‘13 Hours’ is an intense, complete thriller

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I knew you still had it in you, Michael Bay. When hipster film geeks doubted and badmouthed you online, I stayed loyal. After all, how could the director of classics such as “Bad Boys,” “The Rock” and “Armageddon” possibly be a hack? Although my faith did falter after “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” I even called it one of the worst films of 2014.

But now I know that last “Transformers” was just your big “f—” you to deliberately piss off all of those haters. You knew what they didn’t like about your unique style and cranked up the excessive product placement, immature humor and undecipherable action. But now you are once again showing your true talent with “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.” This is you at your best. It’s restrained yet exciting, action packed yet moving and emotional. “13 Hours” is a great example of the type of film you can make when you’re not making films about CGI robots.

We know you have great love for the U.S. military. They feature in many of your films, always in a respectful way. Your previous film based on a true-life military event (“Pearl Harbor”) was weighed down by a silly romance. This time, you learned your lesson and focused on real heroes. “13 Hours” tells the tale of the brave men who defended a secret CIA fort in Libya a few years ago. It puts you right in the middle of the action and makes you feel the men’s desperation as they fend off waves of attackers, not knowing if help will come. I found myself calculating the elapsed time with each onscreen time stamp, trying to figure out how much longer they would have to endure. Even knowing the outcome, I was so engrossed that all I could think about was how they could be saved, and hope none would perish.

We always knew you were one of the best at filming action. “13 Hours” showcases some brilliantly choreographed battles. The camera sweeps wide to show the scale of the fight, then closes in tight to share details like the impact of a bullet. But this is much more than a string of exhilarating shootouts. It’s an intense thriller, a complete film experience. It’s gruesome. It’s shocking. It’s real.

If “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” is a sign of the quality of films to expect in 2016, I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store.