If Michael Bay had never been invented, somebody would have had to invent him – and for all our benefit too.
No one embodies so perfectly the symbolic corruptions that many critics and Hollywood movie people need the director of the “Transformers” movies and “Pearl Harbor” to embody. No single name in current Hollywood calls up infantile, empty and deafening spectacle as the ultimate in modern megaplex virtue the way Bay’s does. (In the past, I’ve even called him an anti-filmmaker but he’s changed – a little anyway. More later.)
Tonight, we begin an Early Summer of Michael Bay. The TV show he executive produced for TNT, “The Last Ship” begins at 9 p.m. His new gigantic angry toy fantasy about giant versions of Hasbro’s “Transformers ” (we’re up to four now) – whose subtitle is the appropriate “Age of Extinction” – will detonate and deafen audiences in theaters on Friday.
But that’s nothing, really, in the legend of Michael Bay. It’s the Bay stories that so many in Hollywood relish. The two most famous:
1) Samsung is introducing its new TV screen “The Curve” to a select audience. Bay is invited to give it the major celebrity endorsement that a corporate announcement event ought to have. And now, Ladies and Gentleman, Michael Bay, says the announcer.
The tall, lanky, money-gobbling super-director strides out purposefully. “I get to dream for a living,” he tells the audience encouragingly. Then stops. “How do you come up with your wonderful ideas?” the announcer asks, hoping for a response.
Something is obviously bothering Bay. “The type is off,” he tells the audience. It seems there are teleprompter problems.
“I try to take people on an emotional ride,” says Bay, trying to wing it. No luck. This, to understate, is not the way Michael Bay does things. So he says, “I can’t do it” and walks off stage after his three-sentence presentation. He calls it a day.
Ladies and Gentleman, Michael Bay. Let’s really hear it.
2) As an adoptee, he has the resources to research his biological parents. He finds his real biological mother and publicly announces that he thinks his biological father was the great filmmaker John Frankenheimer (“The Manchurian Candidate.”) “Fat chance,” says Frankenheimer, in so many words. Gene testing proves Frankenheimer right. It looks like cinematic legitimacy can’t be found that way either.
His films cost money by the ton and make money by the megaton.
Everyone who thinks they know EXACTLY what to expect should know that joining Mark Wahlberg in the cast of “Transformers 4” are no less than Kelsey Grammer, John Goodman, Stanley Tucci and Ken Watanabe, four actors who can always be charmed by a good paycheck but are awfully good nonetheless.
Let’s remember that Bay’s last film was a genuine attempt to break out of the mode of expensive spectacle by directing “Pain and Gain” from a lunatic script by Buffalo-raised screenwriter Christopher Markus and his writing partner Stephen McFeely.
All it proved to me was how desperately Markus and McFeely’s script needed an authentic young eccentric of the Joel Coen ilk to direct, not Michael Bay. But hey, he was trying, you know?
The time seems to have come, I say, to praise Michael Bay.
No, I’m not kidding.
The reason is “The Last Ship,” which is, absolutely, one of the better replacement series you’re likely to see all summer. If the usually modest TNT network leads you to expect a certain level of production, think again. Money was clearly spent here and, as the Hollywood cliche would have it, it’s all “up there on the screen.”
And that’s good when you’re telling a story about a viral pandemic that has wiped out 80 percent of the American population and left the speaker of the House to be president (the president and the vice president have both died from the virus.)
The reason that the 217 men and women of the USS Nathan James were spared from the ravaging viral plague is that they were in the Arctic Circle under radio silence. Unknown to the Captain (Eric Dane) and crew, they were there so that a chilly scientist played by Rhona Mitra could investigate the origins of the virus to come up with a vaccine.
Now we know. Any time Michael Bay wants to be a producer and executive producer from now on, we should get out of his way and let him do what he wants. If “The Last Ship” is evidence of what he can get done as an executive producer, more power to him.
And I mean that literally – more power to him.
His director for the pilot of “The Last Ship” was Jonathan Mostow, most famous for the submarine film “U-571” and “Terminator 3” but, to some of us, best known for a really sinister and dandy Kurt Russell/Kathleen Quinlan thriller called “Breakdown.”
What happens that makes “The Last Ship” a compelling bit of apocalyptic fantasy is that you’re watching a U.S. Navy destroyer become the last best hope for humankind.
It’s based on a best-seller by William Brinkley and for all its immersion in dialogue cliches, it’s exciting and very well made.
Yes, you know that Bay’s involved when you see a naval-gun’s-eye-view of a helicopter shot out of the sky into the sea (he does love his machines, that boy) but as the viral pandemic jumps from Phase Two to Phase Six (Russia, for instance, “no longer has a functioning government” despite their hostile military), this thing turns into a Phase Six Apocalyptic Thriller.
You’ll root for Eric Dane as the Captain. And hope to heaven Rhona Mitra warms up a little.
It’s all done in corny broad strokes but hey, you were expecting subtlety?
The old TNT on-air promos used to claim “We Know Drama.” And that they do.
“The Last Ship” has given a hostile film and critical world a Michael Bay we can actually get behind and stop giggling about.