Michael Bay’s rebirth begins with exciting “Ambulance” ride

In 2014, the fourth season of The epic rap battles of history presented an episode in which four of the most acclaimed directors of all time met with each other: After facing each other to begin with, Steven Spielberg and Alfred Hitchcock were joined by Quentin Tarantino and Stanley Kubrick. Variably denying each other as masters and pseudonyms, the group was photographed with a fifth director: Michael Bay, who inevitably reached the climax to proclaim his supremacy where it really mattered – the end result . “I don’t have that money, I don’t care,” he snapped with a hateful smile. “I take my checks to the bank and sign them with my nuts.”

Satire here is appropriate. Bay’s $ 6.5 billion career as a director and producer places him in the pantheon of commercial directors. His success came despite his critical reputation. Like David Fincher, Bay entered Hollywood through the world of television and MTV commercials, but never gained a similar reputation as a stylist – probably because his style was so aggressive. From the very beginning, Fincher’s commercials have always deconstructed the semiotic language of advertising, but Bay has always been on heavy sales, pushing its messages directly into the viewer’s cerebral cortex. The 1993 ubiquitous “Got Milk?” the campaign turned the historically harmless act of selling dairy products into a referendum on consumer masculinity; the slogan was not so much a question as a mockery, the rhetorical equivalent of a guy holding a cardboard box on his head and grinning, “Are you thirsty?” Well … you bastards? As for Bay’s music videos, the quickest way to sum up his relationship with subtlety is to say that he worked mostly with Meat Loaf – the perfect avatar for the director’s steroid and American shamelessness. Appendix A: The moment in the clip for “Rearview Mirror Objects May Appear Closer Than They Are,” when Bay literalizes the elegiac lyrics “He is said to have crashed and burned” filming a real plane crash.

The fact that Bay is a master of his own hyperbolic style is, for the time being, an issue that is not debated. Whatever you think about movies Bad Boys, Stone, or Armageddon, there is no doubt that they helped create a template for contemporary action cinema. The same goes for Transformers series in the field of CGI entertainment. Bay is, by any definition of the term, an author – a director with a recognized visual signature and a consistent set of moral and thematic concerns. These are reduced to, without a particular order, hot chicks and heavy artillery. A blow inside Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Megan Fox’s provocatively lying on the chassis of a motorcycle is like a synecdoche of Bay’s entire cinema – POV lasar, vio, alpha-male, which works as a challenge with me or against me. Either you go out into the world or you go out.

Fox’s subsequent comments about how much he hated working for Bay helped strengthen his public image as an overworked teenager (though she made it clear after the #MeToo movement that she never made any progress) and did her job to -remove his reactionary, reactionary fantasies. all the easier. For critics, Bay’s filming was an easy target, both aesthetically and ideologically; when Roger Ebert reviewed The Bad Boys II In 2003, he highlighted a scene in which Will Smith and Martin Lawrence rebuked a racially speaking teenager as an example of “unnecessary cruelty.” “What was [Bay] thinking? “he asked, not so rhetorically [he] so lost contact with human nature that [he] Do you think the audience will enjoy this scene?

A car-tracking sequence from the same movie, which shows empty corpses scattered on the highway, is like the apotheosis of Bay’s lack of taste – it’s the original Coffin Flop– and the director is even more easily mocked when he comes out of his successful comfort zone and tries to be Spielberg. Between attacking Kim Jong Il and Michael Moore in Team America: World Police, Trey Parker and Matt Stone found time for an entire musical number about how much Pearl Harbor sucking. (“I need you the way Ben Affleck needs acting school / he was awful in that movie.”) More generally America’s team it functions as a compendium of Bay’s clichés, implicating the director for his role in reducing the cinematic story to a series of explosions, while recognizing the indirect, brain-dead pleasures of such pyrotechnics.

But from a certain inclined angle, Bay’s films are recoverable not only technically, but also as an example of a director who hung a god on an increasingly rude national zeitgeist. In his 2009 review Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Armond White, on the other hand, often researched the director’s wreckage staging and called him “a true visionary,” adding that while “there’s still porn advertising in Bay’s soul, it’s so expressive for the media that it’s funny.” When reality-based theft comedy Pain and gain appeared in 2013, its neo-picaresque brutality was embraced by supporters of the so-called school of “vulgar authorism” as proof that the director pushed his usual show to social criticism.

