Michael Bay just released another movie, Ambulance, which stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Yaya Abdul-Mateen II. But that got me thinking that I should rank all of Bay’s films, which generally speaking rank from god-awful terrible to at least somewhat watchable. That’s an interesting statement, as Michael Bay is one of the most critically panned directors working today in Hollywood, but is also one of the most financially successful directors to date and definitely has an auteur style that separates him from his contemporaries, for better or for worse. I do this for you, dear reader.
When I get around to watching Ambulance, whenever that may be, I’ll update this list.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
To illustrate how bad and nonsensical Transformers: Age of Extinction is, the popular YouTube channel CinemaSins had to break the movie down into two 16 minute episodes just to get their point across. The series pivots away from Shia LeBeouf, who by this point had long outgrown Transformers and blockbuster cinema, and brought in Mark Wahlberg as basically himself. The Dinobots are teased in the trailer, but only show up briefly in the flick. It’s a mess and a testament that it actually has a beginning, middle and end.
Transformers: The Last Knight
Despite the many, many criticisms of Age of Extinction, Bay doubled down with the next Transformers film, The Last Knight, which adds more confusing subplots and somehow dragged poor Anthony Hopkins into this mess. The story covers everything from King Arthur and the Saxons to a brainwashed Optimus Prime. In all honestly, this entry and Age of Extinction are pretty much tied for dead last, so take that as you will and please, for the sake of all that is pure in the world, never watch these movies.
While the movie certainly looked great, with its bold over-saturated colours, exotic locales and Ryan Reynolds in the lead role, the end result felt like someone injecting coffee into your veins while you get hit by a defibrillator. This movie is loud, chaotic, dumb, loud, messy, loud and exhausting. Did I mention loud? Nothing really makes sense and the movie is just non-stop, not giving us much time to know what’s going on or why we should care.
Pearl Harbor could have been a great movie, but instead of focusing on the history of the event that took place in World War II, Bay’s film spends most of its three-hour runtime focused on a fictional boring love triangle that’s brought to “life” with terrible dialogue, rather than exploring the lives of real individuals who fought and saved people during the attack. It’s also wildly inaccurate in terms of history and Japan’s motivations for attacking the US are not explored in the movie. Still, credit where credit is due and that’s the actual attack sequence. It may be PG-13, but the sense of fear, uncertainly and chaos is done rather well. Cuba Gooding Jr also gets a moment to shine as Petty Officer Second Class Doris Miller, who was a simple Messman aboard the USS West Virginia who mounted the anti-aircraft guns to try and stop the planes from attacking and became the first African American to get the Navy Cross for valour. If the movie instead focused on real people and real history, Pearl Harbor likely would be remembered fondly, but instead, it’s a muddled mess.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
At least the first Transformers film was watchable. From there, it was all downhill. The follow-up film was certainly a drastic step down compared to the first one, with Shia Lebeuf overacting in many scenes, really janky humour peppered throughout the Revenge of the Fallen and lots of racist characters and jokes. Classless and tasteless and also, boring. It also steals footage from one of Bay’s other films, The Island and recycles shots from this movie. Lazy filmmaking.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The third Transformers film, Dark of the Moon, isn’t that much better than Revenge of the Fallen but it does benefit by having Leonard Nimoy as Sentinel Prime, doing his best to save this franchise. The action is chaotic, but it’s at least more epic in scope than it was in Fallen. But weird humour once again detracts from the narrative and the stakes and the characters once again fall flat.
Before he ventured into the Transformers universe, Bay tackled a relatively interesting concept within The Island, which starred Ewan McGregor, Scarlet Johansson, Djimon Hounsou and Sean Bean. Set on the titular island, the film sees McGregor’s Lincoln Six Echo beginning to question the regimented reality imposed upon him. He eventually learns that the island’s residents are there to be harvested or to act as surrogates for the super-wealthy off-island. It’s an interesting sci-fi concept, but one that’s derivative of other, better works that have come before it and gets lost in its over-the-top action sequences. In other words, it’s a high-brow concept science fiction flick that gets turned into a mediocre action movie.
The original Transformers film is easily the best in the series that Bay has directed, which means it was all downhill from there. The main issue with the Transformers films, compared to say the original series and the Netflix series is that it focuses most of their time on the human characters. Shia LeBeouf stars as Sam Witwicky, which has to be the most obnoxious name in cinematic history. Sam’s father gets him an old junker of a car that turns out to be Bumblebee, who can only speak through his radio transmissions. Before long, the Autobots arrive on Earth and Sam and Megan Fox’s Mikaela must team up with the US Military to stop the Decepticons from finding the All-Spark. The messy frames of action in this series are still prevalent in the original film but don’t seem as wild and unfocused as they do in later entries. Likewise, Bay’s poor attempts at humour are also present in this film, but compared to the rest of the franchise, it’s relatively toned down.
