Michael Bay is a man of the people, except for all those people who write about film for a living. Just take the scene from his latest box office-crushing blockbuster, Transformers: Age of Extinction, in which protagonist Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) raids a crumbling movie palace for junk parts. As he steps over 35mm reels of John Wayne epics, Yeager ignores the owner grumbling that the cinema has been overrun with “sequels and remakes—that kind of crap” and uncovers a truck that is actually Optimus Prime, the massive robot that will do battle with other massive robots incessantly over the course of the film’s sprawling 165 minutes. When Optimus Prime rises from the dust, the movie kicks into the highest-octane sequel-y remake crap you have ever seen. As the audience applauds (at least, they did at my theater), the critics groan.
By design, perhaps. This scene, and Age of Extinction at large, seems plotted to discourage critics, once and for all, from paying Michael Bay so much attention. “Let them hate,” he told MTV’s Josh Horowitz. “They’re still going to see the movie!”
Bay is the rare self-professed “popcorn movies” director whose entire body of work regularly attracts deep analysis. Entertainment Weekly started the trend in 1998, when it semi-admiringly asked if the director was “the devil.” In the time since, he’s released Pearl Harbor, The Island, Bad Boys II, Pain & Gain, the Transformers franchise—and has also been labeled Hitler, a hack, and sexist. In the past few years, however, Bay’s films have amassed a surprising amount of cred. In 2011, Variety’s David S. Cohen marveled at how critics were taking Bay seriously, with Scott Foundas calling him an “auteur,” that most highbrow of monikers afforded a film director. Well-respected outlets Grantland and Film School Rejects have echoed the sentiments. “His films resonate louder than any explosion contained in the movies themselves,” Chris Ryan wrote.