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Michael Bay Might Actually Be A Genius

It’s possible that everything we believe about Michael Bay as a film director is completely wrong.

Despite his reputation for making plot-less movies with big explosions, he may have keener insight into the cultural of Hollywood movies than most people.

His latest movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is remarkable for several reasons.

First, and most impressively, Bay has proven that you don’t actually need actors to make a top-grossing movie.

In theater, TV and especially film, we fetishize the role of actors.

Despite the fact that they are just a member of an extremely large creative team, that the performances they give are hugely shaped by screenwriters, editors, directors, makeup artists, etc., we treat them as the primary creative force in a movie.

The importance we assign to them can be seen in everything from the disproportionate amount of pay they receive, to their billing, to how award shows are primarily focused on the acting awards.

And studios willingly participate in this — and why they pay salaries in excess of $20 million — because they think we pick which movies to see based on who’s staring in it.

The Transformers franchise was built without any well-known actors — no one with the star power of Tom Cruises, Tom Hanks or Will Smith. Did Bay transform Shia LaBeouf into a star that Americans adore? Maybe.

But the success of Transformers 4 suggests that viewers are a lot less interested in who is starting in a movie than what it’s about.

And with Transformers 4, that razor thin unoriginal premise — large robots blowing things up — adds particular insult to injury. It’s not like the franchise had the built in fan base of something like Batman or Star Trek, or idea as unique as Planet of the Apes.  

Transformers 4’s casting solidifies my belief that to some extent Bay set out to prove that actors are cattle. Instead of bringing in an A-lister in response to appease the franchises’ fans over dumping all of the cast members, Bay swapped in Mark Wahlberg.                                                                        

                                                                                                     

While he’s affable, he’s a B-list actor who has never headlined a major summer action movie, let alone a franchise. His biggest hit is Ted, and he’s not really even the star of that. 

Wahlberg is such an unlikely choice — it goes against everyone’s gut instincts on what to do in this situation, especially given that this movie is supposed to re-launch the franchise — and Bay deserves credit for making it. And, his daringness doesn’t end there.

Easily most surprising aspect of Transformers 4 is that Bay decided tackle gender issues — how Hollywood’s idealized image of a woman is someone 22 to 29-years-old, who are banging down the door of men twice their age — a male fantasy that the movie industry loves to indulge. Vulture has put together some nice graphs illustrating this

Wahlberg and on-screen daughter, Nicola Peltz

The age differences in movies are almost always absurd, often creepy, and sometimes just a notch or two above Lolita.

Bay purposely takes things to the next logical extension by making the romantic relationship in Transformers 4 actually illegal where the woman is so young its statutory rape (but in this case technically not because of Texas’ “Romeo” law).

This sidebar in the movie is so unnecessary that it is clearly a jab at the ever-widening age gap between male and female actors in movies. 

The last way I will come to Bay’s defense is that he first and foremost sets out to create a dizzying visual experience, embracing the fact that film is a visual medium.

The way in which the whole movie is essentially structured around a few big set pieces isn’t all that different than how Hitchcock built many of his movies on a gimmick — an assassination in Royal Albert Hall during a concert (The Man Who Knew Too Much); shooting an entire film within an apartment (Rear Window); murder at the U.N., being chased by a crop duster, and a chase across Mt. Rushmore (North by Northwest). (Yes, I just compared Michael Bay to Alfred Hitchcock).

Just like Hitch

Where Bay goes wrong is that his technique as a director reeks of a freshman film school major who has discovered slow motion, Dutch angles, and refuses to make any cuts, insisting that every single second in a bloated runtime is essentially.

And that’s the real fault with Michael Bay movies. It’s not the plots, acting or dialogue, but that the basic mechanics of filmmaking are so poor.

Someone like Steven Spielberg has directed his share of mindless summer action movies — a dinosaur theme park on the fritz, people getting their hearts pulled out, and a great white shark terrorizing a New England beach — but he is a far more skilled filmmaker that he can make anything work.

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