Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Criticwire Survey: A Michael Bay-ferendum

Q: In his review, the New York Times' A.O. Scott argued that "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is essentially "a very long art film... albeit one that was made with unlimited resources." Conversely Indiewire's Eric Kohn made the case that movies like Michael Bay's "actively fight against the prospects of a more varied film culture." What's your take on Michael Bay? And what role, if any, do critics have with regard to a movie like "Transformers: Age of Extinction"?

Personally, I’ve never found it very controversial to call Michael Bay an auteur. You can tell a Michael Bay film from everyone else’s films – which is saying something, since a lot of action filmmakers use similar rapid fire editing and constantly moving, shaking cameras these days – but Bay’s action sequences always feel different. He also expresses his own worldview in each of his films. None of this is to suggest that Bay is a particularly great director – I find his style often insufferable, and his worldview amoral at best. But I did love The Rock(when I was a teenager –I haven’t seen it in at least a decade) and last year’s Pain & Gain, but the other 9 films he has directed I have mixed feelings at best – and often downright hate them. But to suggest that Bay is some sort of anonymous director, beholden to the studio system is, I think, wrong. His films are uniquely his – no matter how big they are. Compare this to someone like Brent Ratner, who seems to ape a different director’s style each time out to see what I mean. The Marvel films are, by and large, better than Bay’s – but they do not really have a director’s thumbprint on them – rather, they have Marvel’s Corporate thumbprint on them. For better or for worse, Bay’s films are his own. He does whatever the hell he wants to, and because by and large they make money, the studios keep letting him do it.

What is the role of a critic in a film like this? The same as it is for every film – to watch the film with an open mind and report back what they saw, and how the film works or doesn’t in that reviewers opinion. Critics will never have an impact on whether a film of this size does well or bombs – the (mostly) raves for Edge of Tomorrow, which was a disappointment at the box office, and critical beat down that accompanied Transformers: Age of Extinction – that still managed the biggest opening weekend of the year – should make this clear. Most audience members no longer read reviews. A critic’s job is to talk about the movie they saw for those, ever dwindling, number of people who do read them.

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