation from the testosterone fueled blitz Bay is known for. Bay seems to be better at knowing what people want more than what they need, and here was where he gave the people the look and fun of sci-fi without making them think. Don’t worry about all those problems with humanity, technology or the value of human life. Just sit back and watch young Scarlett ride a flying motorcycle. Wheeeee!!!!!

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: Simple and Safe Bayhem

Robot-Illuminati confirmed
Photo Credit: DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Transformers (2007)

Remember when people were excited for this movie? Think about it: Michael Bay directing, Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer, rising star Shia LaBeouf leading? The promotion, the trailers, the nostalgia all set up like dominoes ready to fall in perfect harmony. We had no idea how perfect giant fighting robots and Michael Bay would be together but, for better and for worse, we’d soon find out.

2007’s Transformers (also written by Orci and Kurtzman) follows Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), a loser high school kid who just bought his first car: a beaten-up old Chevy Camaro with a strange symbol on the wheel. It turns out his car is an alien robot named Bumblebee from the planet Cybertron, where two robot factions (the Autobots and the Decepticons) waged war over the planet. Bumblebee’s arrival is not unusual, as numerous reports come in about weird alien ships and transforming machines crashing on Earth. It turns out to be the Autobots (led by Optimus Prime) and Decepticons (led by Megatron) who are looking for a long lost artifact called the AllSpark that brought life to Cybertron. Sam, his high school crush (Megan Fox) and the Autobots race to find the AllSpark before the Decepticons do and turn all of Earth’s machines into villainous slaves for Megatron.

If there was ever a time for Bay to take something seriously…it should’ve been Pearl Harbor, but he chose Transformers instead. He builds up the reveal of the giant robots, so much so as keeping the first attack by a Decepticon in darkness. It’s the Jaws-effect: you have to wait to see the big monster, or in this case giant robots. And when he finally gives the big reveal of Bumblebee and the rest of the Autobots, it’s an epic moment. He gets you excited to see these things that only cartoons and fantasy could think up come to real life. Bay took the same buildup he uses for action scenes and used it to make a million grown men who grew up watching 80’s cartoons applaud. And lord almighty, those fight scenes are Bay fully-formed. The size and scope of the battles is still very impressive, as the Transformers turn major cities into places to duck and cover from fire or their own Roman Colosseum. He also uses the Roland Emmerich cast again by bringing in various characters together centered around one event, which makes it easier for the audience to care about all the people involved. I do of course mean all people, because anyone can be a part of giant robots fighting! Nerdy high schooler? Sure! Hot teenage jailbait? Oh yeah! Chubby black nerd with attitude? Come on down! Bland military men? Step on up, boys! The poster for this movie should’ve just been Optimus and Megatron pointing at the reader with the text, “This could be you” and they still would’ve sold tickets. Then again, the poster was pretty great on its own.

Transformers is one of those rare stupid summer blockbuster movies that totally works. Yes, there are still stupid elements to it all (no human should witness Bumblebee urinating on John Turturro or Sam’s parents), but it’s easier to block that out. Transformers is basically Bad Boys II for kids: something totally ludicrous that’s somehow impossible to hate because it’s a miracle that it even exists. All of the big summer blockbusters, from The Avengers to Jurassic World, owe a thing or two to Transformers embracing the idea that summer movies CAN be full-on ridiculous. Go big or go home!

Moment of Bay: 

Final Verdict: Unashamed, Yet Orchestrated Bayhem Jr.

The moment when John Turturro realized he made a huge mistake
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

There, I showed it…a giant robot’s scrotum. Happy? Also, did someone actually write in a major Hollywood movie screenplay that someone was below a giant robot’s genitals? Did John Turturro ad-lib that line, and did he immediately regret it afterwards? Did Michael Bay actually care so much about this scene that he wanted specific attention drawn to said robot’s nether regions? Does pinpointing the robot’s care package make for an easier target to kill? Am I constantly asking these questions to stretch out the joke so I don’t have to talk about this trainwreck? *Sigh* Alright let’s get this over with.

Revenge of the Fallen sees Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) heading off to college, much to the sadness of his annoying parents, hot girlfriend (Megan Fox) and of course Bumblebee, who still lives with him while the rest of the Autobots serve the U.S. government hunting down other Decepticons. But when a lost piece of the AllSpark flashes itself into Sam’s brain (stay with me, people) he begins to see symbols in his mind. It turns out those symbols are something the Decepticons want very badly, as they’ve stolen the other missing piece of the AllSpark to revive Megatron and capture Sam. Despite him leaving the Transformers behind, he gets dragged back in to the war between robots to save Earth.

