It’s tough to know if a new movie is going to be worth your time. The ritual of driving to a theater, paying for a ticket, finding a seat, and sitting through someone else’s story with a room full of strangers is a high demand, even with a giant bowl of popcorn. If it’s a brand-new movie, none of your friends can recommend it yet, so you’re basing your choice on the trailers you saw on TV—but these are shot and edited before the rest of the movie, and always have whole teams of marketers workshop it with test audiences, cutting and pasting until they achieve a polished, generically-pleasing spot designed to churn up interest from anyone with a set of eyeballs.

Thus, the hopeful planner might turn to a movie critic for advice. But to me, reviewers typically fall into these two categories:

  1. Older men who watch movies as a job
  2. Young men who are movie geeks

The seasoned, professional reviewer (#1 above) is only interested in two types of movies: generically audience-pleasing, all-around favorites, starting with the kids (i.e. anything from Pixar); and award-show fodder like Lincoln or The King’s Speech. These movies are great for groups with kids or people who want to see a compelling performance by a famous actor. But what about the rest of us, who just want to go to a movie and have a good time, without having to think about it? Moviegoing is supposed to be a leisure activity, after all.

This might explain the sudden surge in comic book movies. When true to their roots as imaginative fantasy (for adults!), the latest Marvel and DC films can scare up huge crowds, starting with the most enthusiastic: the geeks.

Movie geeks, of course, come with their own movie geek reviewers, who come with their own set of personal standards. Left unchecked by an editor, they will either 100% love or 100% hate any comic book or nerd movie. See, for example, the reviews for Star Trek Into Darkness and The Dark Knight Rises. People loved it (both scored huge at the box office), experienced critics gave them high rankings, but the savvy young nerd fans hated it. While at the same time, this same group of snarky reviewers lifted up Pacific Rim, a movie which scored lower on Rotten Tomatoes, and grossed much lower at the (domestic) box office. Both types of reviewers disliked Man of Steel, yet it raked in huge piles of money and launched an even bigger sequel from the same team.

The problem with geek movie reviewers is expectations. The geeky reviewer is going to review the new Star Trek as a Star Trek fan, comparing it to the best from the series. Since Into Darkness has so many parallels to The Wrath Of Khan, this reviewer is going to measure it next to this movie, along with all of their conversations and endless fan theories about that movie. It was destined to fail among Star Trek geeks from the start.

I would propose that the main problem is too much snark. (See also: this article’s title, which of course is meant to be ironic). These writers are always looking for something wrong with things, it’s the very definition of the word that makes up their job description. The average moviegoer just wants to have a good time: find something pleasing for themselves and their date. When we leave a movie, most people don’t want to talk about what went wrong in the movie, that’s not very fun. But a much more fun discussion is reliving the best parts with our friends afterward. Critics are stacking a movie against all of the other ones they’ve seen that week, and writing about what sticks out. The rest of us, who watch movies less frequently, leave a movie with our eyes opened to the telling of a story in contrast with the rest of our lives.

I listen to Chris Hardwick’s podcast, The Nerdist, and he refers to himself as a “lover of things.” It took me a while to get what he meant. But then I heard some hardcore reviewers at HitFix refer to Hardwick as a softball, and I got it: Chris Hardwick sees himself as the guy who is enthusiastic about pretty much any type of creativity, and how people film their expression of it. In other words, the opposite of a critic. I think this mirrors my own experiences as well, and I suspect, many others.

Going to a movie theater should be a fun experience. Otherwise, why take the trouble to go to movies at all?

Posted Mon 06 January 2014