Andrew Romano suggests the small screen is to blame:
[N]ow that Hollywood has concluded that its only remaining competitive advantage is spectacle, it’s all but ceded the fairer sex to cable TV. The only demographic adrenalized enough to reliably show up for this weekend’s latest extravaganza is men aged 18-24, or so the thinking goes, and so the industry keeps churning out dude bait. Even romantic comedies themselves have become more male-centric over the last dozen years, with the Nora Ephrons and Nancy Meyerses of the world giving way to “bromance” auteurs such as Judd Apatow (The 40-Year Old Virgin) and Jason Segel (I Love You, Man).
Girls have something to do with this shift as well – again, on both sides of the camera. Take Mindy Kaling, who has made no secret of her love for romcoms. “What I’d really like to write is a romantic comedy,” Kaling revealed in The New Yorker in 2011. “This is my favorite kind of movie.” And yet Kaling hasn’t created a big-screen romantic comedy yet; she’s been too busy making a television show (The Mindy Project). Same goes for Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Lena Dunham (Girls), two other female writers who could potentially reinvigorate the genre (but who likely see more creative freedom in TV).
Matt O’Brien ties the rise of the Chinese film market to the decline of film comedy:
[T]he death of the comedy movie has come because the world is flat — and senses of humor aren’t. What’s funny to an American audience doesn’t always translate for a Chinese one. And now that China’s box office is the world’s largest outside of North America, that’s a major consideration.
Remember, Hollywood studios aren’t in the business of making movies. Like all financiers, they’re in the business of minimizing risk. That’s why, as Derek Thompson points out, they churn out so many sequels, prequels and reboots (and unnecessary splits of the last movie of a series into two). They do this because it works, and Hollywood knows it does. And now Hollywood knows that American comedies don’t work overseas, but American action movies do — especially if, like “Transformers 4,” they suck up to the Chinese government.
Indeed, Transformers 4 is now China’s top-grossing movie of all time:
Given that critical reaction to Transformers: Age of Extinction has been almost conspiratorially negative across the board — Richard Roeper called it “relentless,” and not as a compliment; Peter Travers at Rolling Stone refused to give it even one star — much of the coverage of its success in China has been, well, pretty darn condescending: “Chinese people are dazzled by anything Hollywood, etc.”
The reality is more complex. If the bar of cinematic quality is indeed set lower in China, the tastes of its 1.3 billion people aren’t necessarily to blame. The Chinese Communist Party is exceedingly picky about the films screened in the country, especially in the case of foreign cinema; so if a movie does well, one can ultimately thank the government.
The long and the short of it: Bay made a movie set and filmed in China, starring Chinese actors, using Chinese resources and pushing Chinese products, and in exchange, the movie gets a timely premiere across the country’s 18,000-plus movie screens.