Transformers 2: Rise of the Fallen won’t be released for another couple of weeks (June 24, 2009) but the trailers are in heavy rotation on the cable television. The trailers are noteworthy because they have not only made me want to see movie, but they’ve made me want to shell out the cash to see it on the big screen on opening weekend. On its face that feeling is not noteworthy for a summer blockbuster. All trailers are cut to make the feature look exciting, to entice audiences into the theater. The effect of the Transformers 2: ROTF trailers is remarkable because I hated Michael Bay’s Transformers. More than just hating the movie, I hated myself for spending cash on a ticket, for sitting in a theater for 2.5 hours, for getting sucked in.
Keep in mind, I expected to dislike Transformers because I’d disliked every Michael Bay movie I’d ever seen. 1 I have no reasonable basis for expecting that Transformers 2: ROTF will be any better than Transformers. Since Transformers grossed $70.5 million for its opening weekend and more than $700 million worldwide, the formula worked. All one can ever expect from a sequel to a financially successful movie is more of the same. For the Transformers franchise, this means more transforming robot characters, more explosions, bigger explosions, more destruction, more stilted dialogue and more gaping plot holes. Being the second film in a franchise, one can also expect an unsatisfying downer of an ending, which leaves the protagonists in a precarious state, ensuring that audiences return for the third installment (if for no other reason then to see the story resolved).
In spite of my self-aware hatred for Michael Bay films, and cynically as I’ve laid out the franchise formula that generally leads to progressively worse movies with each subsequent movie in a franchise,2 I have every intention of paying to see Transformers 2: ROTF on opening weekend. I posit that this power to overcome all rational analysis is the genius of Michael Bay, and might make him the greatest working director.
To fully comprehend Michael Bay’s greatness one must first understand that success in Hollywood is measured strictly in terms of return on investment.3 Hollywood studios are better understood as large banks loaning money for film productions. Even on these terms, other directors have proven themselves to be more bankable, delivering more commercial success and better returns on investment, like James Cameron or Peter Jackson. However, these directors require generous helpings of critical acclaim and positive word of mouth in order to achieve their phenomenal returns. Michael Bay is a genius because his films are successful (read: hugely profitable) even when they are savaged by critics and reviled by his target audience (read: Fanboys).
Michael Bay produces trailers that bypass all logical thinking to generate the desire to see his movies. After being subjected to hundreds of advertising messages on a daily basis, audiences are sophisticated enough to understand that any two-hour movie can be cut into an enticing trailer. They have seen so many trailers, fallen for the bait-and-switch so many times, that trailers have almost no rhetorical power to lure audiences to theaters. At best trailers function as reminders for the date a film is opening. And yet, the only reason I want to see Transformers 2: ROTF is because of the trailers.
It is possible that not all of my desire to see Transformers 2: ROTF is because of the trailer, that I am giving Michael Bay entirely too much credit. I grew up watching the original Transformers cartoon, and feel some nostalgia for it. Without a doubt I have a deep desire to those transforming robots rendered in realistic looking CGI fighting and blowing shit up. However, in the hands of any other director I believe that those feelings would have dissipated when I hated the first movie. As much as I loved The Matrix, I disliked The Matrix Reloaded so strongly that I didn’t bother seeing The Matrix Revolutions in the theaters. Thus I’m convinced that Michael Bay posseses some type of genius to connect with audiences (at a minimum he has an incredible talent for directing movies that can be cut into amazing trailers).
The power of Michael Bay’s movies is insignificant in comparison to the trailers for those movies. Watching Transformers is more akin to eating a large bag of Jalapeno-Cheddar Doritos than it is to watching great cinematic works like The Godfather (but feel free to substitute your favorite here). Like addictive snack confections, his movies are only pleasurable while being consumed. Rather than being satiated by the experience, I feel physical discomfort. 4 I hate myself for lacking discipline. I know that I will hate myself for seeing Transformers 2: ROTF (paying to see it in theaters opening weekend) because I know that Transformers 2: ROTF won’t be any more enjoyable or satisfying than Transformers was, in the same way I hate myself for eating the entire large bag of Jalapeno-Cheddar Doritos even though I know, I absolutely know, the second chip or the thirty-fifth chip won’t taste any better than the first one did.
Unlike the bag of Jalapeno-Cheddar Doritos, for which the problem of diminishing returns for each additional chip consumed has no obvious solution 5 , there is no intrinsic reason why Michael Bay’s movies should be this terrible (and thus no reason to hate them, or myself for seeing them). It would likely cost the same amount of money for Michael Bay to make an excellent movie as it has cost for him to make the crappy movies he has made. Even if it would cost a few million dollars more to hire better writers and actors that money would almost certainly be recouped with greater box office revenue generated by positive critical reviews and word of mouth.
The problem with Michael Bay’s genius, other than me hating myself for watching his movies, is it allows him to turn every property into a Michael Bay Movie. Transformers was less an updated version of the cartoon than a Michael Bay movie that happened to feature transforming robots. Originally I intended to list the Michael Bay film-making clichés, but that would have required re-watching his movies (life is too short and the weather much too nice), but you can see examples here, here, and here. If you thought Transformers was a waste of your time and money, let these examples remind you that a leopard can’t change its spots. Perhaps having been armed with the insight that this movie is simply a mechanism to separate nostalgic slobs from their hard earned cash, it will be easier for you to ignore it. 6 However, given my own experience I wouldn’t be optimistic.
You can follow JMT’s hatred of Michael Bay’s movies on twitter, where he will be critiquing the new Transformers flick, live. Expect really Foul language and spoilers. You’ve been warned.
1 With the possible exception of The Rock, which I recall enjoying as an adolescent, but came to strongly dislike on repeated viewings.
2Whatever exceptions you can think of probably just reinforce the rule. Off the top of my head the best movie in the following franchises was the first, and everyone after was worse X-men, Spiderman, Indiana Jones, Jaws, the Matrix, Star Wars and Police Academy. Although Indiana Jones doesn’t quite fit since Last Crusade was much better than Temple of Doom and one could argue was every bit as good as Raiders of the Lost Arc, though I wouldn’t. Likewise many Consider Empire Strikes Back to be superior to A New Hope, but I don’t. Return of the Jedi is undoubtedly the worst of the three. Lastly, Police Academy 3 was probably as good as Police Academy 1, and Police Academy 5 was probably better than Police Academy 4, otherwise every movie in that franchise was worse than the one before it.
3 On this subject Mamet, “Bambi vs. Godzilla” is a must read.
4 After large a bag of Jalapeno-Cheddar Doritos I feel bloated and nauseous with an unquenchable thirst. After Michael Bay movie I feel slightly dizzy with ringing ears and mild grinding headache.
5 I have some ideas though, one of which I’ll share: Create 5 different levels of seasoning for each flavor of Doritos chip. Fill the bag with the most seasoned chips at the bottom with the less seasoned chips at the top. Thus the last chip would taste at least as good as the first, maybe better.
6 The movie is also designed to lure in kids and separate their parents from their parents’ hard earned cash, but those kids, if they are on the net, are probably trolling 4chan.org, or writing to KissingSuzyKolber.com for relationship advice. They are almost definitely not reading this blog. If you have kids don’t think for a minute you have them trapped in some walled garden/playpen, or that they haven’t bypassed whatever nanny software you’re running.