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David Ehrlich

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David is the Senior Editor of Film.com. His interests include the New York Rangers, movies about movies, and regretting this personal bio.

Ranked: Counting Down Michael Bay’s Films from Worst to Best

From Holloman to Hollywood, Transformers make movie magic

“I make movies for teenage boys. Oh dear, what a crime.”

People tend to hate Michael Bay for what he represents, and the fact that he represents it so unrepentantly. His is a cinema of crass excess – a perma-pubescent who doesn’t know how to love anything without fetishizing it, he’s the Yasujiro Ozu of “vulgar auteurism” (don’t hurt yourself trying to unpack that one).

A graduate of Wesleyan University who got his start shooting commercials for the likes of Coca-Cola, Bay inserted himself into the movie business when he teamed up with Jerry Bruckheimer for “Bad Boys.” Yes, “Bad Boys” was his FIRST. FILM. That’s like showing up for your driver’s license test in a fighter jet. From there, Bay blew up, eager to bring his particularly destructive brand of cinema anywhere that could sustain an explosion. If you can name it, Bay can nuke it.

Bay’s persona is staunchly unapologetic, which makes it that much stranger and unappreciated that yesterday he apologized for “Armageddon,” which we’ll soon learn is hardly the worst film that he’s ever made. He’s also one of the few iconic auteurs of the last 20 years whose entire body of work has probably been seen by huge swaths of the American public – simply by virtue of going to the biggest new movie in town, even casual moviegoers might unknowingly be familiar with the complete output of Michael Bay.

With that in mind, and with his latest (and perhaps smallest) film “Pain & Gain” opening on Friday, hopefully you’ll all be able to form your own opinions on our rundown of Michael Bay’s directorial career, ranked from worst to best. Feel free to rant and rave about our choices in the comments section, it’s what Bay would want.

9.) TRANSFORMERS (2007)

6

“What are you rolling? Whippets? Goof balls? A little wowie sauce with the boys?”

A tonal nightmare that remains the only “Transformers” film to make the cardinal sin of trying to tell a coherent story, Bay’s most toxically stupid blockbuster set the tone for the franchise but failed to find its rhythm. Bay has been raked over the coals for his supposedly choppy and inelegant action sequences, but utter incoherence would have been better than the noncommittal stabs at middle ground that drive the set pieces here.

The problem with “Transformers” is that it doesn’t do anything enough – much like the alien robots that lend the film its title, the first installment of Bay’s most massive franchise can’t commit to any particular form, and settles for artlessness. It’s as crass as either of its sequels (the bit in which a Transformer “pees” on John Turturro is a low point for human / machine relations), but lacks the one thing that no Michael Bay film can survive without: reckless confidence.

8.) TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN (2009)

Optimus Prime from Michael Bay's Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.

“That’s old school, yo. That’s like… That’s Cybertronian.”

So yeah, conventional wisdom is that this sequel is and always will be Michael Bay’s greatest offense, but the untethered madness of the whole thing earns my most begrudging respect, the insane spectacle of its climactic battle on the Great Pyramids as hard to follow as it is to ignore. “Revenge of the Fallen” is a film in which Bay’s resources have clearly outpaced his vision, the divots left by the writers’ strike filled with shamelessly racist caricatures and useless sidekicks.

The college shenanigans are enjoyably out of their mind (Isabel Lucas’ robot sex tail is a classic, but a classic of what I’m not so sure), and the towering IMAX presentation was certainly the overload the first film was lacking. But when the story is that bad, a little incoherence goes a long way.

7.) THE ISLAND (2005)

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 1.30.45 PM

“That tongue thing is amazing!”

The first half of Bay’s most high-concept film uses wet gloss and ripe body horror to varnish over the fact that it’s dystopian story of simple-minded clones (being harvested to supply organs for their real-world equivalents, natch) is the kind of thing that Rod Serling could have written over the course of a single cigarette. Scarlett Johansson is perfectly cast as the bashfully naive Jordan Two Delta, her round features and flawless skin used to subvert her lab-grown celebrity image.

It’s all compelling enough until the clones escape and become the targets of a hugely destructive manhunt across a bland cityscape, the chaos merely serviceable when compared to the full-throated action sequences of Bay’s other films, which are not similarly burdened by the demands of such a wild premise. The third act’s inevitable return to the farm is as flat and perfunctory as anything Bay has ever shot, interesting only in how it lamely evinces a boneheaded pro-life argument.

6.) PEARL HARBOR (2001)

Screen Shot 2013-04-23 at 1.27.16 PM

“I joined the army to do MY patriotic duty… AND… to meet guys.”

It was probably inevitable that “Pearl Harbor” would eventually be regarded as Bay’s most awful disasterpiece, as it pulverizes one of the most violent days in American history in an orgy of plastic pop culture. Bay’s ego is notoriously bombastic, and his cinema only works because he enters every room a couple seconds ahead of his feet, but a different kind of gall is required to turn tragedy into spectacle, memorializing a generation of Americans while selling their grandkids duffel bags full of popcorn.

There’s a Fordian “aw shucks” mentality to this love triangle between two good midwestern boys and the gal they both loved (there’s also a Fordian racism to the portrait of the Japanese), but the pop smear of Bay’s approach conflates the greatest pre-9/11 foreign attack on American soil with a tawdry romance that shamelessly targets modern teens by aping another international event, “Titanic.” It’s like doing brain surgery by going through the groin. Ben Affleck kickstarted a decade of irrelevance with his wooden flyboy, and Bay decided that he’d be better of focusing on box office history.

THE COUNTDOWN CONTINUES ON PAGE 2!


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Tags: Bad boys, Michael bay, Pain & Gain, Ranked, The rock, Transformers

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