First things first: Michael Bay is a visionary director whose fast-paced camera style makes him stand out amongst his industry peers. There, now that the obligatory acknowledgement of talent is out of the way, Michael Bay is one of the most divisive directors ever to be granted creative license over major blockbuster franchises. And despite allegedly having various issues with his coworkers and his producers, he still manages to turn hundred-million dollar profits armed only with excessive studio budgets, a very strong knowledge of how to pander to the 8-12 male demographic, and a dream.
With that being said, he does have his defenders, though they tend to stick primarily to his original works which largely involves them ignoring the fact that films like The Rock and Pain and Gain were only enjoyable due to the on-screen charisma of actors like Nicholas Cage and Dwayne Johnson respectively. His greatest crimes against cinema, however, are inarguably his catastrophic mishandling of the live-action adaptations of the Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoons, childhood staples to an entire generation of viewers. Paramount studios plopped them in his lap and he fumbled them worse than a butterfingered football player. How badly did he mess things up? Let us count the ways…
15. DISREGARDED CLASSIC TRANSFORMERS CHARACTERS
If you grew up with the Transformers cartoon, your favorite character might have been the rough and ready Cliffjumper, or the sensitive and rational Prowl, or maybe the snarky and adventurous Springer. The long and short of it is that Transformers had a wide variety of interesting and beloved characters to display, a veritable cornucopia of creativity for Bay to play with.
But if your favorite character wasn’t named Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, or Megatron, then it was either not included, forced into a background position, or were so completely generic looking that there was no way to identify them as the character you loved. Did anybody even realized that Sideswipe, one of the best fighters the Autobots had in the cartoon, was even in these movies? Even characters like Ratchet who got actual lines were pushed into irrelevance after only a few scenes.
14. TOOK THE “TEENAGE MUTANT” OUT OF “NINJA TURTLES”
One of the most fun things about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was that they were over-the-top ’90s stereotypes even by ’90s standards. They were radical and “extreme” without pandering to their audience. Which made sense as they weren’t just physically mutated creatures, they were socially stunted teenagers, trying to balance their introduction to human society with their entrance into puberty.
But Michael Bay was apparently cursed by some eldritch god to never be able film anything compelling because he decided the most interesting period in the TEENAGE Mutant Ninja Turtles lives was their equivalent of their mid-20s. Oh, and they had their larger than life personalities dialed down to make it easier for them to interact with their human friends, removing as many of their interesting qualities as possible.
13. WILLFULLY MISINTERPRETED TRANSFORMERS’ MESSAGE
If the Transformers cartoon had any further purpose beyond selling toys, it was to promote a similar message to that of the original Star Trek series, namely faith in a technologically advanced future. The Transformers shared their alien technology with their human friends to create a peaceful world based on globalized use of shared resources. It ultimately taught kids to look towards the future with optimism and to seek out peaceful initiatives and endeavors.
But Michael Bay sees your desire to see a unified world and laughs uproariously. In his view, the technology that the Transformers could share with humans should be put to one use and one use alone; national defense. And when he finally recognized that humans could put the alien tech to other uses, it was so he could make Stanley Tucci look like a smarmy hyper-capitalist.
12. SHOT COLORFUL CARTOON CHARACTERS IN ONLY TWO TONES
One thing that long-time fans will remember from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers cartoons is how colorful it was. The artists who worked on the show were told to sell a product first and make a show second, so they applied liberal and creative uses of shadow, lines, and color to make everything look as crisp and alive as two-dimensional animation would allow. But Michael Bay sees things differently.
Specifically, he sees things in varying degrees of orange and blue and he must assume everyone else in the world does as well because all his movies are almost completely dichromatic. It’s a little disrespectful to the artists who had actual talent who put legitimate effort towards making the show something greater than it was and Bay did pretty much the exact opposite.
11. OVERHYPED THE DINOBOTS
2014’s Transformers: Age of Extinction was supposed to be the turnaround point for the franchise. The behind the scenes drama between Bay and his actors were finally put to bed, the unlikable human characters were all being replaced, and the visual aesthetics of the franchise were finally switching up. Oh, and it had the Dinobots. Every ad, every poster, and every TV spot made sure to feature Optimus Prime riding Grimlock and looking admittedly pretty awesome.
