Silver Screen Spotlight: Michael Bay

Within the somewhat formulaic realm of blockbuster filmmaking, where any grab at big cash is worth it, no matter a project's quality, one of the most notable names in the business is director Michael Bay. A connoisseur of quick-cut, loud, and overly fiery productions, from depicting the horrors of World War II in Pearl Harbor to pitting giant alien robots head-to-head in the Transformers franchise, Bay has defined himself as a filmmaker whose projects -- no matter how blasphemous and often-nonsensical they might be -- still manage to overthrow the box-office every time. With his latest spectacle, the fifth chapter in the explosive Transformers series (out now), marked up to be his last, let's take a trip through the hellish but holy collection of films from the master of filling theater seats.

How Michael Bay got his start in movies seems almost like a fantastic dream of one of the many teenagers who make up the majority of his films' market today. At the stark age of fifteen, Bay was working under one of the most acclaimed writers/directors of the late 1970s, George Lucas. Filing storyboards for the film that would later inspire him to embark down the road of director, Bay was entranced by the campy-yet-sophisticated allure of Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Soon after, he took an ambitious dive into the world of film, one that would come to define his unique method of storytelling.

Finding solace in the momentary thrill and obscurity of music videos and Coca-Cola ads, Bay soon gained the attention of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer. With the latter becoming a significant partner and friend to Bay, the up-and-coming director garnered his first full-length feature in 1995's buddy-cop comedy Bad Boys. Igniting not only the director's fluent box-office dominance, but also his formulaic eagerness towards explosive set pieces over coherent character development, the mildly-compelling Bruckheimer-produced action-comedy no doubt put Bay's face in Hollywood's cross-hairs.

Following an equally-successful follow-up that delivered audiences yet another appealing duo in the Nicholas Cage-Sean Connery thriller, The Rock, Bay was met with a film that would shape his career into the lavish-yet-lackluster one we know today. Spawning the space-adventure Armageddon, a summer blockbuster that would rival another 1998 disaster flick in Deep Impact, Bay employed an attractive cast and a slew of his signature action set pieces to make the film one of the most successful films of that year. While the leads in Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, and Billy Bob Thornton, who played a team of oil drillers tasked with stopping a massive asteroid from destroying Earth, were nothing special, the film did sustain a decent level of suspense on the brim of its apocalyptic film trope.

Teaming up once more with Bruckheimer and star Ben Affleck for the massive historical epic Pearl Harbor, Bay maintained his box-office reign as the film went on to score not only a decent reception, but also a quartet of Academy Award nominations (winning only one for Best Sound Editing). With Bay's name now under an Oscar-winning film, the director's career only soared from there, as the early 2000s promised him a number of ambitious projects.

After returning to the buddy-cop genre with a successful follow-up to Bad Boys in 2003, and delivering a mildly-captivating science fiction premise in the international hit The Island, Bay would spend the next four years embarking on what might now be known as one of the notable hallmarks of his career so far, the Transformers franchise. Spawning the first feature in what would later become a decade spanning monster of the silver screen, Bay meticulously crafted the 2007 adaptation of the popular Hasbro toy line to rocket his name further into the stars. With the first Transformers delivering not only some impressive action sequences for the director, but also a handful of awkward-but-lovable performances from Shia LaBeouf and the rest of the cast, the film managed to revamp the Transformers name for a new generation, while also sending boatloads of cash towards Bay and toy stores across the world.

Bay's dealings with fast-paced, robot-ass-kicking nonsense didn't stop there, of course, as the successful 2007 film spawned three sequels before the year 2012. While 2009's ambitious follow-up in Revenge of the Fallen promised a bigger leap into the alien robots' thick mythology, the payoff was far from great, in terms of critical reception that is. While Fallen showed us Bay possibly having a bit too much fun with the idiotic characters and nonsensical plot of the sequel, 2011 managed to nonetheless reel me back into the franchise with the somber Dark of the Moon. While its runtime might have risked dragging on a bit too long (an issue that would haunt the franchise's later two sequels), the third feature in the Transformers franchise progressed the franchise with a bit more seriousness than its previous installment.

Before returning to the robot-vs-robot franchise with 2014's Age of Extinction, Bay released yet another facet of his frantic filmmaking in the heist comedy Pain & Gain. While the film did manage to draw my attention with its appealing cast in Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Mackie, and the now-king of franchise-hopping, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, as well as its somewhat-competent tale of bodybuilding bank robbers in Miami, the satirical edge of its central trio was ultimately bogged down by Bay's signature eagerness for things to go "BOOM!". While still an impressive feat for the box-office, Pain & Gain delivered only a minor peak at Michael Bay's appeal outside of his Transformers films.

While his return with Age of Extinction promised little for the future of the Transformers movies, as it successfully tossed LaBeouf's lead to the wind and employed a new string of uninspired characters in the sequel's even-more ludicrous story, Bay strummed up yet another appealing feature in his biographical war thriller 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi. With a war film teeming with violence seemingly the perfect platform for Bay's unique talents, 13 Hours, while not as massive a box-office hit as his other projects, allowed Bay to display a bit more restraint and maturity in his filmmaking. Whether or not fact-based stories and mindless action thrillers fit in Bay's style together perfectly remains in question, but the film did manage to show audiences yet another side of what the director could be capable of.

With his latest installment in the Transformers franchise, the compelling yet continuously incoherent, The Last Knight, meandering around some tough competition at the box-office right now, I'll leave you all with a single question: What is your all-time favorite Michael Bay film? Do you think there is any further potential for the director outside of his infamous franchise, or is he doomed to an eternity of exploring the exploits of giant alien robots? Tweet me your answers or let me know in the comments below, and be sure to come back next month for July's Silver Screen Spotlight!



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