Michael Bay’s first feature directorial movie was met with mixed reviews but had both Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in the starring roles. With over-the-top action and memorable leads, the film was a huge success and launched Bay’s career. It’s certainly watchable but like all things Michael Bay, moderation may be suggested. Naturally, there will be those who prefer this to the sequel. But in terms of Bayhem and enjoyment, we gotta say that this film is inched out by its sequel.
Bad Boys II
According to Nick Frost’s character in the excellent film Hot Fuzz, Bad Boys II is one of the best action films of all time. Is he right? No, he isn’t, but Bad Boys II is still crazy stupid ridiculous and thankfully, weirdly entertaining. Once again, this movie rides on the dynamic chemistry of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, who easily elevate this movie with their banter alone. But Bad Boys II takes the action from the first film and cranks it up to eleven. Most of the time, it’s hard to make out what’s going on, but there are certainly memorable scenes, whether it’s Will Smith driving a Ferrari in a chase sequence where cars are being thrown off a hauler or the $40 million mansion being blown up in the finale, which was done practically. Some of the jokes and humor don’t land at all, which is par for the course, but thankfully Smith and Lawrence can make even some of those jokes seem better than they actually are.
Pain and Gain
After the Shia LeBeouf Transformers trilogy came to an end, Bay changed it up by directing a true crime story about some juiced-up bodybuilders and murder. It’s not the most historically accurate film ever made and sometimes the gravity of the crimes are underplayed by action violence and crude humour. But this shows a more mature side to Bay that was refreshing after the junk food that was the Transformers films. It also boasts a solid performance from Anthony Mackie and a scene-stealing Dwayne Johnson as a former con turned gigantic bodybuilder and born again Christian with the maturity range and intelligence of a small child. All he wants to do is go camping…after all that bloodshed and mayhem. Ed Harris is another standout in the movie, as always, but I can’t help but think this movie would’ve been better served with Peter Berg at the helm, as Bay’s awkward and usually terrible humour derails the movie yet again. Mark Wahlberg ends up playing Mark Wahlberg and is the weakest part of the movie in terms of acting.
In 1998, there were two “giant asteroids threaten to destroy the planet” movies that came out, one Armageddon and the other being Deep Impact. While that movie is ultimately superior to Bay’s disaster flick, Armageddon is certainly watchable and enjoyable, with an all-star cast and great popcorn thrills. If you like 90s disaster movies, this is certainly a fun one worth rewatching at some point and is one of the better Michael Bay movies overall, but the movie is still not as good as Deep Impact, a film that didn’t earn as much at the box office but is arguable more rooted in science and superior filmmaking than Armageddon is.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
The third time Michael Bay adapted a real event turns out to be his most mature and technically well-done movie to date. 13 Hours is the story of the attack on the US embassy and CIA compound in Benghazi, Libya. The movie is akin to Black Hawk Down, with the emphasis being on plot and action, rather than characters. But the leads are still compelling to watch, including a much buffer John Krasinski, 24‘s James Badge Dale and Billion’s David Costabile. The action is grounded and gritty and Bay’s cringey dialogue and humour is absent. His signature visual style remains and while the movie feels confusing in terms of the narrative, I actually see that as a plus, as the soldiers themselves had no idea what was going on and were left to make decisions on the fly without support or the facts. This puts you in the middle of the firefights with limited intelligence and no way of knowing if they’re going to survive the night. Bay should try to make more movies like this, but the January release date and poor box office results will likely deter him from making a more grounded movie again.
Michael Bay’s sophomore directorial feature just so happens to be his best. The perfect mix of over-the-top action, compelling characters and a fun story make The Rock a fun watch. It stars Nicholas Cage as Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, an FBI agent tasked with infiltrating Alcatraz prison. The now-tourist attraction is the current home of a rogue US faction, led by Ed Harris’ General Hummel, who is threatening the city of San Francisco with chemical weapons unless their demands are met. Of course, getting onto the island is impossible, so he recruits John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery), the only man known to have escaped the prison. It’s wild and absurd but a great popcorn flick with fun performances from the leads.
I made it. I’m alive! The things I do for you, I swear. Let us know your favourite Michael Bay movie in the comments!