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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: Is Michael Bay so incredibly awesome?

Benjamin Kerstein in the New Ledger is so not a fan of everyone who’s so not a fan of Michael Bay:

Everyone who writes about movies is now apparently required to hate Michael Bay. The ex-director of commercials and music videos, who has made some of the most successful films of the last decade—Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Transformers, etc.—has become, without a doubt, the bête noir of modern cinema; or at least of modern movie critics. The critical establishment has never really liked Michael Bay, but the recent release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which despite having been demolished by every respectable critic on both sides of the Atlantic, is hurtling swiftly toward the box-office stratosphere, was unquestionably the nail in the coffin. This week, Revenge became one of the top ten domestic films of all time with a gross surpassing two third-entries in modern film trilogies: Peter Jackson’s Return of the King and George Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith — yet still, Bay is a man to be hated.

I’m not sure how box office success is meant to rescue Bay from mass hatred, but it does appear to be Kerstein contention that popularity is the same thing as quality. Also, critics and Bay-haters are elitist, elitism, as we know, is bad and anti-American:

It must be admitted that almost everything the critics have said about Revenge of the Fallen is true to a certain extent. It is not a particularly good film, even by Hollywood blockbuster standards, and Bay is most certainly unsubtle, lowbrow, and unapologetically mercenary. Ironically, however, the critics’ belief that Bay is also a threat to all things decent and civilized in the world, the unabashed critical contempt and hatred that has been directed his way from the beginning of his career, says very little about Bay himself. Instead, it says almost everything about the pathetic state of American film criticism.

In other words, it’s okay to suggest that Bay is “unsubtle, lowbrow, and unapologetically mercenary,” but film critics shouldn’t say as much, apparently. Also, critics fail to note how very very good Bay is at being very very bad:

Put simply, Michael Bay’s films look extraordinary. One can go even further than that, and say that at certain points his images achieve moments of beauty that can only be described as transcendent. The fact that these images are couched in the idiom of the modern blockbuster action film, with all of their shortcomings, should not, as it does for so many, distract us from an appreciation of the fact that Bay may well be a hack in many areas, but he is not a hack—or even a gifted journeyman—in the realm of visual spectacle. He is, in fact, an artist, and an extraordinarily gifted one.

This can be difficult for the average critic to grasp, because like most commercial filmmakers, Bay’s art is one of pieces and not the whole. His gift appears in fragmentary moments for which the film—that is, the story, the characters, etc.—are merely a vehicle, not the thing in itself.

And this is why Michael Bay is so incredibly awesome, it would seem. Even the things that make Bay a terrible filmmaker are the things that make him so incrediblu awesome:

Even the most-maligned of Bay’s sins, his treatment of women, is in fact one of his greatest strengths. Since the silent era, the transformation of women in glittering, iconic erotic objects has been essential to the language of cinema. Eschewing the ice-queen tradition perfected by Hitchcock, Bay shoots his women for an immediate, absolute carnal beauty, the raw maximization of the female embraced by directors like Howard Hawks. Megan Fox’s native charms are undeniable, but without Bay’s camera, which both distances the viewer and hones in on her feral sexuality like a microscope, she would not be the less-than-obscure object of desire she is today.

See, it’s so incredibly awesome that Bay has transformed Megan Fox into an object of desire. That’s what women are for!

But there’s more. Not only do film critics hate Michael Bay, we hate cinema and we hate ourselves. It’s true:

Michael Bay’s entire cinematic language consists of nothing but love, hate, action, violence, and death, and every one of his films is self-evidently a battleground. They are pure visual pageantry, possessed of an élan that seems to be nothing less than a cry of love for cinema as cinema. And this is precisely why the critics hate him.

White was certainly on to something when he said that most film critics do not “understand movies, let alone like them,” but he did not go far enough. The truth is that most film critics hate movies. The type of cinema that most critics love is, essentially, a kind of anti-cinema. It is a cinema that hates itself, that cannot abide being cinema, and wants desperately to be something else. It shares something, then, with its champions, most of whom would prefer to be something other than movie critics, and who see film as — at best — a lowbrow substitute for more substantial art forms, such as literature, painting, dance, etc. In their eyes, cinema is clumsy, immature, populist, and corrupted by earthly success.

