This is a weird movie. It’s simultaneously really bad but really good. Dumb as a bag of rocks but super smart in its populist audience grabbing. Right on the line that divides good from bad. But it’s so confident in it’s silly premise and it’s straight faced blue collar heroism that it’s charming as hell. You can’t help but enjoy yourself, no matter how brain damaged it is.
Aside from an overabundance of Aerosmith on the soundtrack, it never gets grating. The simplicity works in its favor. It’s also got an all star cast that helps keep you from asking questions while watching it. Bruce Willis kills it, as does Billy Bob, Will Patton, and Steve Buscemi. Every does, but the movies real emotional pull comes from Bruce, the plot to Billy, redemption in the face of Will, and the humor to Steve. It’s all pitched at Bay’s obnoxious pitch. It’s just so silly and propulsive that you can’t help but look away.
Remember when Bay tried to be Steven Spielberg for a hot minute? The only legit good movie in this unkillable franchise, Bay unleashes a little Spielberg with this one. It isn’t surprising since Spielberg produced this one and probably had a little more attention paid to this one then the sequels, so it couldn’t help but feel a little like the Beards work.
It’s got a sense of wonder to it that the sequels lose, an innocence to it that would be turned to horrific cynicism later, and a cleaner narrative than the others. There’s a simplicity to it that would be sorely missing from the rest of the movies.
The FX work at the time was unreal, a giant leap that added these giant robots in disguise to the movie seamlessly. It all culminates in a pretty well done finale that would only be topped by the self indulgent insanity of Dark of The Moon. It’s the movie that allowed people to give Bay a second chance after the writers strike misery of Revenge of The Fallen. But it’s quite clear that this is a one off for the series, the one time where he wasn’t completely let off the leash in this series.
4. 13 Hours
There’s a clear delineation between the movies where Bay is off the chain, letting his id run wild unchecked. Then there’s movies where he’s reined in, either by choice or by studio politics. There’s not a definite preference for one or the other, as Bay can knock it out of the park in either play mode. This here is the second best movie he made in self control mode.
After many attempts to make a true story inspired war story, he finally got to one. And the one he got to was the infamous and politically charged Middle Eastern screwup that has cost this country more than we ever could have thought.
So for a man with as insane a set of ideals as Bay to get a hold of this movie, it wouldn’t be too out of turn to assume this would be a #problematic movie. But somehow, it isn’t. Bay reined it all in, focusing on the men who fought and bled in this battle, only briefly hinting at the geopolitical situation at hand. The only hints he gives are that the country is a hell hole filled with never ending threats, with the politicians and the soldiers themselves unable to see what was coming.
It’s here that, for the first time, his respect and admiration for the soldiers of this country comes to play in a positive way. He shows them as the men that they are and shows how capable they are. We see the hell they have to go through. They may be absolute machines, capable of such amazing feats. But they’re also men who make mistakes and men who bleed. Setting us up for the attack, he goes into prime mode when they attack takes place.
Expertly crafted action, masterful sets up of tension. If it isn’t perfect, it’s only because his focus is so laser focused on the Americans that the movie only briefly hints at the larger implications at hand. While it may not reach the heights of Black Hawk Down or Lone Survivor, this is a really strong entry into the modern war film.
3. The Rock
Bad Boys may have been the debut that put him on the map, but this movie is the one that made him a legit name in the business. It was a massive step up from that movie, with a much more complex and intriguing story line that adds a heap of moral ambiguity that adds much needed dimension to the action genre at the time.
Especially after Bad Boys, which was a very simple movie. Having a bad guy in Ed Harris that isn’t evil but a good man pushed to the absolute limits, sick of seeing the Government push soldiers to the side after using them. Having the good guys be led by a weirdo scientist in Nic Cage and a renegade British spy played by Sean Connery, while their bosses are boundary pushing/law breaking bureaucrats.
It’s a game played out of anger and desperation, not malice. The action itself is bigger and more interesting than his prior work. The acting is much better, which isn’t hard with Cage and Connery and Harris and David Morse and William Forsythe and Michael Biehn and Tony Todd and you name it. It’s a murderers row of acting. It’s one of the best action movies of the 90s and a true win for Bay, showing off what he is capable of when he’s tuned into a project.
2. Pain & Gain
This is a case of Bay being absolutely unleashed with his id but also in complete control too, crafting an honest to god masterpiece that looks into the dark heart of American capitalism. Bay puts on a Scorsese cap with this one. Everything he’s interested in, outside of American military might, is in this as a coked out stew that plays like an absolute fever dream of greed and stupidity. A true story so delirious that he has to reassure us twice during the movie that it’s based on a true story.
Marky Mark has never been better as the wannabe criminal mastermind that’s almost too stupid and motivational speaker inspired to be real. Anthony Mackie does solid work as another dumbass that’s so vain he’s willing to dump steroids into himself to make himself look better without actually putting in the hard work needed to get there. Then there’s The Rock, giving perhaps the best performance of his life.
The performance that he’s gonna have to look at anytime he challenges himself again. Playing a loveably doofus teddy bear of a giant, he’s a christ loving ex con who only gets involved because he just wants friends. His descent into coke mania is a sight to behold. Bright and hazy and manic as all hell, this is Bay delivering us his version of The Wolf of Wall Street. A legitimately good movie that sees Bay step outside of the action mold to hit a home run.
1. Bad Boys II
There is no movie more Michael Bay than this movie. If every movie is a look into the mind of the director at the helm, this movie is a stunning look into the deranged mind of Michael Bay.
Filled with terrible humor filled with gay panic and racial stereotypes, amazingly brazen attempts to make America look more mighty than the rest of the world by razing another country in a yellow hummer, and a plot that lasts an astounding 147 minutes with 4 acts for some god forsaken reason, it’s an epic piece of cinematic self indulgence that has to be seen to be believed.
It’s kind of insane to put it right up against the first movie, as this one is pitched to such a high level of insanity that it makes the original look like a cheap knockoff of a Bay movie.
It has an all time car chase scene with a gang of Haitian gangsters throwing cars off a truck at our heroes in a sports car down a Miami highway, an excursion into a morgue where Martin Lawrence has to be right up on a dead woman’s breast, and an excursion to Cuba that is so insane that it just plays like a 30 minute middle finger to Cuba with American Might laying waster to them drug dealing brown people (it’s really wild).
It’s a movie of immense technical craft that is propped up by the poisonous skeleton of Bay’s id. He was given complete control and it feels like he was unleashing everything he hates upon the movie that gave him his big break, a debut that he didn’t actually like and maybe seems a bit embarrassed by.
This is the first and best time he went completely off the rails and delivered something that is purely him, warts and all. In a world of bland blockbusters with no directorial vision being displayed, Bay has a true vision that is identifiably him. As dark and problematic as it may be, it’s fascinating to behold. And it all started here.
Author Bio: Tom Lorenzo is Long Island, NY’s most preeminent pop culture fanatic. If it’s a western or a horror movie, he wants to see it. No argument is too minuscule or flawed for him to go full force with.