So a while back I got fed up with getting ripped on in my film class for being a bay fan so i told my professor that I was going to write an essay on him. So I did, and he was shocked i actually did it. Anyway, I've been posting it around the net most recently the IMDB board and i got some praise. Wanted to see what you guys thought. Some of told me to send it to Bay's fan mail address so i figured what the hell. But before I do I want some mroe comments. I have posted this here before in the talk to bay section and got no responce so I'm just going for fan reaction this time:
Michael Bay is well known for his high octane, action packed films, filled with beautifully choreographed sequences of mayhem. But what many fail to realize is that within these adrenaline pounding films lie many different themes, some of these being trust and what happens when you betray it; morals, having the ability to go above and beyond the call of duty; control, and power. Bay demonstrates these themes mostly through the character development throughout his films.
In every Bay film the story never revolves around just one character. Because of this Bay usually portrays the themes of trust and friendship/partnership. Bay explores how every partnership or friendship is built on trust. Trust in the sense that you need the ability to count on your friend or partner to always be there for you. Bay first explored this theme in his 1995 film Bad Boys.
In Bad Boys we see the tale of two Miami narcotics cops, Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett, who have an unspoken trust with each other. They know they will always have each other’s back. In the opening sequence of the film we see Mike and Marcus at the gun point of two car jackers. While at gun point they begin to have a mundane argument when suddenly they both simultaneously take down their respective criminals. Bay in this instance is showing that if you truly trust your partner and you have enough history and as strong a bond as these two characters have you can always count on them.
Bay then explores how trust needs to be earned in his 1996 film The Rock. The film follows the story of Stanley Goodspeed, a chemical weapons specialist working for the FBI who is essentially a lab tech with no formal military training. We also are introduced to John Mason, a British military operative who in direct contrast with Goodspeed is a trained killer. The film follows these two characters as they attempt to stop a terrorist on Alcatraz Island who is threatening to extinguish the entire population of San Francisco Bay. They both must rely on someone whom they have no connection with to back them up. Before entering their first official fire fight as a team Mason asks Goodspeed “you sure you ready for this?” Goodspeed replies “I’ll do my best” It is at this point through a vulgar remark that Mason brings Goodspeed’s reliability as a soldier into question.
This is where Goodspeed realizes that if he is going to count on Mason then he must gain his trust. So he responds to Mason with the same attitude he gave him. We suddenly see a change of expression on Mason’s face, as if he was accepting Goodspeed as a worthy partner. After the gun battle and they enter Goodspeed’s territory Goodspeed suddenly takes charge and ensures Mason that he can be trusted to accomplish their mission. Also in this film is Bays first exploration into the theme of personal moral code. This is explored through the anti-hero of the film Frank Hummel, the leader of the team who took over Alcatraz. Throughout the film we are led to believe that Hummel has no morals. When the shootout between the Marines and Seals occurs Hummel resists firing the first shot and instead orders the Seals to surrender. Then during the shootout his cries for a cease fire go unheard by his Marines. It is here we first see that Hummel’s morals are still keeping him in check and he is not ready to kill. Later, when the first rocket to wipe out San Francisco is launched Hummel immediately reverses the course of the rocket essentially rendering it harmless. His actions are contrasted by his rival team leader Darrow who lives with no morals and is prepared to kill. He is the first one of the Marines to suggest killing the Seal team and he is the one who kills Hummel after learning that he caused the rocket to change course. It is through these two characters that Bay is explaining that without morals we are nothing more than savages.
Bay then explores this theme of trust in his 1999 disaster film Armageddon. He explores trust not between a team of two but rather an entire group of workers. Bay in this instance takes the ideas of trust and partnership he explored in Bad Boys and The Rock and brings them together. Here we see a team of oil riggers and a team of astronauts join forces in order to stop the impending doom of an approaching asteroid headed towards earth, each group of people must trust each other in order to save humanity. In the climax of the film the group must decide who will be left behind to die and in the process destroy the asteroid. Harry, the leader of the oil rigger team volunteers and all the other crew members must put all their trust in him to accomplish the mission. It is through this that Bay is showing once again that all partnerships are based on trust.
