I have a problem. A few cinemas are in my rotation for new releases and they’re pretty much what you’d expect. One theater, however, has a small lobby which is designed to funnel the smell of popcorn through the front doors. Now I love movie theater popcorn with its addictive blend of gluttony and guilt but not the pain that supplants the guilt in the following hours. I resolve to abstain from the popcorn stomach-aches every time and every time I return, I buy “just one more bag.”
You can see where I’m going with this. As I once again caved and bought popcorn for the new “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” I realized I’m a bit of a cinematic glutton. I was going to see the fourth movie in a series defined by, in my mind, Shia LaBeouf repeatedly screaming “no, no, no” and by giant robot wrecking ball testicles. Only this time, I knew there would be no Shia, I wasn’t sure there would be robot genitals, and I had no idea three hours of action could be so boring.
“Age of Extinction” picks up a few years after “Dark of the Moon’s” apocalyptic battle in Chicago. The prevailing powers have decided Transformers are humanity’s enemies and to rid the planet of their threat for good, have dispatched a CIA group led by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) to chase down the surviving Autobots. But when inventor Caede Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) saves Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), the clandestine operation explodes into dazzling firefights that draw into the open other shadowy players. And now the fate of the galaxy is in the hands of an overprotective father and Stanley Tucci. Or something.
Honestly, I don’t know anymore. After three movies of Transformers saving humans, I’m not sure why earth is still such a big deal to all these alien machines. Why do they still transform into flashy cars? What’s the purpose in any of this? The effects are meant to sizzle brains into a perpetual catatonia of amazement but they work so well they become tedious. They let the mind wander back to the “why” of the story. And back to the “why did I come?”
I was already back to wondering within the first fifteen minutes of scene after scene of director Bay’s loving portrayal of Americana when I was hit with a frightening realization: I think this really “is” America. While CIA agents were using their faces as warrants (their words, not mine), I was thinking about what this meant. Transformers has always been about explosions and cars and lingering shots of barely-legal nubile bodies. Everyone knows this. And yet the series makes gobs of money. So is there any better way to portray us, our spirit, than this? It’s the ultimate freedom; the freedom to revel in bad taste, the freedom to indulge our stupidity, and to come back for more when this helping’s gone stale. It’s Americana. It’s the popcorn. And a lot of us, despite our better judgment, are addicted.