By all accounts, Michael is a fairly typical suburban teenager. He likes hanging out with his friends, is on the football team, and maintains a laser-like focus on getting his driver's license. He's also a pretty standard older brother, which is to say, he's a pain in the butt—at least initially.
Michael starts off as Elliott's #1 tormentor, a role that big brothers frequently inhabit, often with great relish and even greater noogies. By the end of the movie, though, he's found a new position: protector.
My Brother the Troll
We first meet Michael in the kitchen, where he's playing a tabletop roleplaying game with his friends, Steve, Greg, and Tyler. Typical, if not a little bit nerdy, teenage stuff. When Elliott wants to play, he's shut down until he consents to being the teens' pizza slave. Minus 10 Inclusivity XP to you, Mike!
Later, when Elliott insists that he saw something in the backyard, Michael mocks him, suggesting that he saw a sewer alligator, an elf, or a leprechaun instead. Hilarious, right? Both of these examples illustrate that Michael's not exactly the most sympathetic brother.
He may be a compassionate son, however. When Elliott pushes the issue of his father leaving his family for another woman—a topic that, predictably, upsets their mother—Michael chastises him. "Why don't you grow up, think how other people feel for a change?" he demands. Sure, he's once again picking on Elliott, but at least he has his mother's feelings in mind, and he kind of has a point. With Dad in Mexico, Michael's forced to be the man of the house. That's a lot to put on the shoulders of a fifteen-year-old, even if he does wear cool political T-shirts.
From Zero to Hero
Michael's concern for his mom is just a hint of what's to come, as Michael's role shifts from tormentor to protector over the course of the film. Check out this evolution: When Elliott swears Michael to secrecy about E.T., Michael upholds his end of the bargain.
Of course, he teases Elliott pretty relentless at first, but once he comes face-to-face with E.T., that all stops. (We didn't say he changes from obnoxious to noble instantly. Good things take time. Also, an alien is a pretty effective tool for shutting down an obnoxious big brother.) He not only helps Elliott gather parts for E.T.'s communicator, but, on Halloween, he helps Elliott sneak E.T. past their mom and into the forest so they can set the machine up.
When E.T. is MIA and Elliott pleads with Michael to find him, the only question Michael asks is, "Where is he?"—which, admittedly, is kind of a dumb question. If Elliott knew where he was, he'd probably just tell him. But Michael takes off on his bike and doesn't stop looking until he locates his little brother's BFF and brings him home. He even steals a van and enlists the help of his goofy friends when it's time to race E.T. back to the forest to meet his spaceship.
By the end of the movie, Michael doesn't just become Elliott's protector; he also becomes E.T.'s protector. His capacity for empathy and kindness grows, and he starts growing up, period. Not bad for a kid who once thought it would be a cool idea to dress as a terrorist for Halloween.