I begrudgingly admire Michael Bay. I don’t like the Transformers movies, which he directed from scripts by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci and Ehren Kruger, and I’m not convinced anyone else does either, but they look shiny, make loud noises and generate obscene amounts of revenue. With no incentive other than to reap billions of dollars from the box office, he’s hit upon the most impressive of magic formulas, directing enormously profitable blockbusters that no one can muster enough enthusiasm to admit they don’t really enjoy.
I’ve only seen the first two Transformers movies, and you couldn’t pay me enough to see any more. The first one has its moments, but by the second, all traces of fun and coherence have been tossed out in favor of some of the most technically complex, structurally massive, emotionally bankrupt action sequences ever realized on film. These films are immense achievements in technological fortitude – the battles are pitched at a scale worthy of the size of the title characters. Bay shoots these movies as spectacles of war, forgetting that genuinely satisfying war movies deal with people or ideas first and spectacle second, even if the two are fundamentally linked. Done right, substance-free spectacle can be as stirring as cinema gets. But as impressive as it is that Bay managed to construct “realistic” robots that convincingly appear to emerge from everyday machinery, this achievement means nothing without a sense of proportion, or narrative consequence, or emotional weight, or comedic skill, or even visual beauty.