Let’s be blunt: this movie’s plot has no idea where it’s going. First it’s Sam trying to leave the Autobots behind, then it’s a wacky college movie, then it’s a Bayhem action movie, then it’s a mystery about Autobots on Earth, then they’re in Egypt for some reason, then Shia goes to Transformers heaven and then explosions, the end. WHAT THE HELL?! Revenge of the Fallen thinks that if it’s loud enough and throws enough stupid at your face, you’ll forget that it doesn’t know what the hell is going on in its own story. And while that might’ve worked in Bad Boys II, at least that movie had humans involved in the action. Revenge of the Fallen has so much robot-on-robot fighting that it’s easy to lose track of who’s who. It’s all just walking metal crashing into each other. But that’s nothing compared to the “characters” in the movie. LaBeouf screams and whines so much throughout the picture, you can change his name to ShiAAAGHHHHH LaBeouf. Megan Fox is there because “mmmm, boobs and butts” and her phone sex operator voice. The Witwicky parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) are two of the most obnoxious and unnecessary characters in the history of film. They’re on Jar Jar-levels of annoyance. And John Turturro… let’s just hope he was properly compensated. Also, just to reiterate, this is a scene from a movie that made over $800 million world-wide.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a movie we’d all like to forget we saw. It’s offensive, obnoxious and, yes, and assault on the senses. Michael Bay seems to think that more is more, the only problem with that is he thinks there should be more action. People watch movies for said action, but they also want to root for characters they can connect or relate to, or even like. There is nothing to like about the people in this movie, there’s nothing to like about the story in this movie and nothing to remember about this movie. This movie is probably where the term “Bayhem” came to be defined as unmitigated assault on the senses. How funny that the sequel to the movie that made Bay a filthy rich superstar would be the knife that cut him the most.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: WAR CRIME BAYHEM (giant robot related)

What’s prettier: the girl or the explosion? Trick question, who cares?!
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

So the good news is, things couldn’t possible get any worse than Revenge of the Fallen for the Transformers franchise. Bad news is, that doesn’t mean things could get any better. Worse news is, things could always get darker.

Bay’s third turn directing giant robots has him and writer Ehren Kruger jumping the shark with the mere concept. Brace yourself: the entire space race of the 1960s was in response to a Cybertron spaceship crash landing on the Moon. This ship, called the Ark, contained a device that could’ve saved Cybertron but was lost in the crash. In present day, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is trying to find a normal job after two turns saving the world with the Autobots. He may have a boring new job, but he’s got a hot new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, erasing the memory of Megan Fox) and his good buddy Bumblebee. But when Sam discovers the government lied to the Autobots about the Ark being on the Moon, the race is on to find this mystic device and protect it from Megatron and the Decepticons. The Autobots have a secret weapon: an ancient Autobot named Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nemoy). But not everything is as it seems and the world may be in more danger than ever before.

Admittedly, Dark of the Moon is more tolerable for it’s darker and more hopeless second half when (spoiler alert) Sentinel turns evil and brings an army of Decepticons to rain hell on Chicago. That Bayhem is ridiculous and numbing, but at least it follows a more coherent story than Revenge of the Fallen and the giant tunneling worm robot (I’m sure it has a name, but who the hell cares?) squeezing a building in half is actually really well done. And… that’s about it as far as good stuff in Dark of the Moon. The stuff that was good about the first Transformers movies has worn out its welcome: the robots transformers has lost its spark, the characters are made up of stereotypes more than reliable qualities, and the shootouts and fights are just how Brick Tamland interprets arguments. LaBeouf is less annoying this time around, but maybe because he’s just sick of everything and wants to get a jump start on his artistic meltdown as soon as possible. Honestly, there isn’t much to say about Dark of the Moon because there’s nothing good or bad that stands out. Perhaps that’s the major fault of it all: a grandly staged Bay movie that packs zero punch. No wonder Bay needed a break from it all.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: Bland Bayhem

“So there are no robots in this one, right?” “Nope.” “Sweet!”
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Pain & Gain (2013)

Originally, Bay wanted to do this in-between Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon. When Dark of the Moon got pushed to 2011 instead of 2012, Pain & Gain was put on hold for Bay so he could make more robot mayhem. But Bay needed this movie: the world was interested to see what Bay could do with a Transformers-free movie, no special effects overload, no mythical intergalactic BS, just a true story to build a movie off of. What could possibly go wrong? Oh yeah, the movie is all about terrible people.

Based on Pete Collins’ series of articles published in Miami New Times in 1999, the movie follows Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg). In 1995, he was a beefy fitness instructor in beautiful Miami trying to figure out where he was going in his humdrum life. One day, he meets rich sleaze-bag Victor Kershaw (Tony Shalhoub) after becoming his trainer. After being inspired by a motivational speaker (the immortal Ken Jeong), Daniel hatches a scheme to achieve the American Dream. His plan? Accompanied by his buddy Adrian (Anthony Mackie) and ex-con Paul (Dwayne Johnson), he’ll kidnap Kershaw and squeeze big money out of him. Naturally, hijinks ensue.

