Friday, May 4, 2012

Worst "Avengers" Related News Today

I hate Twitter sometimes. I hate the way it seems to bring out the worst in people, the way it amplifies small mistakes and thoughtless comments into huge, inescapable, Big Deals. I was perfectly happy conflating Samuel L. Jackson with his screen persona of the cool, eternally badass, righteous African-American hero. And then he had to go pick on New York Times film critic A.O. Scott, and he had to use the saddest, stupidest reasoning to dismiss Scott's negative review of "The Avengers." This is not on the level of a Mel Gibson or Charlie Sheen meltdown by any means, but good grief. What the hell was he thinking?

Scott's review is hardly a rant. Jackson's appearance as Nick Fury is described briefly, but not specifically critiqued. Most of the piece reads as a weary chastisement of the excesses of the larger superhero genre, but Scott certainly reviews "The Avengers" itself in considerable detail, and acknowledges plenty of positives along with the negatives. I can't see anything that would have caused Jackson to take this particular review so personally. Perhaps the fact that the New York Times published a hefty, laudatory profile of Jackson last week titled How Samuel L. Jackson Became His Own Genre has something to do with it. But why would Jackson expect positive notices based on that? A.O. Scott's reputation as a reviewer would be totally undermined if he was beholden to his publication's agenda, and couldn't critique as he pleased.

Or maybe it was the overwhelming, all-consuming levels of hype that have been building for the last several months. It seems like the entire media universe has been centered on "The Avengers" these last few days. Financial analysts have been gleefully tabulating the box office returns from overseas, where the movie opened a week ago in many territories. There has been a glut of midnight screening reports from last night. You can't browse any entertainment site today without coming across scores of reviews, interviews, reaction aggregators, trivia pieces, guides to "The Avengers" characters, Marvel movie retrospectives, and on, and on, and on. It's the culmination of a massive, carefully orchestrated marketing campaign that has been going on for years to turn "The Avengers" into the event film to end all event films.

In this sea of feel-good self-congratulation, the few published negative reviews stick out like a sore thumb. They go against the scripted narrative, and that must have irked. Maybe that's what prompted Jackson to break the unspoken but long understood rule that artists should refrain from getting into these kinds of kerfuffles with their critics. The critics do not critique for the benefit of the artists, but for the audiences, and are only beholden to them. And other critics, of course, who can help expand single reviews into longer discussions and the occasional spats. Actors and directors and marketing geniuses have a financial interest in how their product performs, and are thus disqualified from participating in the discourse. Their job is to drive the hype, and that means they have an obvious bias.

I don't know why on earth Samuel L. Jackson would think it was okay to do this. True, the traditional print critics have lost a lot of their influence in recent years, and summer blockbuster season is the time of year when critics tend to matter least, as populist spectacle holds sway at the multiplexes, but that doesn't mean their function is any different - to cut through the hype and give people an honest opinion. A.O. Scott did his job and spoke his mind. Jackson's reaction, on the other hand, though probably also completely honest, may actually have been counterproductive to his ends. His tweets have diverted attention away from the movie, far more than A.O. Scott's one negative review would have ever managed by itself. Right now, on "The Avengers'" opening day, Google tells me that there are over two hundred articles talking about the online Twitter war between Jackson and Scott instead of the onscreen fisticuffs between the Marvel superheroes and their enemies.

At the end of the day, the facts remain as follows: Samuel L. Jackson tweeted his displeasure at A.O. Scott's "Avengers" review and called for his removal as a Times' staff critic. When a respondent argued that Scott was entitled to his own opinion and that a big box office total doesn't indicate quality, Jackson shot back, "Actually, sometimes it DOES!” Cue the steam coming out of my ears.

I'm still going to see "The Avengers." I'm probably going to see plenty of other Samuel L. Jackson movies in the years to come, but now I know that Jackson's just another fallible human being, who probably shouldn't be on Twitter.

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