If a self-hating film critic cannot be trusted to speak on the incredible awesomeness of Michael Bay, then you, the moviegoer, must do so: Is Michael Bay so incredibly awesome?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • I admit that I did like the Rock. At least up until the end (Nick Cage surviving was a bit of a stretch as was the hostages). Armagedon did at least have that kind of “dregs of humanity are the only hope for the world” going for it, but in some ways the aplication wasn’t the best. Transformers (the first) was cool and is the only Bay film I have had zero gripes with.

    Beyond those three I cannot stand him though. ROTF was bad (although I will say not as bad as some made it out to be, it was still bad). The rest of his films left a very bad taste in my mouth. I am not sure how they ever made any money. But I guess this guy is saying that doesn’t matter, he made lots of money and that is all. Of course I could write a novel just listng the movies that made money that I hate for various reasons.

    But what I am getting to is who does this guy think he is telling everyone NOT to critisize Bay? If anyone deserves it, its the guy sitting on the pedestal, that includes Speilburg, Lucas, Jackson, and yes Bay himself. without that idea of a checks and blancences for the filmakers we get crap like Revenge of the fallen…Oh nevermind I think the point was lost.

  • doa766

    I think we already talked about Mr Bay on this site a few times in the last few weeks

    but what I want to add is that critics were very late to the Bay hating party

    people who know and care about movies first became aware of the Bay menace with Armaggedon, then years later critics started talking about Bay as a brand name with Bad Boys 2 or The Island

    now is safe for critics to say anything about him, it wasn’t like that when Pearl Harbor came out

    so the guy who wrote that article knows even less about movies than what appears on first sight: critics started repeating on recent years what real movie fans have been saying for a decade

  • doa766

    also Transformers is very very far from reaching the box office numbers of Star Wars or LOTR because of the limited international appeal

    http://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/world/

    (it’s on 19th position)

  • Brian

    This is merely a more articulate and long-winded version of the knee-jerk defense offered by many Bay fans: He’s great at putting shiny machines, hot women, and things that go “boom” on the screen in eye-candified awesomeness, and he makes tons of money doing it, so you snobby critics must be out of touch if it doesn’t meet your highfalutin standards of quality.

    Why do you critics have to be so critical anyway, huh? It’s, like, a total buzzkill.

    Whatever . . . the abstract beauty of some of Bay’s imagery might just be transcendent. But you could say the same about some TV car commercials. Besides, Bay isn’t making abstract films. He ostensibly makes narrative films, so judging them on the quality of their narrative, or lack thereof, is fair game.

  • Chuck

    Michael Who?

  • Alli

    Even the most-maligned of Bay’s sins, his treatment of women, is in fact one of his greatest strengths. Since the silent era, the transformation of women in glittering, iconic erotic objects has been essential to the language of cinema.

    You have got to be kidding me! Is this guy for real? Basically Kerstein’s suggesting that all women, especially the hot ones, are merely sex objects, and that is how they should be portrayed on film. Jesus. Let’s give a gold star to everyone who makes attractive women look like whores! Yay! At least he’s honest I guess. What a freaking creep.

  • Seriously, I’ll take Duncan Jones’s Moon over Michael whoever’s Transformers.

    You can’t take the box office returns generated from a parents desire to please their skull full of mush offspring as an indicator of cinematic excellence.

  • bracyman

    Didn’t we already do a “What is the point of critics if it’s not to follow box office numbers exactly?” conversation? Actually, I think Ratatouille answered that one.

    I mean, the man isn’t wholly wrong; you can turn violence into things wonderful and beautiful to behold. See John Woo, Jet Li, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Those were the influences of the director’s artistic vision. I have trouble attributing the amazing CGI effects to Michael Bay.

  • Saladinho

    Michael Bay sucks.

  • amanohyo

    Well, if Mr. Kerstein’s gig at the New Ledger ever falls through, he still has a bright future ahead of him as a member of the editorial staff of The Onion. I’m actually a little jealous. He doesn’t even have to try to write satirically, it flows forth naturally from his very strong and potent brain.

  • Bluejay

    “The type of cinema that most critics love is, essentially, a kind of anti-cinema. It is a cinema that hates itself, that cannot abide being cinema, and wants desperately to be something else.”

