This is an epic article, one that I have been working and retooling for months. I’m splitting it into two parts because reading half of it in one sitting will be daunting enough. Most of the length can be attributed to the selections from other critics that I’ve included. As such, I hope it serves more as an introduction to the work of many a great critic some of you may have overlooked or never heard of, rather than a personal ego trip expounding My Important Opinions. The selections I’ve included, if nothing else, are worth the time and effort it will take to make it through this article. Expect the second half later this week or early the next.
Since beginning MovieZeal, I’ve thought a lot about what makes a good film critic. There are no books or how-to dummy guides out there on the subject, perhaps because there is an intangible, subjective element to film criticism that is difficult to pin down. Ignorant film watchers will resort to the tired judgment of “A critic is someone who couldn’t cut it as a filmmaker,” but they miss the forest for the big fat tree staring them in the face. There is much more to it, and film criticism over the past century has become an art in its own right. This article contains my humble thoughts, in no particular order, on how one might get better at it.
I fully expect a few of these to generate some debate, and while I’m not new to serious filmwatching, I am rather young in terms of written film criticism. In other words, I’m not claiming to have it all figured out. I’m also excluding some points that I think are obvious. For example, if you’re neither passionate about film nor consistent in your cinematic intake (multiple films per week), then you’re likely to prove a poor critic, no matter how many of the pointers below you take to heart.
Some of my suggestions are specifically practical, some are more subjective, and many of them overlap one another to varying degrees. In addition, I’ve included excerpts from reviews and critics that I think illustrate the point at hand, as well as provided links to the full review or where to purchase the book I found them in. Please note that while I’ve drawn exclusively from English speaking critics, I’m not saying that there aren’t vibrant, influential film critics elsewhere in the world, just that it’s difficult to find translations of their work.
1. Expand Your Cinematic Vocabulary
Good film criticism often involves making astute comparisons. The more diverse and numerous the films in your vocabulary, the more insightful, relevant, and intelligent your observations will be. For example,V for Vendetta owes an incalculable debt to Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent masterpiece Metropolis; Akira Kurosawa has had a staggering effect on Western film, directly inspiring Star Wars, Vantage Point, and the entire spaghetti western genre (The Hidden Fortress, Rashomon, Yojimbo, and The Seven Samurairespectively); the anime classic Ghost in the Shell served as one of the Wachowski’s key inspirations forThe Matrix; and the lasting influence of films like Birth of a Nation, Citizen Kane and The Wild Bunch have echoed through the frames of every modern motion picture since. Film critics who exclusively limit themselves to modern movies or certain genres will write weak, myopic reviews. Expose yourself to the silent era, German expressionism, 70+ years of Best Picture winners, the French New Wave, documentaries, Japanese & Western animation, Bergman, Eisenstein, and Hitchcock, and you’ll become a better critic.
I’ve included two examples, the first in which Jonathan Rosenbaum observes The Thin Red Line through the lens of silent cinema, and the second in which Roger Ebert recognizesAlien’s spiritual predecessor.
- Jonathan Rosenbaum on The Thin Red Line:
“Malick’s intimate acquaintance with the aesthetics of silent cinema reaches well past Murnau. The punctuating shots of nature in the midst of combat – a wounded bird, a riddled leaf, a hill of waving grass – are pure silent-movie syntax, as is the notion of a collective war hero (often found in films and fiction about World War I; William March’s 1933 book Company K is one distinguished example). The poetic and philosophical internal monologues of Malick’s various soldiers, often paired with a sustained and soulful close-up of the character, are the structural equivalent of intertitles in silent films of the teens and 20s. This is a precious legacy that most major filmmakers of the 90s (excepting Godard, Tarr, Tregenza, Manuel de Oliveira, and a handful of others who live outside the Oscars sweepstakes) have either forgotten or never discovered in the first place – a sensibility that frees images from the tyranny of the sound track, allowing them to register in all their primordial power – and the major achievements ofThe Thin Red Line would be unthinkable without it.”
