Filmmaker Michael Bay is the master of high-octane, explosive action movies, and people tend to either love him or hate him for that. Bay is a controversial figure in Hollywood for his philosophy and his behavior both on and off of movie sets. While some of his work remains undeniably central to American culture, opinions on the man himself may vary.
Bay is best-known for blockbuster movies with lots of special effects, fast-cutting action and violence. He does not present himself as a subtle artist the way many directors do — instead, he focuses on portraying lots of movement as fast as possible. Bay is also very involved in the business side of filmmaking — he co-founded The Institute for the Development of Enhanced Perceptual Awareness, and he co-owns Platinum Dunes, a production house responsible for several high-profile horror movie remakes of the last two decades, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).
In fact, Bay is known for his work as a producer, almost as much a director. His name on a movie does not tend to endear critics to it, but it may signify serious financial backing and instill confidence in commercial success.
Bay's latest movie is 6 Underground, a spy thriller starring Ryan Reynolds, which was released as a Netflix Original film. He is now reportedly working on a pandemic-themed thriller called Songbird, as well as a dystopian thriller called Little America. Whether Bay's Hollywood capital will sustain these projects is up to fans. Here is a look at the common complaints from Bay's biggest critics.
First and foremost, critics tend to malign Bay's movies for their simplistic, inauthentic storytelling. A 2017 piece by The Daily Beast called "The World According to Michael Bay, the Donald Trump of Cinema" said: "all of Bay's best films center on a prolonged d—-measuring contest between two (or more) men, while the women are mere ornaments."
Bay himself has acknowledged this tendency in his movies, but he does not see it as a weakness. In 2005, he said sarcastically to Slate: "I make movies for teenage boys. Oh, dear, what a crime." In 1996, he told The New York Times: "All the things I’ve done since my student films have always dealt with a male-male relationship and the quirkiness and the clash in that relationship. To me, in an action movie, the story is always the making of a hero, usually a wise old man teaching a young boy how to become a hero."
What storytelling does get done in Bay's movies is generally written off as juvenile and cliche. It also often goes out of its way to facilitate product placement and dramatic acts of patriotism, even when the context does not call for them.prevnext
As a director, Bay's cinematography often comes under fire as well. Complaints in this department get extremely specific — some have said he overuses camera techniques like Dutch angles, rapid cuts and color grading with shades of orange and teal. According to a report by Vulture last year, Bay may have even re-used action sequences from earlier films.
The most nitty-gritty dissection of Bay's camera work might be in YouTuber Lindsay Ellis' series The Whole Plate: Film Studies Through a Lens of Transformers. In Episode 3, "Why is it So Hard to Remember What Happens in Transformers?" she explains how Bay's use of editing can actively confuse a viewer.prevnext
Movie fans are increasingly concerned about the immense funds the U.S. Military is pouring into Hollywood to subsidize films that portray it in a favorable light. Bay might be one of the biggest offenders in this regard. Bay has cut deals with the military to use real weaponry in many of his movies, and even hosted the premiere of Pearl Harbor on a real aircraft carrier.
The U.S. Department of Defense even has an "entertainment media" department at the Pentagon. In 2009, its director, Philip Strub, talked to The Guardian about Bay, saying: "Yes, we have a good relationship. We might say, 'Hey, you've never shown an X, Y or a Z.' We'll send them information, talk about its role. Or they'll come back to us and say, 'We'd like to have a C-17. Or what about an aircraft carrier and some F-18s?'"
According to a 2008 report by Wired, Bay allowed military personnel to "help rewrite the script" for the first Transformers movie, in exchange for the use of helicopters, warships and fighter jets in the movie. In the intensely pro-military cultural climate of that decade, Bay bragged about his military connections, but years later many critics are horrified by the connections.prevnext
Portrayal of Women
Still, the thing Bay likely gets the most flack for is his portrayal of women in his movies. His films objectify female characters quite openly, in a way that one critic at The Cut called "pornographic" just last year. Bay's collaborators are open about this tendency as well — in an interview with The L.A. Times about Megan Fox's departure from the Transformers franchise, her co-star Shia LaBeouf said "some people think" Bay "is a very lascivious filmmaker, the way he films women. Mike films women in a way that appeals to a 16-year-old sexuality. It's summer. It's Michael's style. And I think [Fox] never got comfortable with it."
As critics often point out, Bay's first feature-length film as a director was Playboy Video Centerfold: Kerri Kendall, and he had done a handful of Victoria's Secret commercials by then as well. His production company reportedly shared a wall with Playboy productions for years, and Bay himself was known to visit the Playboy Mansion. However, Bay has never married nor had children.prevnext
Bay's portrayal of women on-screen pales in comparison to his alleged treatment of women off-screen. In 2009, Fox left the Transformers franchise amid a storm of allegations that Bay had been verbally abusive to her. This put fresh scrutiny on how and when Fox came to work with Bay in the first place — she was an extra in Bad Boys II at the age of 15, and she wore a bikini despite the scene being set in a bar. Fox told Jimmy Kimmel: "I was wearing a stars and stripes bikini and a red cowboy hat, and six-inch heels. And they took me to Mike and he approved it. And they said, 'you know, Michael, she's 15, so you can't sit her at the bar and she can't have a drink in her hand.' So his solution to that problem was to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet. And that's... at 15. I was in 10th grade. So that's sort of a microcosm of how Bay's mind works."
Fox told Wonderland Magazine that Bay is "like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is." Her story prompted other actresses to come forward with their horror stories about working with Bay.prevnext
After Fox shared her story, one of the most prominent women to come forward with a similar tale was one of Bay's first leading ladies ever, Kate Beckinsale. She said that her experience on Pearl Harbor had a lot in common with Fox's experience on Transformers. She told The Daily Beast: "I think he was baffled by me because my boobs weren't bigger than my head and I wasn't blond." She also said that during her audition process, Bay told her "that if I got the part I'd have to work out... I just didn't understand why a 1940s nurse would do that."
However, critics condemn Bay for his own words about Beckinsale, not her accusations against him. During the promotion of Pearl Harbor, Bay said things like: "Kate wasn't so attractive that she would alienate the female audience," and "I didn't want someone who was too beautiful. Women feel disturbed when they see someone's too pretty. I'm not saying Kate's not pretty. When you look at Titanic, Kate Winslet is pretty, but not overwhelmingly beautiful. That makes it work better for women."prevnext
Finally, and perhaps as an afterthought, there are some movie fans who will never forgive Bay for his work's impact on their favorite franchise or intellectual property. This is especially true for fans of Transformers — from the original cartoons to the comic books and beyond. However, it also applies to some of the horror movie reboots that Bay produced through Platinum Dunes, which were generally poorly received as well.
Bay continues to enjoy wealth and influence in Hollywood and beyond, even with a long line of critical flops and agitated collaborators behind him. However, sooner or later his social and professional capital may run out.prev