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What Michael Bay Gets Right

The Transformers auteur may be Hollywood’s least subtle director, but there is a method to the madness.

Photo: Andrew Cooper / Paramount Pictures

Michael Bay’s latest opus, Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, opened to less-than-mixed reviews this week. We admit that the director film geeks love to hate can sometimes leave things like plot and character development on the cutting room floor, but even Hollywood’s most award-encumbered directors could learn something from the king of explosion's agile shooting. Here’s what he always does right.
 

Opening Sequences That Help Viewers Suspend Disbelief


The Rock, Michael Bay’s 1996 masterpiece, transformed him from a household name to a billboard headliner – and for good reason. The Nicolas Cage vehicle gets off to a quick start: A U.S. Marine played by Ed Harris pays respect to his deceased wife while foreboding war noises play in the background. It’s as mysterious as the dream sequence at the beginning of The Island and the unexplained raid at the start of the first Transformers movie. Bay sets a tone without providing much information. He makes it clear right from the get-go that he’s in control and we’re along for the ride.
 

Quick Cuts That Make the Action More Action-y


In 2003, Michael Bay set out to prove his kinetic genius with an aggressively edited shootout. During the climactic battle near the end of Bad Boys 2, the camera rotates 360 degrees around Will Smith and Martin Lawrence then shows just about every other angle imaginable. The technique is effective and confusing. We’re running through the battle like an extra in Pearl Harbor. Disorientation - in Bay's hands - is an artform.


Casting Beautiful Women Who Look Great in Slo-Mo


Every man who was a teenager in the aughts will always remember Megan Fox’s final appearance in the Transformers franchise. Her character - who may or may not have had a name or a back story - looked absolutely amazing running through the desert with Shia LeBeouf. There’s no Shia in the new Transformers movie, but Nicola Peltz can run with the best of them. Michael Bay likes his action fast and his women slow. We don't know why it works, but we like it.
 

Clearly Defining the Stakes so the Audience Cares


Armageddon may not hold up particularly well, but it’s impossible not to get emotionally involved when Bruce Willis, pre-Gigli Ben Affleck, and Billy Bob Thornton blast off into space to save the world and die. Bay masterfully scores the scene with Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” It’s not exactly subtle filmmaking, but you don't have to be subtle when you know how to hit the power chords. We don’t want to miss a damn thing.


3D Effects That Make the Glasses Worth It


Bay is one of the few directors who can be trusted with the most frequently abused modern filmmaking technology. Sitting through a Transformers film with 3D glasses on is like being on a roller coaster, but it doesn’t leave you sick or dizzy. There is, quite simply, not better way to experience Bumblebee’s total annihilation of Shockwave than by watching hunks of metal fly past your face. How else could a filmmaker hope to capture the subtle majesty of alien robot on alien robot combat?  

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