6 Scenes We Love From Michael Bay

By  · Published on April 22nd, 2013

Given all the positive buzz we’re hearing for Pain & Gain, Michael Bay could very well have his first critical hit since 1996 when the movie opens this Friday. And it might just be an even fresher tomato than the lonely red orb affixed to The Rock seen here. Interestingly enough, this new release stars someone named The Rock, further proving that Dwayne Johnson isn’t just franchise viagra but also a kind of Hollywood miracle in general these days. Not that Bay has been struggling as far as the industry is concerned. At all.

It’s not important for us to defend the quality of Bay’s movies. They are what they are. Some are more entertaining than others. Most fulfill a certain demand by audiences for action, broad humor and flag-waving. And occasionally they do surprise us, especially in times when our expectations are at their lowest – or simply on that horizon to which we anticipate his work, neither high nor low, just there. We do enjoy some of it. Maybe not even whole films but individual bits. So, this week’s Scenes We Love highlights six favorite moments. And as usual we invite you to share your own picks.

Explosion of the Childhood Friend in “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are.”

It’s best we begin before Bay’s film career even began, because his music videos include a lot of the style and tropes we would later see in the movies. This is the third video the director did for Meat Loaf and his album “Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell.” And the scene we want to focus on is near the beginning, about one minute into the nearly eight-minute production. Robert Patrick plays the father of a kid who takes off in a biplane, crashing it into presumably an unseen oil tanker given the explosion that follows. Also in the scene is Will Estes, now of The Dark Knight Rises and TV’s Blue Bloods, playing a young version of the singer, who is remembering back to the tragedy involving his childhood best friend. If the whole thing doesn’t remind you completely of the beginning of Pearl Harbor, then you haven’t seen Pearl Harbor. If you like, continue watching the whole video for more signature Bay staples, namely hot women and hot cars, both of which are all wet.

Opening Scene in Bad Boys

Now we’re on to the movies, and there’s nowhere better to start than the very start. Will Smith and Martin Lawrence are cruising along in a hot car (Bay’s own personal Porche 911, which he loaned to the production) and bickering. Then a very hot woman purposefully distracts them. And the bickering just elevates and elevates while two carjackers point guns in their faces. And nobody believes they’re cops. That’s pretty much Bad Boys in a nutshell, isn’t it? Well, there’s no Tea Leoni looking beautiful and wearing that awesome ’90s suspenders and miniskirt outfit. She’s my favorite thing in the movie, frankly, but just for the other point to be made I went with this:

Shower Room Massacre in The Rock

There are a lot of great scenes in this movie. As I’ve already noted, it’s Bay’s best film (and not just because critics, including the late Roger Ebert, said so, and not just because it had a Criterion Collection release, which included an essay by the late Roger Ebert). But the shower massacre is very special. It’s extremely intense. It’s a very Bruckheimer moment and a very Bay moment. There’s a stand-off. There’s a control center monitoring the whole thing. There’s a prescient yet somewhat subtle (considering it’s Bay) character development for General Hummel (Ed Harris) where we can see that he’s not as gung-ho about all this as his men are. I don’t care that my Navy SEAL step-father-in-law has pointed out to me that the SEAL team led by Michael Biehn would never enter a room like this all at once. Never mind realism. This is Bayism.

Epic Launch Montage in Armageddon

We need one of Bay’s token epic montages, which are usually punctuated by a motivating presidential speech and a mix of civilian activity and experts who are the BEST in their field who are all being counted on to do a great job and airport hangars and control rooms and, most important, at least a few stars and stripes. They’re very familiar now, but I don’t think that means we can dismiss them. Especially not the early ones, before they lost their power through overuse. The Rock has one, of course, but the most epic and significant is the mission launch sequence in Armageddon. I also especially love it for two callback shots I’ve noticed in this thing. One is of Hartlee Field, which we previously saw in the Meat Loaf video above. The other is of a woman sitting in a truck outside a white church that is undoubtedly the same one at the very end of The Rock. I think those are the only ones (surprisingly no Bad Boys reference), though certainly this is also very much an audition reel for Pearl Harbor.

Medical Exam in Pearl Harbor

Bay isn’t always just explosions and car chases and music video style sex and all that. This is one of the surprises I mentioned. It’s sweet and cute. Those aren’t words I’d normally put to the guy. Yeah, it’s sort of cheesy, and Ben Affleck’s accent is a total joke, but it also kinda appropriately fits the tone of war-era rom-coms. I can picture this redone in my mind with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy. I can also see it isolated as a short film of its own, nicely framed with Kate Beckinsale’s telling of the story on the train with her girlfriends. But the rest of the following section is alright, too. It’s totally Bay’s Titanic and while you can figure the guy was just antsy to start the explosions, he doesn’t let the build up seem like it’s a bother for him.

Shanty Town Chase in Bad Boys II

Don’t ever accuse Bay of being ignorant or dismissive of film history. In this climactic chase from his first sequel, it’s clear he’s not just familiar with his own work but also with the action classics, namely the seminal Jackie Chan movie Police Story. Sure, that starts with a downhill shanty town chase in a way that fits into a cohesive thematic reflection of colonialism in Hong Kong. This is mostly just a chance for a lot of destruction and really a lack of care for innocent lives – it can’t all be drug dealers living there (someone’s mom is putting the wash up on all those clotheslines) – and maybe something to do with how Bay feels about Cuba. But it’s rare that we see him slip in allusions to cinema not made by at least Bruckheimer. And don’t you know these lists are lessons, too? If I really just wanted to put my favorite chase sequence from Bad Boys II on here, I’d have gone with the car carrier. That sequence is awesome.

Finally, I’d like to point out that I’m not purposefully ignoring the Transformers movies completely. Again, I especially love the highway chase sequences in parts one and three. Bay always delivers on highway chases (see Bad Boys II). The problem is that my favorite moment from any of them is not to be found online anywhere. That would be when the Autobots accompany Sam (Shia LaBeouf) home and make a mess around the house in the original installment. It’s one of the very Spielbergian touches in that one. But I guess that also makes it not much of a Michael Bay scene anyway.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.