I’m not sure exactly what I was holding out for. Was I expecting some kind of revelatory moment in the history of Michael Bay filmmaking? Some earth-shattering statement by Bay on the sanctity of life, and how easily it’s silenced by the senseless destruction of man and the machines they fight against? Or perhaps the parental animosity, built up over years between daughter and father, forged by his overprotective tendencies?
There is a brief bit of dialogue early on in “Transformers 4: Age of Extinction”, where yet another meaningless supporting character says something to the effect of, “Hollywood used to be different, but now it’s plagued by pointless sequel after sequel.” I couldn’t help but wonder if Bay realizes he is trapped in a possibly endless cycle of cranking out franchise film after franchise film of robotic chaos until the current Hollywood meta is broken. Maybe Bay’s prideful need for aeutership over the “Transformers” series disables his ability to say no to another bi-annual, three-hour explosion packed romp.
We could sit, probably agree, and discuss for hours over the usual narrative issues that haunt Michael’s work on the “Transformers” franchise, including: sub-characters (both robot and human) with little to no character development, cheesy dialogue and unnecessary scenes included for the sole purpose of moving the plot forward, and a strange and mythical set of laws of gravity and physics that seem to only exist inside of Bay’s cinematic worlds. In addition, we could talk about the nonsensical, fluffy plot that “Transformers 4” presents, or how even though Mark Wahlberg is a welcome substitute for Shia LeBeouf, neither feels compelling or interesting.
However, I’d instead like to talk about Bay’s use of character development (yes, it does exist in some fashion, albeit small) and cinematography. I believe we learn quite a bit about who Bay is, and how he represents either himself as an auteur director, or the statement he tries to convey. Some would argue against Bay’s status as an auteur director, but not only do his films contain many of the same elements, but he is also a premier director of our generation, and continues to churn out successful blockbuster films year after year.
A trademark element of Bay’s is beautiful women. Bay makes it a point to cast the most gorgeous woman he can pay, even if she’s just a model and has little to no acting experience… Rosie Huntington-Whiteley from the third installment is a perfect example. Do the women in his films serve any purpose other than sex appeal? Their characters usually can do nothing to help themselves and are constantly relying on Optimus Prime, or one of the lead males to rescue them. These women also wear scandalously revealing clothing, which wouldn’t be an issue if that was a part of who they are as a character, but this mostly is never the case with Bay.
Unfortunately, all women in Bay’s movies are obviously on-screen for eye candy only. This is made abundantly more clear as many frames with Tessa (Nicola Peltz) begin with her backside in focus, as the camera slowly scans her from the legs up. Bay includes plenty of lens flares to accentuate the actresses beauty, as if her clothing and ten pounds of lip gloss and eye shadow weren’t enough. What worries me — and I would hope it should worry you as well — is how Bay views women, and the message he sends to the masses who go to spend cash on tickets to feed the Michael Bay machine. Is it a positive message to convey, or am I reading too much into this? It seems blatantly obvious to me.
Finally, I would like to point out an observation that I only picked up after having completed viewings of all four “Transformers” films. The jury convened a long time ago on the compelling factor of Bay’s dialogue in his films; in other words, it’s practically nonexistent. There is something striking to me about many of these male characters.
The characters of LeBeouf and Wahlberg are average, or probably mediocre at best, but there is a vein of similarity made crystal clear in supporting roles. I speak to Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), or Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer). These men begin their appearances on-screen as powerful men who get what they want, but over time, we begin to see they aren’t actually as rough as they would like us to think. They begin to crack in some ways, and behave childishly, making silly mistakes or speaking odd comments that don’t really make sense logically or humorously. Other characters have no problem sticking a gun into the cheek of a defenseless teenage girl, or making bizarre sexual advances on whichever women they choose.
I can’t assume Bay has been in the business as long as he has and still have no idea how to write a character. Maybe he’s smarter than we give him credit. He might also be a chauvinistic piglet who has yet to grow and mature into a sensible man. But, if we give him the benefit of the doubt, his supporting characters might just represent himself. Maybe Bay is allowing us into his psyche. We see men who make mistakes, sometimes owning up to them, and doing what they can to make good on it. These are the same men who need to grow up and move past their childlike tendencies. Is Bay talking about himself, or are we reading too much into it?
At any rate, Michael Bay remains a top-selling director who seems in high demand for his work, either directing or producing. While “Transformers 4” doesn’t honestly bring anything new to the table, it can assure us of one thing: if Bay builds it, they will blindly come.