If you’re like me and like to enjoy watching shows about awful people being awful to each other (i.e. GirlsIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Pain & Gain should be one of the funniest movies ever made. Bay’s notorious disregard for human decency should’ve been the perfect fit for a movie about three idiot bodybuilders trying to be Robin Hood (and failing miserably).

So why does Pain & Gain ultimate become one of the ugliest movies ever seen? To be fair, it’s not ugly in most of the visuals: Bay shoots the movie in the sun drenched glow of the Florida beaches and gets his required shots of hot women in bikinis (because boobs = cinema). He also keeps the action to a minimum, keeping the focus on the dim-witted actions of the main characters. But of course, the problem rests on those characters. We know nothing of the real life people involved in this true story, but screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely wrote some of the dumbest, irredeemable and unpleasant characters in cinema history. The thing with shows like Girls and Sunny in Philadelphia is that characters like Hannah or Mac have qualities similar to our own or that of people we know, so we can make a connection with them and laugh at them and ourselves for their reactions. Daniel, Adrian and Paul are cartoon characters with the qualities on par with the cast of Jersey Shore. There is no one to root for, everyone to despise. But Bay shoots these guys like they’re Ocean’s Eleven or some group of cool rebels. Bay knows how make action likable, but not so much how to make people likable.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: Mild Bayhem

A giant robot riding a robot dinosaur, otherwise known as “guy-bait”
Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

By 2011, Bay was done with Transformers. He was focused on doing Pain & Gain and was ready to pass the torch to someone else. Yet the power of money is a strong thing and Paramount pulled Bay back in for a new movie. But, did Bay actually want to do another movie? Had Bay become exhausted from making, promoting and defending one of the most maligned franchises in Hollywood? With franchises and nostalgic properties now being more popular in movies than ever before, had Bay rode the train as far is it could go and wanted to get out while the getting was good? Bay answered all those question with a $210 million funded, nearly three-hour, globe-trotting shrug of the shoulders and a resounding, “who cares?”

Both a sequel and a reboot of the franchise, Age of Extinction follows the same events as the previous movies, with Transformers being hunted down and killed by the government after the destruction in Chicago from Dark of the Moon. This time around, we follow Texas-based inventor/scrapper Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) as he goes around finding broken machines to pick apart and build something new and profitable. On top of struggling financially and dealing with a teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz), he comes into a possession of a broken down truck which turns out to be Optimus Prime in hiding. But when a government big shot (Kelsey Grammer) locates Yeager and threatens his family, Prime springs back into action and escapes with Cade, his daughter and her boyfriend (Jack Reynor). The gang reunites with the remaining Autobots (yes, including Bumblebee) to discover a secret plan to build new Transformers under government control.

There are two primary sounds you could sum up Age of Extinction with: groaning and yawning. This 165-minute (that’s two hours and 45 minutes, by the way) outstretch of metal clashing together is so needless. It’s beyond dumb, surprisingly dark, has two different points where it could’ve ended but didn’t and has so much commercialization and whorish product placement that it’s a wonder there’s not a cashier ringing every five minutes of movie time. In a way, this is the ultimate Bay movie with endless low-angle shots, slow-motion, sunsets, explosions, special effects, you name it. But like with Dark of the Moon, the magic is gone. Even though the detail and designs of the robots has improved, the act of them transforming and fighting isn’t fun anymore. It’s just boring, the equivalent of smashing Hot Wheels together for nearly three hours. The subplot involving capturing the “seed” of the Transformers is worthy of Beavis and Butt-Head snickering at it. The final leg of the movie takes place in China for no reason other than to make money in the soon-to-be largest film market in the world. The characters are jokes (especially Peltz and Reynor who must’ve got picked up from their jobs as models for American Eagle to shoot the movie). Even when the Dinobots show up with a mere 30 minutes left in the movie, it’s all been such a joyless and numbing experience that the awesomeness of that scene is gone.

Age of Extinction is not the worst of the Transformers movies, but it’s certainly the most pointless one. It’s a miracle that this movie made a billion dollars because who else really cares about these movies anymore? Bay certainly doesn’t, despite that he’s signed on for one more movie.

Moment of Bay:

Final Verdict: *Shrugs* Whatever

So here’s to you Mr. Bay, you commercial movie kingpin. Let’s hope you know how to treat Benghazi with some dignity, or here’s to two more Transformers movies that’ll put us all to sleep.