Honest, when I was a kid reading and collecting comic books -- and rushing, time and again, to be disappointed by movies and TV shows based on them -- it didn't seem like a particularly savvy career move. More like a way of ensuring my dating life resembled early Woody Allen movies.
It's clear a lot of people who currently cover media view the explosion of comic-book-related entertainment less with enthusiasm than thinly veiled disdain. They're certainly entitled to that, but for them, this promises to be a very, very long summer.
The Twitter universe recent lit up over a mini-flap triggered by Samuel L. Jackson's criticism of New York Times critic A.O. Scott for his review of "The Avengers." Yet while I don't second-guess Scott's lukewarm reaction to the film, I do think Jackson had a point, perhaps somewhat unwittingly, in taking him to task.
Any popular entertainment deserves to be evaluated in context. While I might not like reality-TV dating shows -- and I don't -- when reviewing one I try to at least acknowledge how this or that one measures up within the parameters of the genre and the several dozen I've watched.
By contrast, Scott's review seemed to dismiss the genre of comic-book movies, and by extension "Avengers," without really engaging the material on its own terms. OK, let's stipulate you're not a big fan of spandex-clad people with super powers, and view films devoted to their exploits more as corporate products than movies. For those readers who might be looking for a more down-to-Earth, less-existential reaction, how did it measure up as an action flick?
What Scott wrote, in other words, was a perfectly fine essay, but I'm not sure it amounted to an actual appraisal of "The Avengers." (As an aside, it also looked strange -- or a bit schizophrenic -- to see him sniff at the movie in this fashion when the paper played the review across the entire front of its Friday arts section.)
From that perspective, Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan struck a much more appropriate tone, while expressing some of the same general misgivings Scott harbors about the overall direction of summer tentpoles. Turan neatly summed up his review as follows:
If, as "The Avengers" depressingly underlines, comic-book movies are the ultimate expression of today's Hollywood zeitgeist the way, say, "Gone With the Wind" or "Casablanca" epitomized an earlier time, it's good to at least have them done this well. If you have to watch "a handful of freaks, isolated and unbalanced" saving the planet for the umpteenth time, you could do a whole lot worse.
That one paragraph, frankly, tells you everything about "Avengers," and Turan, a consumer would need to know in order to assess whether his taste is a guide for your own.
Based on my history, I tend to like comic-book movies -- when they're done right, which traditionally hasn't been very often -- more than either of them. Hey, different strokes. And I don't agree with Jackson's knee-jerk jab Scott needs to find another job.
That said, any critic who can't step outside himself or herself enough to judge these corporate products on their individual merits is, at the very least, in for a very cruel, cruel next couple of summers. Because trust me, after "The Avengers" finishes rampaging through theaters, the superhero invasion has only just begun.