- Roger Ebert on Alien:
“At its most fundamental level, Alien is a movie about things that can jump out of the dark and kill you. It shares a kinship with the shark in Jaws, Michael Myers inHalloween, and assorted spiders, snakes, tarantulas and stalkers. Its most obvious influence is Howard Hawks’ The Thing (1951), which was also about a team in an isolated outpost who discover a long-dormant alien, bring it inside, and are picked off one by one as it haunts the corridors. Look at that movie, and you see Alien in embryo.”
2. Respect the Medium You Are Criticizing
Filmmaking requires blood, sweat, and tears, sometimes literally. Directors often pour so much of themselves into their films that it becomes physically and emotionally dangerous. And while the role of a critic isn’t to recognize the effort that went into something, only to evaluate the result that it produced, something can be said for maintaining a respectful tone. Granted, many films do not accord such respect, and you can often tell that the players were just drawing paychecks, but approach your critiques with fear and trembling. Don’t compromise your integrity (there are many critics who lavish praise on every piece of dreck that passes before their eyes – look to the latest TV spots for evidence of this), but be prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. In this day and age of the Great Internets, anonymity has revealed the worst in many of us (I once saw an equation that read Opinion + Anonymity + Online Forum = A**hole).
To put it plainly, when reviewing films, don’t be a prick.
I’ve selected two less-than-positive reviews of Arnonofsky’s polarizing The Fountain in order to illustrate this point. It should be easy enough to tell which one I feel is the pathetically limp of the two. Also, I’ve included the opening paragraphs of James Agee’s brilliant first column for The Nation in 1942, as well as Andrew Sarris’ humbling reversal of his opinion of Billy Wilder.
- The Daily Mirror on The Fountain:
“Think I made that last bit up? If only I had, because aside from being ludicrously affected, The Fountain is also as dull as hell. In fact, you might want to take your own time machine along so you can fast-forward yourself to the end credits…As far as the plot goes, I’m at a loss to explain exactly what it’s about – and whoever wrote the press notes didn’t seem to have much of a clue either. As far I can tell, it’s about how we’re all, like, too busy worrying about death to live, yeah? So we should all just chill out a bit and accept that one day we’re going to pop our clogs. Deep, huh?…The film does look good, while Oscar winners Rachel Weisz and Ellen Burstyn provide solid support. But what they’re doing wasting their time in this junk is as unfathomable as the film itself.”
- Roger Ebert on The Fountain:
“That said, I will concede the film is not a great success. Too many screens of blinding lights. Too many transitions for their own sake. Abrupt changes of tone. And yet I believe we have not seen the real film. When a $75 million production goes into turnaround and is made for $35 million, elements get eliminated. When a film telling three stories and spanning thousands of years has a running time of 96 minutes, scenes must have been cut out. There will someday be a Director’s Cut of this movie, and that’s the cut I want to see.
- James Agee on being a film critic:
“I would like to use this column about moving pictures as to honor and discriminate the subject through interesting and serving you who are reading it. Whether I am qualified to do this is an open question to which I can give none of the answers. But I can begin by describing my condition as a would-be critic. I suspect that I am, far more than not, in your own situation: deeply interested in moving pictures, considerably experienced from childhood on in watching them and thinking and talking about them, and totally, or almost totally, without experiences or even much second-hand knowledge of how they are made. If I am broadly right in this assumption, we start on the same ground, and under the same handicaps, and I qualify to be here, if at all, only by two means. It is my business to conduct one end of a conversation, as an amateur critic among amateur critics. And I will be of use and of interest only in so far as my amateur judgment is sound, stimulating, or illuminating.”
– From The Nation, December 26, 1942, taken from “James Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism
- Andrew Sarris on reevaluating Billy Wilder:
“People often ask if I have any regrets over my ranking of directors in The American Cinema. Actually, there have been shifts and slides, rises and falls, all along the line. Film history is always in the process of revision, and some of our earliest masters are still alive. The American Cinema was a very tentative probe designed mainly to establish the existence of a subject worthy of study. The rest is refinement and elaboration. To go back to the question, however, at this time, I must concede that seemingly I have grossly under-rated Billy Wilder, perhaps more so than any other American director. His twilight resurgence in the seventies with such mellow masterpieces as The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1969), Avanti! (1972), and even the very flawed The Front Page (1974) made me rethink Wilder, but, mostly, I have been motivated by rueful memories of how somehow I managed to let people talk me out of my instinctive enthusiasm for his films. Whereas the moviegoer in me traipsed back again and again to see The Major and the Minor (1942), Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Stalag 17 (1953), Love in the Afternoon(1959), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Apartment (1960), the film critic in me was always heard clucking that Wilder was too clever and cynical for his own and everyone else’s good. Somehow his clinkers always did double duty to discredit his classics. With other directors, the classics were credited to them, and the clinkers to the “system.” But Wilder was thought of as the system personified with all its serpentine wiles and crass commercialism.”