Bay’s follow up film Pearl Harbor which tells the story of the bombings that took place on Dec 7th, 1941 in Hawaii that took The United States into World War 2 not only explores again the theme of trust between partners but this is also Bay’s first instance of exploring the theme of rising above and beyond the call of duty. Bay’s main theme throughout the film is trust between the two main characters Rafe McCawley and Danny Walker. Like Mike and Marcus in Bad Boys these two have an unspoken understanding that they will always be there for each other. In one of the final sequences of the film we see Rafe and Danny crashed on Japanese soil with Danny mortally wounded. Regardless of how many times Danny told Rafe to run, Rafe will not leave his friends side. Bay here is showing us that when it comes down to a partnerships final moments that the bond is greater than blood and will never be broken. Bay also explores for the first time the theme of going above and beyond the call of duty. When the Japanese first start bombing Rafe and Danny have only one goal, to get into the air. They could have taken cover and fired from the ground with sub-machine guns like everyone else but instead they got into a plane and shot down multiple enemies because they had the bravery to do it. Then in the character of Doris Miller who is a cook on one of the battleships, instead of taking cover with all the other non military personal he gets on an antiaircraft gun and like Rafe and Danny, manages to shoot down enemy aircraft as well. Bay with these two instances is showing that when faced with the impossible, having the ability to take charge can make the difference between victory and defeat.
In his next two films Bad Boys 2 and The Island, Bay explores what happens when that trust is betrayed. Bay very blatantly poses the question of trust when Mike asks Marcus before they question a group of Haitians if he can trust him to have his back. But Marcus tip toes around the answer. This is the first instance of worry we see on Mike’s face. Bay is telling the audience that if partners can’t trust each other then there is no partnership. Bad Boys 2 is also Bays first examination of the betrayal of trust. After a very violent highway chase Marcus learns that his sister Syd is a DEA field agent after she told him that she was a pencil pusher. We see after this that Marcus feels betrayed and then later in the film this betrayal comes full circle when Mike reveals that he has been dating Syd behind Marcus’s back. It is after this that Marcus decides to leave Mike as a partner. Bay here is explaining that if you betray the trust of the ones you love the results will be disastrous. But Bay also makes a clear distinction between partners and friends. Even though Marcus has been betrayed as a partner he accepts Mike for who he is and says he will always be his friend. Bay is making a clear statement about friendship, that while partners can come and go friends, true friends will last forever. Bay deeply explores the consequences of betrayal, the ideas of morals, and rising above and beyond in The Island.
The Island puts a very real spin on how corrupt our society is becoming. That we as a whole are losing our sense of morals to the point that we are willing to kill to achieve the ultimate goal, eternal life. As he explained in The Rock without morals we are nothing but savages whose only purpose is survival. Bay then also looks at the consequences of betraying trust, but not by a partner but by your way of life. Lincoln 6 Echo and Jordan 2 Delta after learning their fate as clones and that their entire life is a lie do anything and everything to survive. Bay here is showing the ideas of trust and morals are linked. By having their trust betrayed, Lincoln and Jordan for a brief moment become those savages who just want to survive. Bay then also explains later in the movie that when you have your trust betrayed and morals shaken you must rise above and beyond the call of duty and do everything you can to make things right. Lincoln and Jordan could have run but they realize they would be no better than the ones who created them. Bay explains through them that the only true way to live in this world is to be able to view life as more than just a game of survival.
All of this, every single theme Bay explores in these films comes together in his 2007 film Transformers. That without morals we are corrupt beings, without trust there is no moving forward, and if no one has the will to stand up for what is right then we are all doomed. The auto-bots must put their trust in 2 humans whom they have zero connections with in order to achieve their goal of saving humanity. The Autobots whose trust has been betrayed by Megatron and the other Decepticons realize that Megatron is willing to use the ultimate power for evil and that his morals have vanished turning him into nothing more than a savage. Bay here is bringing the very real message that the ultimate power, corrupts ultimately. Through the character of Sam Witwicky Bay explains that we all must have the ability to rise above and beyond the call if we are going to survive. This is mirrored in the scene where Sam stands up to Megatron and refuses to hand him the ultimate power, the All Spark. Then Sam uncaring of the consequences makes the ultimate sacrifice of power and using the All Spark to destroy Megatron. Here Bay is explaining that the ultimate power lies within, that if you are willing to put your own being at risk regardless of the consequences you can do anything.
Michael Bay is much more than a powerhouse action director. No one will deny that his movies are filled with beautifully choreographed action and heart pounding explosions, but Bay partners with this action, gripping and meaningful stories. Something no one is willing to acknowledge. Bay tells us in every single one of films that trust is earned, morals are clear, and true bravery is necessary in order to live in this world. That is why Michael Bay is more than meets the eye.