Summer Guide: Boom clap: Fireworks and Bay provide similarly dumb thrills


By Shawn Cooke / A&E Editor

As I left a recent Pirates game, there were loud bangs, explosions of flames and a new Charli XCX song playing in the background. My personal hell wasn’t fuelled by chaotic riots responding to a 7-1 loss — the Pirates defeated the Mets, 5-2 — but simply a routine production of the postgame Skyblast fireworks show.

My discomfort wasn’t triggered by this particular show — it was a lovely display — but from years and years of a certain summer staple slowly growing tiresome.

As the explosions boomed and clapped in rapid succession, another summer staple was introduced to thousands of theaters across America: a new Michael Bay actioner. “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” Bay’s latest exercise in bankrolling mass destruction, was likely wrapping up its Thursday night preview screenings (the movie’s a mammoth two hours and 45 minutes long) just as Skyblast was underway.

Though I haven’t seen the latest robot romp, Bay’s “Transformers” series has maintained its reputation as a visually stunning summer popcorn spectacle with all the depth of a Chevy commercial. No matter how badly the movies are critically panned (“Age of Extinction” sits at 17 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 32 percent on Metacritic as of this writing), audiences still flock to the multiplex en masse because it’s one of the few contemporary releases that still has “You have to see it on the big screen” appeal.

Despite the series’ vast commercial success, most “high-minded” filmgoers — or even those who consider a Christopher Nolan blockbuster high art — thumb their noses at Bay’s movies. 

Chances are that many of the same people who snub Bay’s films enjoyed some explosions in the sky this past Fourth of July. But both wildly popular summer phenomena are driven by a rotating cast of gorgeous eye candy, mind-numbingly loud noises and next to nothing in the way of meaningful themes and plot development. 

One of these cultural touchstones is widely enjoyed by almost the entire American public while the other is thought to be reserved for just nostalgic old fanboys, young action-figure consumers (They do still sell those, right?) and tween boys about to catapult into puberty, thanks to a smokin’ hot female plot device — the cheerleader who mainly serves as rescue bait for our human and robot heroes.

Sure, fireworks may be more about the shared experience with loved ones — sheepishly reaching for your crush’s hand, watching your children dance to the eccentric rhythms and going for that kiss when the finale goes “boom.” But do you really need to watch stuff blow up for that catharsis?

The artificial bombs bursting in air date back to 7th century China where they were used as a means of cultural entertainment, before people found a utilitarian military purpose for them. In 1747, Amédée-François Frézier reintroduced fireworks as a recreational mainstay in his work “Traité des feux d’artice pour le spectacle,” translated as “Treatise on Fireworks.”

So, more than 250 years later, I propose a new “Treatise on Fireworks:” Since they’re far too ubiquitous and beloved to do away with altogether (that’d be downright cruel), can we at least recognize the mindless thrills they provide and hold other shallow spectacles — like big action movies — to the same standard? Or at least buy some more Michael Bay tickets — the guy needs all the help he can get.