Almost a decade later, the authoritarian argument for Michael Bay was safely closed. The new points of discussion have less to do with canonization than with marginalization: the idea that a commercial cinema that he helped create has passed him by. Benghazi Docudrama from 2016 13 hours was largely rejected as a right-leaning fodder and led to the lowest incomes in Bay’s career; $ 150 million Netflix production 6 Underground (2019) it didn’t work well enough to justify a sequel. In this context, Bay’s new thriller Ambulance is sold as a comeback-slash-throwback combination: a standalone, non-IP, hard-R-rated action movie made for a real studio instead of a streamer and released with an encouraging cinema audience. With the exception of a few points in the plot involving FaceTime chat, the story – about a hijacked emergency vehicle crossing dangerously on various highways in LA – may have taken place in the mid-1990s; at one point, the characters even talk about Stone, which not only means that Bay is self-referencing his own hit from 1996, but also highlights a nostalgia that, in context, is almost emotional.

On Twitter, he pointed out that a director once considered one of the horsemen of the cinematic apocalypse has endured to the point where he is now not only respectable, but in a landscape with mostly sterilized content, is a kind of endearing, old-school life force feeling amplified by the fact that Ambulance was shot relatively quickly for a modest $ 40 million – an amount he would not have paid for his catering budget. Transformers. “I just want to get out and shoot something fast, I’m tired of being locked up at home,” Bay told his agent in 2020. Quick, propulsive and pleasantly unleashed at both the best and the worst moments, Ambulance suggests that this time his basic instincts were correct.

The first sign of intelligence in Ambulance is that it opens with a character on the phone, waiting – the first and last moment of stasis in a thriller designed as an exciting walk non-stop. The guy who plays the phone tag is Will Sharp (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a war veteran who has been torn apart by military bureaucracy over health insurance for his terminally ill wife – arguably the closest Bay film it was once a politically progressive configuration, while still connecting with the anti-elitist ethos that makes it so pleasing to the crowd. Bay’s America is, no less than Norman Rockwell’s, a vague fantasy made up of good, decent, hard-working people who just want to hug their kids and grind their cars and watch girls – only the most often, they end too. He was asked to break into Alcatraz or land a space shuttle on a meteorite. By the director’s apocalyptic standards, Will’s impending misfortune in the company of his adopted and largely estranged brother, Danny (Jake Gyllenhaal), is modest. After meeting Will in his open-concept body shop (full, as you’d expect in a film by our artist, with almost obscenely bright vintage vehicles), Danny – who, by the way, is the best known LA bank robber – invites him to participate in One Last Big Score. If you are wondering: yes, it will be easy and no one will be hurt.

Bay is not a specialist in theft movies like Michael Mann, and the scene where Danny and Will’s team infiltrates a largely unoccupied branch and empties the safe is like a varsity riff for juniors. The heat, except that in this case, Danny is like a cross between McCauley and Waingro, that is, his greatest enemy. When things go awry, the brothers end up taking an ambulance and taking a wounded policeman hostage along with EMT Cam (Eiza González), who, in an unexpected structural move, is associated with Will in the moral center of the plot. Instead of a troubled young lady, she is a fully detailed protagonist and she is the driving force behind the most outrageous and effective setting in the film, which involves an amateur surgery performed without equipment at 100 miles per hour – a mixture of Speed and Saw which goes so far into gross-out territory that it bursts (literally) through the other side into a sublime slapstick.

Here’s the fun Ambulance, which is at an almost predictable level from a comic point of view – a movie we’ve all seen several times before – but continues to spill small, cute, specific twists on familiar tropes, such as the surprise appearance of a dog belonging to the high-speed pursuit LAPD captain. , or an inexplicable band playing together on a Yacht Rock hit, which is definitely the best needle piece in the Bay since Stone performed Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” No matter what the film lacks in terms of credibility – or physical or psychological coherence – it compensates for the sheer momentum, which is true for both the camera and the vehicles it pursues. The weightless, bodyless photos of drones that dot almost every sequence fit the kamikaze atmosphere perfectly. Bay also receives admirable efforts from his actors, starting with Gyllenhaal’s savage-eyed villainy – getting closer and closer to Dennis Hopper territory with each new film – and including the relationship between Mateen and González, both they choose to take down the role of co-star (and the film around them) spiraling more and more over the top. It doesn’t matter that the script continues to grind the edges of Will’s alleged moral dilemma by emphasizing his decency, or that the subtext Blue Lives Matter is so bright as to be visible from space. Doesn’t it matter that the big, sentimental emotions on the part of the house seem to be orchestrated by the director’s equivalent of the gun – Got Tears? It doesn’t even matter that the film reaches the top halfway and spoils its own climax with an unhappy staging. What matters is that Bay, who is often distracted by his own virtuosity, keeps things moving; he is driving Ambulance over the finish line in one beat.

Adam Nayman is a film critic, professor and author based in Toronto; his book The Coen Brothers: This book really connects the movies is now available from Abrams.