As a creator, Michael Bay definitely has a style–his work is rife with explosions, gunfire, and action. These qualities have earned him a less-than-great critical reputation, especially when it comes to his Transformers movies. The remainder of headlines about Bay are more personal and less flattering, ranging from generally uncouth comments and actions to tales of serial sexual harassment. It’s possible this latest news about the controversial director falls into the former camp.
Bay has been busy filming Transformers: The Last Knight in England this month, and the film made British headlines — for all the wrong reasons — earlier this week when newspaper The Sun displayed pictures from the film production on their front page. The photos showed Blenheim Palace, an Oxford landmark, draped in Nazi flags. This caused an uproar among English veterans, who pointed out that the location Transformers was using to film its “Nazi HQ” scenes was also the birthplace of Winston Churchill, who acted as Prime Minister during World War II.
Though representatives of the production would not comment on this incident for some time, Michael Bay took it upon himself to raise the issue during an interview with the BBC. He dismissed public concerns, and said that he would “do nothing to disrespect veterans” and that critics “have not been fortunate enough to read the script and they don’t know that Churchill in this movie is a big hero.” He claimed Churchill would “be smiling” if he were alive to see his role in the film, and finished up by asserting he has “shot more veterans and more active military men and women in [his] movies” than “any director in the world.” Though Bay claims we can “look up” that last tidbit, we could find no reported information of the sort.
Bay is correct in at least one respect: nobody but those working on The Last Knight have read its script and can contextualize its imagery. And certainly anything is possible in a movie that allows alien-robot-dinosaurs and Nazi Germany to coexist. But it is a little hard to believe that America’s number one director-slash-blowhard isn’t just trying to get ahead of the story, and it’s worth arguing that it would be inappropriate to deck Churchill’s birthplace in Nazi imagery for any film, regardless of context. Plus, Bay doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to cultural sensitivity or accuracy, and it seems unlikely that this “Nazi HQ” is an absolutely integral part of the fifth and latest Transformers film. Really, it looks to us like Michael Bay is doing what Michael Bay does best: pushing people’s buttons without a care in the world. He could also just be baiting (Bay-ting?) the media in an attempt to stir up controversy.
It’s unclear how this latest PR hiccup might affect The Last Knight, which will be Bay’s final Transformers film, but it seems like Bay is somehow always able to crank out box office hits, despite the scandals that follow him. While it’s likely many will still attend The Last Knight regardless of its social implications, this could lead to considerable losses if key populations — like war veterans, Jewish people, and/or English citizens — decide to spend their movie money elsewhere. Next summer, audiences will be able to see if this media frenzy was really worth the buzz; and, if it was, if moviegoers will care either way.
Transformers: The Last Knight opens in U.S. theaters on June 23, 2017, followed by the Bumblebee spin-off on June 8, 2018, and Transformers 6 on June 28, 2019.