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Movie Commentary: Blowed up not so good

Let’s face it, a lot of people have always loved going to movies to see stuff getting blown up — “blowed up real good” as hillbilly film critic John Candy used to say on “SCTV.”

And these days stuff is getting blowed up gooder than ever before in movies like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” with less and less bother about things like character and plot and whether or not anything that’s happening makes reasonable sense.

That’s fair enough. Why? Because very large numbers of people voluntarily pay to see it. In 2011, the third “Transformers” movie grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide. And the current installment, after 10 days in theaters, seems well on its way to match it, with a global gross of $576 million worldwide.

Fair enough, yet still kind of alarming. After all, when a movie can make that kind of money from nonstop explosions, fights, chases and eye-candy, why should studios bother with old-fashioned concepts like character development, suspense, humor, memorable dialogue, a clever plot — in short, a story that balances spectacle with substance?

Not so long ago, when movies made their money from long theatrical runs, a quality story was generally considered essential. Now, with a marketing-driven business model emphasizing fast money-grabs with formulaic fare, stories seem a secondary concern. If they’re a concern at all.

The same issue shows up in genres across the board, but it’s particularly evident in big-budget action/adventure movies. Especially right now because, while “Transformers” 4 is raking up megatons of cash worldwide, Tom Cruise’s “Edge of Tomorrow” is offering a worrisome contrast as it winds down its theatrical run.

“Edge” is smart, funny, suspenseful, even philosophical about some fairly substantial issues, in addition to being a first-rate action-adventure spectacular. Lots of stuff gets blowed up good, in other words. Real good. Yet, after 30 days, its worldwide gross is $339 million, including $91 million in the U.S. — roughly the same amount “Transformers: Age of Extinction” earned in its opening weekend.

Here’s why that might not be great news for moviegoers in general. “Edge of Tomorrow” is a solid, respectable hit (in addition to an excellent film you really should see on a big screen if you’re a sci-fi/action fan), but it’s not hard to imagine studio execs thinking it might have succeeded in spite of the virtues of its story — not because of them. And if intelligence, wit and honest emotion are perceived as value-added features in an action movie so long as the action is there in abundance (or over-abundance), why should studios take a risk on including them? Why not use that screen time to blow a few more things up?

Speaking for myself, I don’t mind a little over-the-topness in a movie — even a lot of over-the-topness from time to time — but it stops being fun real fast when that’s all there is. We should be able to have our explosions and think about them too.

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