Oh Mikey, you are possibly the most debated director working in Hollywood right now. Casual movie goers like your films just fine (financially they like your films quite a lot) but critics won’t give you the time of day.
I used to not give you the time of day, but Mike, we’ve been unfair to you. Your films may be pieces of shit most of the time, but you have this magical talent to make that shit smell like roses. So as the first step to a proper apology, here you will be the subject of my ranking talents.
Here are all of your films in order of release date because following that will be the order in terms of quality.
Bad Boys (1995)
The Rock (1996)
Pearl Harbor (2001)
Bad Boys 2 (2003)
The Island (2005)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Pain and Gain (2013)
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Avoid at all Costs
Now Mikey, I’m sorry to say this but there are a few films in your repertoire that simply shouldn’t be seen. These are those films.
11. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Mike, this was the reason I lost all faith in you. As I will show through the post I actually like a number of your films quite a lot. But this was one of the worst movies I have ever seen in my life and it followed a movie that is only slightly less shitty by comparison. Shia LeBoeuf’s parents are useless in these and even John Turturro had lost his appeal by this point. Your replacement of Megan Fox was horrible not because she was a good actress, but because you gave her absolutely nothing to do. She could have been played by Fox without needing a word of dialogue changed. Basically, this is on my list of the ten worst movies ever made and it almost made me never trust you with my film hours again.
10. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Everything I said above applies to this as well. It is likely in my top 50 worst movies of all time and it only gets that much credit because the third act was awesome. It’s like you forgot how set-up works. You filled two acts of the film with loads of action, giving no one a chance to actually understand or appreciate the premise. Then you pulled a brilliant half hour out of your ass with the introduction of Jetfire. But the last act of the film was just horrendous and incoherent. And it clarified a problem that was key to the issues of both Dark of the Moon and Revenge of the Fallen. The CGI was completely incoherent – it was impossible to distinguish who was punching who which made every action scene both annoying and insufferable.
Not for me
8. and 9. Bad Boys and Bad Boys 2
Mike, you get some credit here. Perhaps to some these are wholly enjoyable films. I can certainly appreciate the style, there but the dialogue is horrid and I find the action to be bloated and un-interesting. They are also probably my least favourite performances from Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. I’m not saying they are bad films (they certainly aren’t as bad as those films above) but they really just aren’t for me.
Fun but derivative
To many, this is what would describe all of your films. But you get more credit than that in the last category. This description is functionally accurate for the following films.
- Pearl Harbor
I find it kind of funny actually. Tora! Tora! Tora! was a bastardized version of a genius’ idea that still managed to be an enjoyable war film. Pearl Harbor is essentially where you re-bastardized Tora! Tora! Tora! And while it can be fun when viewed as fiction (which it is) – it is not historical at all (despite the fact that I often don’t like that criticism). It should be remembered as a piece of history that says more about the time in which it was made than the time which it purports to represent. There’s actually a good case to be made that Pearl Harbor represents the mentality of Americans just prior to 9/11 – reminding that action begets action and that response is necessary in times of war. And thats why it falls in this category. Its got all that action you do so well and a coherent (if not an agreeable) message.
This is one of two films that the Criterion collection has released that you directed and it is easily the most controversial. When I was younger and I first saw this and its copycat from 1998 (Deep Impact) I was certainly on the side that the first film was better (which is still the common thought across criticism especially as your public perception continues to fall). However, Deep Impact says less about the state of the US than Armageddon. You just get what makes summer blockbusters entertaining and what doesn’t. Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck are entertaining; Robert Duvall and Elijah Wood are not. Oil rig workers saving the world are inspiring, the rock actually hitting the earth and millions of people dying are depressing. While I typically don’t fall into the criticism of zeitgeist, I think it’s fair to say that Armageddon is one of the most typical and extraordinarily typical summer blockbusters to ever be released, and that’s mostly thanks to you.
- The Island
This is probably the definition of a derivative film. There are at least three separate copyright claims against this film and no one disputes that this is an incredibly derivative film. On the other hand, up until this point, this film had the best cast of your films. Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor are great leads (something I rarely say about McGregor) and the supporting cast includes Steve Buscemi, Michael Clarke Duncan, Djimon Hounsou, and Sean Bean. Depending on your feelings towards The Rock and Pain and Gain it is likely still the best acted film in Bay’s repertoire. And honestly, as Tessa Dick (wife of author Philip K Dick) said, it is “another PKD rip-off” … but it’s a pretty enjoyable one. There have been plenty of adaptations and rip-offs of Dick’s work over the past two decades and this is still one of the most enjoyable.
The Bay-est of the Bay
This was the first of your films I had seen and while it has been poisoned slightly by its two sequels, there is something beautifully cinematic to so much of this film. Shia LaBeouf is not a great actor, but at this point in his career he was still in his Disturbia phase which actually yielded some good films and it’s because his brand of everyman was weirdly compelling. Also, this is before the CG became so incoherent that it was impossible to understand the fight scenes so the action in this film is also pretty great (especially on the big screen). It was my introduction to you Micheal, and its still a film I remember fondly.
- The Rock
Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage break into Alcatraz to save the world from Ed Harris. It’s a great premise and its executed really well (so well that it’s your only film to hold a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes). I don’t have much else to say about the film except that it’s not surprising that this is the other of your films released by Criterion.
- Transformers: Age of Extinction
I know, I know. This is one of my most controversial opinions when it comes to contemporary film and if we were looking at your career through an auteurist lens it would be even more controversial because it would be at the top. As I wrote for Sound on Sight this summer, I really enjoyed this film (review can be found here). However I refused to give a definitive rating or grade on the film until I was able to see it again. And it holds up. Weirdly it doesn’t feel like a nearly 3 hour film and moves at a great pace. And I can’t help but be blown away by the CGI improvements from the 3rd installment especially when it came to the introduction of the Dinobots. AOE is the best of this franchise and easily your best Baysian film.
1. Pain and Gain
There were six films released in 2013 that dealt with excess and vapid people searching for the American Dream. Great Gatsby, Spring Breakers, Bling Ring, American Hustle¸ Wolf of Wall Street, and Pain and Gain. This is the worst of those six, but that really says more about those films than it does about this one because Pain and Gain is without a doubt your best film. Whether it’s the gonzo acting from the leads, Mark Whalberg, Dwayne Johnson, and Anthony Mackie, or the hilarity of the screenplay or the satire of the violence and machismo, it is your film that can be read with the most depth. I laughed harder and thought more about this film than I expected to, and it went from being a film that I hated to one that I can honestly say I love.
So there we have it Mikey, you are not the trash they say you are. You are better than that. Now please make more films like your last two and be the best you you can be.