– Taken from “American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now”, by Phillip Lopate
3. Develop an Appreciation For All the Arts
This point is similar to the first one, except it is broader in scope. All of the arts resemble one another to some extent, and they all liberally plagiarize across the lines. Cultivating an appreciation for other art forms will enhance your ability to write articulately about film. Visit art museums (The Passion’s cinematography is modeled on the works of Caravaggio, a 16th century Italian painter), actually read Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing singlehandedly birthed the romantic comedy), listen to classical music (John Williams, composer of some of the greatest movie themes ever, was directly influenced by Wagner and Richard Strauss), and even read comic books (Batman Begins would not exist if not for Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 collection The Dark Knight Returns).
Nathan Lee, ex-Village Voice Critic and posterboy for the death of film criticism, recently conducted an interview with Rottentomatoes.com where he said something that perfectly dovetails with this point: “I’m reading all the time, but I can learn more about the movies I’m seeing this week from reading a great 19th century novel than I can from whatever XYZ critic has to say this week about whatever. I think another problem with movie writing is that it’s insular, especially Internet writing. It’s so narrow and insular and just about movies, and I think to be a really good writer and film critic you need a range. You need to know what’s going on in painting, you need to know what’s going on in music, you need to read books, and get laid, and go to restaurants, you know what I mean? A lot of movie writing is very impassioned but it’s very limited, very narrow. And I think good critics can put movies into a larger cultural and social perspective.”
My first selection is opening paragraph for A.O. Scott’s review of The Passion, in which he brings to bear his encyclopedic knowledge of The Simpsons in order to make a wonderfully astute observation. Please allow me, in my second example, to submit the closing paragraph of my own review on Funny Games. I realize this may be the height of arrogance, but I think it fits the point at hand, I’m rather proud of it, and I promise I won’t do it again for the rest of this article.
- A.O. Scott on “The Passion of the Christ”:
“There is a prophetic episode of The Simpsons in which the celebrity guest star Mel Gibson, directing and starring in a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, enlists the help of Homer Simpson, who represents the public taste (or lack of it). Homer persuades Mr. Gibson to change the picture’s ending, replacing James Stewart’s populist tirade with an action sequence, a barrage of righteous gunfire that leaves the halls of Congress strewn with corpses. The audience flees the theater in disgust. I thought of Homer more than once, with an involuntary irreverence conditioned by many years of devotion to The Simpsons, as Mr. Gibson presented his new movie, The Passion of the Christ, to carefully selected preview audiences across the land, making a few last-minute cuts, and then taking to the airwaves to promote and defend the film. It opens today nationwide. Given the Crucifixion story, Mr. Gibson did not need to change the ending.”
- My closing thoughts on Funny Games:
“One final observation. At the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. there is a light bulb on a stand. A plaque next to it explains that the bulb randomly turns on once every year for ten seconds. Your participation – how long you’re willing to stand there in the off chance you’ll see it light up – is part of the art. The exhibit is fascinating to think about and enjoyable to discuss, but it is neither compelling nor amusing to experience. Such is Funny Games. I’ve never had a more engaging post-film discussion, but I’ve never had a more miserable, manipulative, and soul-crushing cinematic experience either.”
4. Study Classic Film Criticism
Mastering any art form (and film criticism is an art form) inevitably requires studying the old masters of that form. A composer with no knowledge of Mozart, a writer with no appreciation for Shakespeare, and a filmmaker with no understanding of Hitchcock are all poor artists indeed. If you’ve never read (or even heard of) James Agee, Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, Manny Farber, or Otis Ferguson, then you lack a basic understanding of the foundation that modern film criticism is built upon. These five (and there are others, to be sure) are considered the titans of early American film criticism, and each is a valuable resource for the burgeoning film critic.