Then the movie came out. Bay still didn’t know how to direct his actors, the new human characters were somehow even more unlikable than Sam Witwicky, and Bay was still shooting dichromatically. And the Dinobots that had been hyped up to near-religious proportions and were a defining aspect of the original cartoons and franchise as a whole that fans had waited three movies for? In and out of the film in under ten minutes.
10. KILLED OFF A BELOVED CHARACTER FOR NO REASON
One of the fan favorite Transformers from the original series was Jazz, a suave and stylish music lover who served as Optimus Prime’s second in command. He was friendly, helpful, and a mirror opposite of his Decepticon counterpart, Starscream. He was so popular that Michael Bay knew he had to include Jazz in the first Transformers film. He also made the decision to have him brutally murdered on-screen after less than seven minutes of screen time and only about five lines.
Why? Was it to make room for more explicitly racist characters in the sequel? Or did he just really like the visual of Optimus Prime holding the two halves of what used to be his best friend in his hands and sadly sigh, “Oh Jazz.” Or maybe Bay just prefers heavy metal. Who can say.
9. TURNED SOUNDWAVE INTO A SATELLITE
If there’s any sticking criticism of the G1 Transformers cartoon, it’s that while Megatron and Starscream are fun villains, they’re fairly one-dimensional. But the third most prevalent villain, Soundwave, breaks this trend. Soundwave was loyal to the Decepticon cause and served as Megatron’s confidant and most valuable soldier. His transformation into a cassette player was unique, as was his small, private army of cassette soldiers at his command. He gave viewers a new, valiant, positive perspective on the Decepticons.
Overall, he was one of the most interesting, compelling, and popular characters that the show ever created. But Michael Bay has no time for your beloved character and interesting transforming powers! He wants to find a way to have a Transformer be a satellite for one shot that he’ll repeat three times in one movie and can’t be bothered to just make a new character to do so.
8. MADE TRANSFORMERS COMPLICATED
The main appeal of the Transformers franchise is seeing giant robots punch each other. There’s other pros to it as well, but if you had to boil down why Transformers are great down to a single sentence, it would be that. So it’s surprising that Bay, usually the master of pandering to the audience, just won’t let the movies be about robots fighting robots.
Instead, he has to make sure to include five or six different macguffins, a bizarre historical backstory that contradicts the bizarre historical backstory from the last movie, and at least three new human villains that nobody cares about. He callously treats the traditional three act structure as a nebulous entity he can fold to his will with no regard for plot structure. Ironically, the one thing people wanted to see in a Transformers movie is seemingly the one thing Bay tries to avoid at all costs.
7. MAKING US PUT UP WITH SHIA LABEOUF
Quick, without thinking about it, what’s the most important physical aspect of the Transformers? What? Why on earth would you say it’s the giant, transforming alien robots from which the series takes its name? Wouldn’t it be much more logical to follow the character evolution of a socially inept, developmentally stunted teenage boy who stammers like a woodpecker got caught in his throat? Because who really cares if the original source material kept the focus on the transformers, giving the audience what it promised while providing satisfactory narrative and character arcs, right?
It’s not like the robots are engage in a compelling war for survival and maintaining a moral grounding and the teenage boy is just trying to get a girl he has no real chemistry with, right? Oh, and the teenage boy is played by one of the most notoriously hateable and pretentious actors working today. Good work, guys!
6. PUT (TERRIBLE) PLOT BEFORE CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT
What’s your favorite Transformers story? If you can even remember the individual stories, you probably can’t think of which one would be your favorite because the stories ultimately weren’t what mattered to you when you first saw it. You were drawn to the characters, their personalities, and their connections. But Bay doesn’t want you to connect with the characters, he wants you to care about his inane storytelling.
