I’m really not sure how we got here. I grew up watching a movie with my parents every Friday night and no one ever wanted the movie to be bad because that would make for one disappointing Friday night with the family. But over the past few years the internet has turned a corner on movies and become the enemy of cinema by turning audiences against their films. I’m not talking about torrents—I’ve made my stance on that very clear on the podcast—I’m talking about the internet’s love for tearing apart a movie on a minuscule level to try and make good, enjoyable movies seem stupid, thereby creating an antagonistic atmosphere among movie-goers.
I can’t go more than three days without sites like /Film posting some “Everything that’s wrong with The Dark Knight Rises” or “The Honest Trailer for The Avengers” video. It seems that the fastest way to get your site noticed is to post a video of you completely tearing apart a popular movie in a humorous way. While I would also argue that this isn’t actually very entertaining, the reason that it awakens passionate anger in me is that it’s perpetuating the wrong attitude towards film. What these videos are doing is saying, ‘oh, did you like this film? Well, look, I made a list of all the things that I thought were slightly wrong with it, so clearly you’re stupid and hopefully every time you watch the movie now you’ll be thinking of my video and having less fun than you were before.’ What is the point of that?! If people had fun in a movie like Avengers or Dark Knight Rises, let them keep that. None of the things that these videos are pointing out are actually that crucial to the story or the enjoyment of the action scenes, it’s just nitpicking for the sake of pretending you’re smarter than everyone else because you caught some minuscule detail.
“Helicopters don’t need to follow roads” is not something wrong with the movie, that’s simply stating that a helicopter is flying over a road in a way that makes it sound stupid. The helicopter is flying over the road because it looks cooler than if it were flying over tiny bushes and diminutive lizards in the dessert. “Nick Fury motivates the team by lying about the location of Baseball cards” is a plot point of the movie taken completely out of context and stated plainly as if there is something wrong with that. Maybe these fools don’t know it, but good writing takes small things like that and makes them important. That’s what it does. It’s an effective, original, and multi-layered plot point that develops character by revealing how manipulative Fury is while also moving forward the story. But you took it out of context; good job, you’re very smart.
This kind of criticism engenders a negative approach towards movies. It encourages people to believe that they are entitled to be entertained, that little mistakes are the product of absent-minded artists and a sign of bigger problems, and causes people to go into movies demanding to be won over. You are not entitled to be entertained. If you go into the theater and try to keep the film at arm’s length you will always see what is wrong with the movie. It is not the filmmakers job to win you over despite your refusal to participate, it is in fact their expectation that you are willing to open yourself up to the film, meet it halfway. This is the only thing that allows them to connect with you in any way. It’s a classic question of suspension of disbelief. That’s not to say movies always earn it, that there’s never anything wrong with movies, or that you can’t end up enjoying a movie that is actually not very good because you gave it a little too much leeway. What it means is that when a movie like The Avengers that never should have even been coherent, much less entertaining, relies on a few minor cliches here and there, you can forgive it, overlook it, or even be totally convinced by it because everything else in the movie is so good, and they’ve earned your respect and participation. Only then can you allow yourself to have fun and go on an adventure with the movie because you’re not just looking for the next snarky comment you can make about it.
While this kind of garbage has been around for quite some time, I think I would trace it back to the Red Letter Media reviews of the Star Wars Prequels. In those reviews—which are almost as long as the movies themselves—the disturbingly unmedicated critic does quite a bit of the same kind of jokes by making fun of the looks of some of the weird aliens or replaying funny little goofs from the movie. But while he uses that stuff to entertain you—as well as inter-cuts of his rape dungeon—that’s how he keeps you watching through an hour and a half of critical analysis of how structurally sloppy and inconsistent the story of those movies are. He delves into issues of film theory and looks at shot sequences and why they show that Lucas wasn’t really paying attention during filmmaking. He goes on rants about how mistreated the characters are by the script around them, and when he does, you can feel the passion and frustration behind his argument as he imagines how good those movies could have been and how poorly they were handled. These reviews show incite that none of these two minute clips could muster even if it was their goal. [I believe this last paragraph was fairly generous on my part, seeing as Red Letter Media now produces the “Honest Trailer” series]
I’m not saying that videos that detail problems with movies are always bad, it’s simply a question of the motivations and knowledge of the creator. I always had an issue with the Truck chase in The Dark Knight—I enjoyed it but something bothered me about it—and while I caught some of the things that In the Cut’s Jim Emerson points out in his breakdown of the sequence, this video not only taught me why I was bothered by the sequence but educated me on the visual language of such a chase scene. These are moment to moment nitpicks, he is looking at an entire scene and analyzing the way it was constructed.
These other, pointless kinds of video criticism don’t actually analyze the elements of the filmmaking or storytelling, instead they revel in trying to tear down popular movies so that they can feel superior to all those plebeians who “had fun at the movies.” Look I love a good drama, but lets not forget that fun is often the goal of this art form.
It has been our mantra here at the Reel Nerds Podcast that we should go into every movie, from Battleship to Twilight to Father’s Day to The Avengers, wanting the movie to be good. We reviewed Breaking Dawn Part II and Sand Sharks this year, so I know how much fun it is to hate on a movie, but we as film-goers have to make sure that we don’t have so much fun hating movies that we start being overly critical of good films.