While it is not necessary to agree with or even like all five (although Kael and Sarris have had entire schools of thought spring up around their style, I find myself returning to the humble, piercing observations of Agee and the dense, devil-may-care prose of Farber), a familiarity with each is invaluable. The earliest, Ferguson (1907-1943), displayed an accessible, man-about-town sensibility towards the Hollywood picture; James Agee (1909-1955) was humble, witty, and employed a flamboyant style that was both accessible and intellectual; Manny Farber (b. 1917) danced all over the page, sometimes offering contradictory observations in the same sentence, burrowing down into films like a schizophrenic gopher; Andrew Sarris (b. 1928) brought to bear (and still does, as critic for The New York Observer) his encyclopedic knowledge of film history, delivering compassionate and guileless critiques with a scholar’s touch, as well as birthing the auteur theory into the English language; finally, Pauline Kael (1919-2001), who may be considered the finest of the lot, brought a personal touch to the world of film criticism, writing passionate, sensual pieces that exemplified her life-long pursuit of “falling in love” with the cinema.
I’ve included selections from each that I felt typified their style, although my grasp of their vast bodies of work is a weak one.
- Otis Ferguson, on Citizen Kane’s inspirations:
“There has been so much snarling and blowing on the subject of what this picture is about that it won’t hurt to clear the issue: most of the surface facts parallel incidents in the career of one W. R. Hearst; some traits are borrowed from other figures; some are pure ad-libbing. But any resemblance is distinctly coincidental; I could, and would if the editor were not afraid of libel, give you quite a list of Hearst’s undesirable characteristics not possessed by Kane. As for the importance of the figure as an element of society, I don’t think you can make that stick either. Kane started a war to get circulation for his paper; we hear in casual reference that he is a yellow journalist, and we see in a three-for-a-nickel montage clip that he fought graft and some corrupt trusts; there is a prophecy, not followed up, that when the workingman becomes organized labor he will not love the workingman; he is interviewed by the press and makes wild statements with gravity; when anyone gets in his way he calls him an anarchist. Otherwise his troubles are personal, and his death is that of a domineering and lonely man, known to all for his money, loved by none. The only possible moral of the picture is, ‘don’t be that way or you’ll be sorry.’”On the joy of unassuming cinema, from his review of Hands Across the Table:
“These things taken by themselves are not much, but they indicate a wisdom of procedure that it is good to find in pictures, where careless use of camera devices, the didactic cutting in of wheels, clocks, calendar leaves and what not, and all march-of-timing and Eisensteining in general, are often confused with intelligent and true exploitation of the medium…Whatever its label may indicate in the way of old stuff to those who count on reading the label, it is encouraging to remember that anything which is delightful is never old in any real sense of the term, because delight is a fragile and immediate thing, and new always.”
– Taken from “American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now”, by Phillip Lopate
- James Agee on The Bells of St. Marys:
“The Bells of St. Marys, like Going My Way, is distinguished for leisure and spaciousness, for delight in character and atmosphere, for its use of scenes which are inserted not to advance the story but for their own intrinsic charm. One such set-piece – in which primary-school children rehearse a Christmas play – is almost magically deft and pretty; and the picture is full of shrewed and pleasant flashes. It is also fascinating to watch as a talented, desperate effort to repeat the unrepeatable. But on the whole it is an unhappy film. Bing Crosby’s priest, who was so excellent in the earlier picture, at times looks just bored, cold, and sly, as if he knew that this sort of thing had gone on too long for the good of anybody’s soul, his own first of all. Ingrid Bergman replaces Barry Fitzgerald and, for my money, cannot compete with him in sex appeal, though she has and uses a lot too much to play a Mother Superior, comes painfully close to twittering her eyes in scenes with Crosby, and in general, I grieve to say, justifies a recent piece of radio promotion which rather startlingly describes a nun: ‘Ingrid Bergman has never been lovelier, hubbahubbahubba.’”