Instead of trying to figure out the personality of Ironside or Ratchet, he wants you to be invested in the Allspark. Or the Matrix of Leadership. Or the Seed, the Cube, the Pillars, or another macguffin that’s either supposed to save the world or destroy it. The stakes are all that seems to matter to him, but he even messes that up because the stakes are either unclear, generic, or impossible to care about because he forgot to build atmosphere or character!
5. HIS TAKE ON FEMALE CHARACTERS
One of the most universally recognized cracks in Michael Bay’s work is his penchant for framing the female form. He’s proven time and time again how willing he is to stop a movie in its tracks just so he can get a good shot of an attractive woman draped over a car, straddling a motorcycle, or sometimes just standing there, being drooled over by the male characters around her.
Take, for example, April O’Neil in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sure she was the secret crush of many young viewers, but they were attracted to her optimistic, her tenacity, and her surprising resilience. Her form-fitting yellow jumpsuit didn’t hurt her attractiveness, but it was never that important either. It never became a literal plot point like it did in Bay’s version.
4. MADE TRANSFORMERS RACIST
The first Transformers movie in 2007 was at least somewhat forgivable. The plot made no sense, how Bay shot Megan Fox was uncomfortable at best, and Shia Labeouf’s constant Shia Labeoufing was insufferable, but at the end of the day it was just a silly action movie. Then Revenge of the Fallen came out and audiences were introduced to Skids and Mudflap, reimagined as possibly the most racist caricatures of African-Americans since the Civil Rights movement.
Speaking in an exaggerated urban accent, excessive use of stereotypical slang, and distinctive gold teeth and jewelry was only the beginning. Bay also made sure to point out how these characters were illiterate, irrational, and ridiculously obnoxious. It only got worse from there, with the franchise later introducing an over the top Asian stereotype Transformer. And that’s not even touching on the insanely racist human characters.
3. MADE THE NINJA TURTLES AS UGLY AS SIN
The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie came out in 1990 and featured some of the most impressive uses of interactive puppetry in cinema. The Turtle and Splinter outfits designed by the legendary Jim Henson Creature Shop were the most accurate representation of the cartoon that fans could have possibly hoped for and delivered a unique viewing experience that continues today.
Though the costumes’ quality slowly and visibly degenerated as the films went on, it never got to the point where it completely erased the shock of pleasure at seeing what must have seemed like the actual TMNT team onscreen for the first time. Enter Michael Bay and his unrelenting fetish for CGI. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles he produced were an ugly cross between cave trolls, oversized goblins, and just a dash of the lizard people from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
2. SPLINTER LEARNS TO FIGHT FROM A BOOK
In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, the half-rat, half-human Master Splinter is not only the Turtles’ pseudo-father and sensei, he’s also the series’ primary tie to the origins of real-life martial arts. Alternatively either the mutated martial artist Hamato Yoshi or his mutated pet rat, Splinter is the only hero in the series with a connection to east-Asia, giving the series some much-needed cultural credibility.
Bay’s take on the same concept? Simple! Just have Splinter be a regular mutated rat who learns and teaches karate based on a book he found in the sewers of New York. Putting aside the idea of how ludicrous this is, it also means that Splinter and the Turtles are learning kung-fu at the same time and from the same source. Is Bay suggesting that mastery of centuries-old martial arts techniques can be achieved with the equivalent of Rosetta Stone? Yes.
1. THE ‘ROMEO AND JULIET’ SCENE
If there’s one scene, one singular moment in Bay’s movies that fully encapsulates everything wrong with his various tropes and general film style, it’s the staggeringly uncomfortable ‘Romeo and Juliet’ scene in Transformers: Age of Extinction. Plopped halfway through the movie with no buildup or meaning to the plot, three human characters sit down in an abandoned bar to discuss the relationship between a 17-year old girl and a 21-year old man and how said relationship doesn’t constitute a crime due to a very specific legal loophole.
Why is the scene necessary to the movie? It isn’t at all. No other moment so fully illustrates how little respect Bay had for the beloved source material and how enveloped he was in making sure he did what he wanted, and didn’t care about the fans he’s supposed to be catering to.
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