The Bad Boys movies aren’t just Michael Bay movies—they are the definitive Michael Bay movies. The first installment marked Bay’s film debut, which he now thinks looks like an indie compared to his subsequent work, and the sequel was the movie that showcased Michael Bay in all his most creative and insipid ways. The sequel showed Bay’s true self as an artist, the full id of his sensibilities. Through the beloved and scolded sequel’s aesthetic, its sense of humor, and its utter disregard for both human life and more broadly, the mere concept that “less is more.” Bay proudly proclaims for two and a half self-indulgent hours, “Here… I … am.”
Bay Pre-Bad Boys II
Bay wasn’t as gleefully bombastic prior to Bad Boys II. He hadn’t found his voice yet as a director. Yes, The Rock and Armageddon are self-serious with ridiculous over-the-top moments, but they aren’t as straight out silly as the second team-up of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. It’s telling that of all the movies Bay directed immediately prior to the Miami cop epic, it was Pearl Harbor, his least typical (and successful) cinematic outing. Bay, a man who desperately wanted to be James Cameron early on in his career (according to Ed Harris), lost his way pursuing prestige with his World War II epic. Bay’s style is too slick and polished to convincingly depict real-world horrors.
After Pearl Harbor, Bay bounced back with a realization of who he was and still is as a filmmaker. With Bad Boys II, he went goofier, bigger, and did everything else he’s known for today with no restraint whatsoever. He threw any pretense he ever had straight into the garbage.
A New Michael Bay
We had seen Bay’s silly operatic personality, but not on the epic scale of the first sequel in his career. Finally, he let it all out. Bad Boys II is Bay’s new vision for large-scale storytelling in the 21st century. Good taste, efficient storytelling, and internal logic? Not so important. Speed, image, and overall effect? His highest priorities during and mostly after Bad Boys II.
This 2003 buddy cop classic represents when “Bayhem” was birthed into existence on screens across the world. The look, sound, and feel of it all began on July 18th, 2003. Bay, perhaps in keeping with the fast-moving times, started reaching a global audience when he crafted this ferociously-paced, and quick-cutting style tailor-made for short attention spans. Good or bad, it was a speedy new cinematic language that set a template for many other filmmakers to follow. He maybe saw the future with Bad Boys II. He saw what mass audiences wanted, at least from him as a director.
On a technical level, it’s no surprise the likes of Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, and Edgar Wright are Michael Bay fans. The effects he accomplishes in-camera in his movies are remarkable, and especially enjoyable in Bad Boys II. The highway chase sequence is Looney Tunes yet looks so vivid and real that it feels like you could reach out and touch it. Bay’s action had never been more operatic, real, faster, and crisper to the eye. There’s no glaring or unbelievable CGI. Nowadays, Bay goes hog-wild with CG and, even though it looks believable, it’s nowhere near as fun to watch as the crown jewel of set-pieces from Bay’s career.
The highway chase is when Bay reached his full potential as an action director and showed the scale and speed and he can achieve. It is another moment of discovery for Bay, him finding his preferred visual language for action. Bay showed off what he can accomplish with light, color, two charismatic stars, visual effects, and scale. To this day, that demolition derby chase scene – which remains timeless and breathtaking because of next-level practical effects – is Bay’s most spectacular sequence in which all the elements aligned for Bayhem. Years later, he knew the chase was so good he ripped it off himself in The Island. He’s never shy to steal or pay homage to himself, including once in the form of a Bad Boys II poster in a college dorm room in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The chase also highlights Bay’s whiplash contrast of beauty and ugliness. There’s almost always aesthetically pleasing images portraying unapologetically vulgar content. So much visual splendor and crassness at the same time. The large-scale combination of visual excitement and bad taste, it’s now a frustrating trend for the director, but in Bad Boys II, it’s just spellbinding.
When Marcus Burnett witnesses two rats at an intimate moment, fornicating critters have never spoken more loudly of a director. The image of those creatures going at it, that’s Michael Bay’s signature humor taking shape. Robot testicles and feces jokes, they all followed in the footsteps of those rats. Prior to the uncredited rodents, Bay’s humor was broad and hokey, but he finally introduced audiences to what he truly finds funny as a filmmaker and, maybe, as an audience member himself. No gag is too much for him, and no joke too low. The nightmarish, cringe-inducing gag structured around a deceased woman in the morgue? That’s Stephen King-level darkness and, yes, it’s the ugly and confounding side of Bay’s work.
It’s funny how the older Bay gets, the more his humor regresses instead of matures. That’s why he wouldn’t have been right for Bad Boys for Life, a story about growth and slowing down. As a storyteller, those aren’t his trademarks. He knows his audience so well, but weirdly, he doesn’t grow with them all that much.
There’s a Peter Pan quality to Bay’s career. He’s almost always making his movies for teenagers, which he’ll say so himself. While that’s also the typical audience for event movies, Bay still likes much of what he did 20 years ago. Even in 13: Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, there were a handful of jokes that wouldn’t have been out of place in Bad Boys II. While Bay has never written a movie – just imagine – his humor was more bombastic than ever in BB:II and its echoes have never left fully left his touch as a storyteller.
A Star is Born
Now 25 years into his filmmaking career, Bay still finds his way back to his Bad Boys II playbook. The first half of The Island was him successfully stepping a few feet outside of his comfort zone. Midway through the clone movie, he remakes a scene from Bad Boys II as if to get back to business as usual, like he didn’t trust himself to tell a more character-driven story. After the first serious box-office failure of his career, he went all out again with Transformers, a manic franchise that’s not far off from Bad Boys II‘s tone and excess. Sensing a career pattern? Then his Coen Brothers-inspired Pain & Gain and 13 Hours didn’t hit, he returned to that franchise he just couldn’t quit. He’d completely revert back to what was familiar and what we first saw of him in Bad Boys II.
Looking at the films before and then after Bad Boys II, Bay found his voice and eye with the sequel. Good or bad, it’s always fascinating watching a creative individual establish their identity as a storyteller and discover what works for them and, as he’s demonstrated, millions of other people. There’s something pure about Bad Boys II in that way, ugliness and all, that we know we’re watching Bay’s imagination untouched and unrestrained. It’s as personal as a movie he may ever make.
Bay is Bad Boys II. Every scene speaks volumes of him as a director. Nothing is subtle or unsaid after all. It’s a large-scale vision fully stuffed to the brim with his concepts of cinema, his personal likes and dislikes, and quite possibly, even his kinks. It’s a conspicuously horny movie, like so much of Bay’s work — including, inappropriately, Pearl Harbor. In Bad Boys II, a fantasy movie about cops in Porsches destroying more property than saving lives in Miami, Bay finds the perfect vehicle for his most unrestrained, sophomoric, macho, and still somehow exhilarating instincts, allowing him to run as free as a stallion to create the most fully realized and watchable vision of Bayhem that he ever will.
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