Michael Bay is a Drug - And It's Time to Quit
by Brandon Lee Tenney
July 1, 2009
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has raked in over $400 million worldwide. Double its budget. Almost $50 million more than Star Trek and loads more than Pixar's Up, the previous top two. It's a smash. A commercial juggernaut. And its been out just over a week. But to say I'm surprised just wouldn't be the truth. No matter how critically flayed ROTF was bound to be after the tepid response to its predecessor - sliced to bits by critics and dragged asunder by the very fanboys at which the film is aimed - it was destined to destroy. Even when the bile started to spew just before its release, I don't think there was ever any doubt.
We had to see it. We just had to. Everyone was doing it. And so we did. We all saw it. But I'm not here to write a review. To be honest, I wouldn't even know where to begin. (Charlie Jane Anders' satirical masterpiece probably comes closest to my experience.) Which is why I am here; I'm here to try and reconcile just what happened to me in those wee hours of Sunday morning. I'm here to do my best to explain just how Michael Bay does it. How he gets me every time.
I paid an exorbitant amount of money to see ROTF in IMAX - $19, to be exact. For one ticket. I didn't have to, I wasn't forced to, but I wanted the purest high I could get. And seeing a Michael Bay film in IMAX is, for me, just about equivalent to slamming a gram and a half of cut crystal straight into my median cubital. It's a cinematic rush. A rush that drew in an inexplicable sold-out crowd to Los Angeles' The Bridge Cinema De Lux at 1:15 in the morning. We all knew full well that we'd be stepping out of the theatre barely an hour before the Sunday faithful awoke for early mass, but we were there, regardless. And when the movie started, we knew why. With that first sweeping pan, the first glint of sun reflected off a Transformer's exoskeleton, the first glistening female body, we knew.
Then it ended, two and a half bloated, bombastic hours later. And I felt… dirty. Used up. Spent. And most of all, conflicted. Now, I've seen every Michael Bay film. I'm a self-proclaimed Michael Bay apologist. I own both The Rock and Armageddon as Criterion Collection DVDs. I know exactly what the man is. I know exactly what I'm going to get when I come across Bad Boys II or The Island on HBO. And there's something about that that I really love. The man can direct action. Every one of his films are just beautiful. Visually dynamic (sometimes - ahem, Pearl Harbor - to a fault) and always packed with adrenaline. Sure, his sense of story may as well not exist. His sense of pacing (as of late) may as well be a belt sander, cranked up to 11, grinding away at my eye balls. But Michael Bay is a drug with predictable side effects. Well, at least he was.
It's with ROTF that I think I may have OD'ed. No, I know I OD'ed. Todd Gilchrist of Cinematical says "this must be the most movie I have ever experienced." I'll take that a step further - ROTF is the most movie I ever want to experience. It's completely, utterly, unapologetically Michael Bay. It's everything that I expected (and my expectations were subterranean). The film hit every beat, showed every explosion, panned around every inch of Megan Fox, but it just did it too much. And that's why I just can't wrap my head around this damned movie.
I should just be able to accept it and move on. Just think to myself quietly as I walk out of the theatre, "Great action. It's not Summer without Michael Bay," and then continue whatever conversation I was having before the lights dimmed and the previews started to roll. But for days now, it's like Optimus Prime is tearing at my brain. Skids and Mudflap make me hate the movie - a lot. The "forest fight" makes me love it - perhaps the most redeeming factor for the film was this scene viewed in IMAX. John Turturro, Orci and Kurtzman, and that Cylon-wannabe make me hate it again. The Fallen on top of the Great Pyramid make me love it and hate it, but by that time I'd had too much, I didn't care, I was overwhelmed and tired. And Megan Fox -- well, she makes me love it and hate it to such a degree that my eyes go blue and I have to Ctrl-Alt-Del myself back to consciousness. Are you seeing the dilemma here?
Michael Bay has always been a drug; the allure of escapist, illusory cinema, explosions and jokes that people 8 to 88 can enjoy together, a high that shoots squarely for the middle and never pushes beyond that demographic. But Michael Bay has become dangerous. This mainlined, über-purified, 'roided version of himself as seen in ROTF is just too fucking much. It's everything wrong with American blockbuster cinema. Hell, it's everything wrong with America - obese with arteries so clogged we're about to pop. You know that economic crisis we're all undergoing here in the States - ROTF may as well be its thesis. Excess and unconditional balances. Spending without qualms and out of entitlement. It's bankrupted us. I can only hope Michael Bay and ROTF has bankrupted (at least, figuratively) American film and how it's thought of, how it's presented.
Because Michael Bay should now be considered dangerous to us all, but especially to our children, the young minds that his hallucinatory forays effect most, we must all turn our eyes away and refuse the next ocular injection coming in two years' time. Just say no. I know it feels good. In a darkened theatre, the subwoofers rumbling your very core, metal on metal laced with ILM, hot chicks and hulking guys glowing underneath the ever-noon sun. The kind of world where every person who steps out of a car is as regal as a king, just you and the sky -- but, please, just say no. 'Cause even though I still can't express what actually happened to me in that theater, it just may have been a spiritual awakening. A cleansing of the soul.
My name is Brandon, and I've been sober for four days now. And, you know, a locked-off shot and some subtitles - they're not that bad. Not bad at all.