Michael Bay is a name that has a polarizing effect on the world of cinema. While critics pull out their dictionaries to find new ways to bash his films, movie theaters gear up to engage the horde of people who will be rushing to the theaters to watch the next Michael Bay extravaganza. So, how does the director continually defy the critical reception of his films by consistently creating profitable movies?
There is a common notion that Bay's movies are 'so bad they're good', and are thus often labeled as guilty pleasures. However, this seems a little unfair to the director that Sir Anthony Hopkins recently described as a genius.
“I thought, ‘This guy’s a genius, he really is... “He’s the same ilk as Oliver Stone and [Steven] Spielberg and [Martin] Scorsese. Brilliance. Savants, really, they are. He’s a savant.”
It's worth noting that many years before Transformers fame, Michael Bay worked as an intern at Lucasfilm and was the top student in Wesleyan University. To date, his Transformers movies have grossed a mammoth $7.8 billion worldwide and it seems as though their success will continue for years to come.
To make this even more impressive, Bay has achieved this while many other seemingly "bankable" movies with budgets of over $100 million like Power Rangers, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and Ghost In The Shell have tanked critically and financially in 2017.
- Transformers (2007) - $709.7 million
- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) - $836.3 million
- Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) - $1.124 billion
- Transformer: Age of Extinction (2014) - $1.104 billion
Bay has proved time and time again that the critics cannot stop him from taking the Transformers franchise forward. Taking a closer look at Bay's most valuable property, let's look at how he has handled the Transformers franchise in the lead up to its latest installment, Transformers: The Last Knight.
Lesson 1: Create Movies That Can Stand On Their Own
Even though franchises like Twilight, Hunger Games and Divergent started off with a bang, their financial and critical success dwindled with each sequel due to their demand to stay updated with an ongoing story. Although established franchises such as the MCU, the Harry Potter franchise and Disney's Star Wars also demand a similar devotion from their fanbase, these titles are cinematic phenomenons that initially saw unprecedented interest in the finest details of their lore.
Another common aspect among franchises such as Divergent and The Hunger Games is the necessity to divide a saga's finale into two parts, meaning viewers have to watch a single story twice - sometimes waiting almost a year for the conclusion to a story they'd already paid to see 12 months ago. This not only required the plot to have a lot of fillers, but it also forced the viewers to go through a tedious 2-hour prologue before getting to a franchise's most enjoyable moments.
This is where Michael Bay triumphs. The director has made five Transformers movies and other than the recurring characters, he doesn't force his audience to do any homework before viewing. Each movie works on its own, giving new life to each Transformers movie upon release. Whether you've seen Transformers or not, you can still head to theaters and check out Transformers: The Last Knight because Bay will ensure you're introduced to any necessary details throughout the film. Moviegoers can just walk-in, grab their necessary refreshments and trust in Michael Bay to bring them up to speed via Peter Cullen's booming voice.
This is best proven to be the case when you consider that The Hunger Games and Divergent movies made less money with each new installment, while Transformers continues to make bigger numbers with each release.
Lesson 2: Utilize The Power Of Nostalgia
Even if a movie has had a successful run in the past, it isn't guaranteed that a follow up will do as well. Michael Bay had the upper hand due to the 21-year history of Transformers, which could previously be enjoyed on TV and by purchasing the show's merchandise. Due to this success, the first Transformers movie managed to bring in fans who had grown up watching the series and played with Transformers toys, while also enticing the younger generations with giant robots and explosions.
There has been a lot of arguments regarding the character design, as many characters are indistinguishable from each other during action scenes. However, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron and Starscream have provided perfect callbacks to the original TV series while dialing the nostalgia-meter up to 100.
Now that the big screen saga is 10 years old, fans who were first introduced to the franchise with 2007's Shia LaBeouf now have their own sense of nostalgia for the series. This is another emotional attachment that Bay puts to good use, as Peter Cullen is set to return as Optimus for a fifth time on the big screen. Needless to say, there won't be a shortage of fans who will be rushing to the theaters to experience their childhood again.
Lesson 3: Intricate Action Sequences
While working as an intern at Lucasfilm, Bay storyboarded many scenes for Raiders of the Lost Ark and is revered by Steven Spielberg for his ability to direct multi-layered action sequences. Even though there is a general complaint about the lack of screen-time given to the kick-ass robots, there is certainly no argument regarding the technical finesse of the action sequences and that credit is shared between Michael Bay and his VFX team.
Despite an often paper-thin storyline, Bay manages to ramp up the adrenaline levels with strategically placed slow-motion moments. What's even more surprising is that Bay doesn't storyboard any of his action sequences, and instead conceptualizes them on-set. This gives the action sequences a sense of spontaneity that isn't often achieved with choreographed set pieces.
As Bay has decided to bring Unicron to Earth in The Last Knight, viewers can expect double the action and an abundance of explosions.
Lesson 4: Recruit A Roster Of A-list Stars
Other than seeing massive buildings getting blown apart and giant robots ripping out each other's metal spines, people love to see renowned actors on the big screen. In order to make that casting more robust, Bay has brought in the likes of Kevin Dunn, Jon Voight, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk, Frances McDormand and the late Bernie Mac to the Transformers franchise.
Dark of the Moon even had a cameo by the celebrated astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. Along with Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, the voice-acting department is blessed with the voice talents of Hugo Weaving as Megatron, John Goodman as Hound, Ken Watanabe as Drift and our favorite Vulcan, Leonard Nimoy, as Sentinel Prime.
Apart from the returning characters of Josh Duhamel, Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci and Torturro, Bay has put Anthony Hopkins front, right and center as one of the pivotal characters of The Last Knight. As previously mentioned, the powerhouse actor has praised the director's vision and proclaimed that Bay is a "savant", which will surely make viewers curious about what Michael Bay has achieved to garner such compliments.
Lesson 5: Let The Audience Believe That They Can Save The World
One of Michael Bay's most famous statement is that he makes movies for teenage boys and is entirely unapologetic about it. Many reviewers have called his characters eccentric, to the point of being almost a caricature of previous iterations. So, what is the reason for creating such over-the-top characters?
The only logical reason is that Michael Bay wants to bring about a sense of optimism to his key demographic, young teenage males. He wants his viewers to believe that if Sam can have a girlfriend like Mikaela (Megan Fox) or Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) while saving the world, the audience can too. If Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) can pick up an alien firearm to take part in a fight that is seemingly way beyond his ambitions, why can't the audience believe in themselves to also achieve greatness?
This is an especially important storytelling tool for Bay, and can also be seen in his films that aren't connected to Transformers. With The Last Knight, Michael Bay has attempted to focus on kids (as opposed to teens in previous installments) who are faced with towering odds. Once again, the unlikely heroes must overcome their fears in order to save Earth from inevitable destruction. By doing so, Bay will be successful in motivating every single age-group to keep fighting, no matter what the odds.
While many other big-budget movies released in recent years have boasted all-star casts that ponder about the meaning of life, Bay doesn't want to pose any existential questions that will boggle one's mind. Instead, he offers a recipe of A-list stars, intricate action sequences, nostalgia and leading heroes that speak to the masses. With this in mind, is it any surprise that Bay continues to be so successful?
Will you be seeing Transformers: The Last Knight? Let me know with a comment below.