    Oh. Like that critically acclaimed, self-hating, anticinematic trilogy, “The Lord of the Rings”?

  • Brian

    What does that even mean that the cinema that critics admire “wants desperately to be something else?” Does this fellow honestly think that film critics would like Citizen Kane better if it were, say, an opera?

  • e

    Eschewing the ice-queen tradition perfected by Hitchcock, Bay shoots his women for an immediate, absolute carnal beauty, the raw maximization of the female embraced by directors like Howard Hawks.

    Throwing out some respected or semi-respected directors does not a defense make. The whole thing feels slightly shrouded in this pseudo-intellectual mist.

    I enjoyed The Rock, probably because of Connery and Harris, and Armageddon I’ll watch fairly often. The mega-spectacle holds a special place in my heart, but the point to me is that Bay can do better, and if he can’t, he has the clout to hire people who can.

  • Mathias

    Bay’s consistent contempt for characterization, plot and just plain logic is what has earned him such a hated place in film critic’s hearts.

    He’s not a storyteller, he’s a sexist adrenaline junkie and the fact that he excels at CG-created mayhem is no excuse for his failures everywhere else.

    And i find it funny that the essence of that guy’s arguement is that Bay is hated ‘cuz critics don’t like action films anymore. Well, someone should show him the reviews that Start Trek got.
    A relentlessly, almost breathlessly rapid-paced action film that doesn’t simply use its characters as avenues for the next expensive explosion-filled action scene.

    Oh and everyone knows that Armond White is a joke.
    He’s the worst critic by far on Rottentomatoes.
    Anyone who uses his incoherent opinions as fact is a moron.

  • Sandy

    The only way I’ve ever made it through a Micheal Bay movie was beer. Lots and lots of beer. If this guy isn’t kidding (it sure reads like satire), he must have been drinking more than I was when he wrote that piece.

  • Muzz

    Is there a Poe’s Law for Michael Bay apologists?
    Seriously, the guy compared Bay’s shooting of Megan Fox to Hitchcock and Hawks. That kind of thing is indistinguishable from parody.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    This is basically the “Michael Bay Finally Made An Art Movie” article from io9 reprinted, isn’t it?

  • iakobos

    “Is Michael Bay so incredibly awesome?” In many respects I think so. I’ve enjoyed his movies more often than not.

    There are things I don’t like in ROTF such as the language and sexuality. But several reasons why the fans turned out is because Bay gave them what they wanted which was more robots, more action and more things such as the interplay between Megatron and Starscream.

    For the non-fans I understand why those things are not a turn on and why the bad things were such a turn off. But the things Bay did to please the fans that the critics don’t get is part of the reason there is a general disconnect between both parties. However, I don’t think it means critics are stupid because they don’t get it or that fans are mindless idiots for watching such low brow affair. It just means there’s a difference of preference, understanding and appreciation for Bay’s movies.

    The reason I come to this site is because I agree with Mary Ann’s opinions more than any other critic. But no two people will always see everything alike.

  • Jolly

    Oh and everyone knows that Armond White is a joke.
    He’s the worst critic by far on Rottentomatoes.
    Anyone who uses his incoherent opinions as fact is a moron.

    This is the funniest thing I’ve read all day. I just wish I knew whether it was an intentional parody of a White review or unintended irony.

  • People like Armond White and Benjamin Kerstein (author of this article we’re discussing) are in the one percent. You know, the one percent of the population who hates what the other 99 percent enjoys.

    Take District 9 for example. At the moment, every single critic besides White has given the film a positive review. White is the only critic who didn’t like the film, yet he has the nerve to call anyone a “fool” enjoyed the movie.

    Similarly, when 99 percent of the population agrees to disslike something, people like White and Kerstein will no doubt relish being in the one percent crowd who loved it. Examaple: Micheal Bay and GI Joe.

    People like White and Kerstein believe that there is something wrong with the 99 percent of people who agree on something. No, there is obviously something wrong with the one percenters whose sole purpose is to not follow the crowd.

    Striving to be a contrarian is such a tired cliche.

  • Jolly

    No, there is obviously something wrong with the one percenters whose sole purpose is to not follow the crowd.

    I don’t approve of Armond’s tactic of insulting those that disagree with him. It’s a pity that you engage in the same tactic.

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