Michael Bay. Yes, as a producer and director of film, commercials and music videos, his works are not of elite dramatic calibre – nor are they intended to be. From The Rock (1996) to Pain or Gain (2013), Bay is unapologetic in his interpretation of masculinity, his obsession with big guns and somewhat (and now meta- infused) voyeuristic gaze of the female body. With all of this, and as evident in his latest Transformers film (Transformers: Age of Extinction, 2014), Bay reminds us that action cinema is just that – responsive and where heroes act not solely within plot but to bring resolution to issues both within and beyond the film text.
Throughout the course of the Transformers series, Bay grounds his stories of the Decepticons and Autobots within the same real world context of the 1980s toy line and cartoon series. Like 1980s action cinema that addressed issues around the re-victory of Vietnam, the politics around the Cold War and fear over enhanced technology, Bay (and Spielberg as executive producer) ground the origin film (Transformers, 2007) and the sequels, in a Reagan inspired response to post 911 politics and the growing complexity around national security and the layers in which terrorism takes root. This is what action and Sci-fi does – respond and speaks to the cultural psyche. This is why the Optimus Prime is relevant within both the context of 1980s and post 911 politics – he represents virtuous ideals around manhood and importantly American ideas around heroism.
From the first film where Prime coaches Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) into manhood and how to respond to threats to nationhood to the most recent Transformers: Age of Extinction that addresses the complexity of war and consequentially Primes’ loyalty to his brother in arms who are being hunted down as terrorists, the films speak to culture tones – responsive action where national security is compromised and that the idea of family must be protected by those willing to take arms and fight for what they believe in. This is reinforced by Mark Whalberg’s father character, which, in fighting to protect his daughter coaches her boyfriend in taking arms to protect and fight for what is right and just.
Thus, Michael Bay, does not attempt to be highbrow in his narrative and cultural discourse. He is an action film director, not critical of culture reality, but rather grounded in traditional thinking. His films, perhaps bigger and more successful, are very much like those of the 80s such as Rambo and Die Hard and his Optimus Prime optimizes hegemonic ideas around masculinity. Although, conservative, I don’t really have a problem with it. With Bay, what you see is what you get.