– Taken from “James Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism”
- Manny Farber, skewering the art-house and praising the genre flick, from his essay “Underground Films”:
“It is not too remarkable that the underground films, with their twelve-year-old’s adventure story plot and endless palpitating movement, have lost out in the film system. Their dismissal has been caused by the construction of solid confidence built by daily and weekly reviewers. Operating with this wall, the critic can pick and discard without the slightest worry about looking silly. His choice of best salami is a picture backed by studio build-up, agreement amongst his colleagues, a layout in Life Mag. (which makes it officially reasonable for an American award), and a list of ingredients that anyone’s unsophisticated aunt in Oakland can spot as a distinguished film. This prize picture, which has philosophical undertones, pan-fried domestic sights, risqué crevices, sporty actors and actresses, circus-like gymnastics, a bit of tragedy like the main fall at Niagara, has every reason to be successful. It has been made for that purpose. Thus, the year’s winner is a perfect film made up solely of holes and evasions, covered up by all types of padding and plush. The cavity filling varies from one prize work to another, from High Noon (cross-eyed artistic views of a clock, silhouettes against a vaulting sky, legend-toned walking, a big song), through From Here to Eternity (Sinatra’s private scene-chewing, pretty trumpeting, tense shots in teh dark and at twilight, necking near the water, a threatening hand with a broken bottle), to next year’s winner which will probably be a huge ball of cotton candy containing either Audrey Hepburn’s cavernous grin and stiff behind to more of Zinnemann’s glacéed picture-making. In terms of imaginative photography, honest acting, and insight into American life there is no comparison between an average underground triumph (The Tall Tiger) and the trivia that causes a critical salaam across the land. The trouble is that no one asks the critics’ alliance to look straight backward at is “choices,” i.e. a horse-drawn truckload of liberal schmaltz called The Best Years of Our Lives. These ridiculously maltreated films sustain their place in the halls of fame simply because they bear the label of ART in every inch of their reelage. Praising these solemn goiters has produced a climate in which the underground picture-maker, with his modest entry and soft shoe approach, can barely survive.”
– Taken from “Negative Space: Manny Farber on the Movies”
- Andrew Sarris on The Birds:
“The theme, after all, is complacency, as the director has stated on innumerable occasions. When we first meet each of the major characters, their infinite capacity for self-absorption is emphasized. Tippi Hedren’s bored socialite is addicted to elaborately time-consuming practical jokes. Rod Taylor’s self-righteous lawyer flaunts his arrogant sensuality. Suzanne Pleshette, his ex-fiancee, wallows in self-pity, and Jessica Tandy, his possessive mother, cringes from her fear of loneliness. With such complex, unsympathetic characters to contend with, the audience quite naturally begins to identify with the point of view of the birds, actually the inhuman point of view. As in Psycho, Hitchcock succeeds in implicating his audience to such an extent that the much-criticized, apparently anticlimactic ending of the film finds the audience more blood-thirsty than the birds. Although three people are killed and many others assaulted by man’s fine feathered friends, critics and spectators have demanded more gore and more victims.”
– Taken from “American Movie Critics: An Anthology From the Silents Until Now”, by Phillip Lopate
- Pauline Kael, from her essential essay, “Trash, Art, and the Movies”:
“The Thomas Crown Affair is pretty good trash, but we shouldn’t convert what we enjoy it for into false terms derived from our study of the other arts. That’s being false to what we enjoy. If it was priggish for an older generation of reviewers to be ashamed of what they enjoyed and to feel they had to be contemptuous of popular entertainment, it’s even more priggish for a new movie generation to be so proud of what they enjoy that they use their education to try to place trash within the acceptable academic tradition. [This] is a more devious form of that elevating and falsifying of people who talk about Loren as a great actress instead of as a gorgeous, funny woman. Trash doesn’t belong to the academic tradition, and that’s part of thefun of trash—that you know (or should know) that you don’t have to take it seriously, that it was never meant to be anymore than frivolous and trifling and entertaining. It’s appalling to read solemn academic studies of Hitchcock or von Sternberg by people who seem to have lost sight of the primary reason for seeing films like Notorious orMorocco—which is that they were not intended solemnly, that they were playful and inventive and faintly (often deliberately) absurd. And what’s good in them, what relates them to art, is that playfulness and absence of solemnity. There is talk now about von Sternberg’s technique—his use of light and décor and detail—and he is, of course, a kitsch master in these areas, a master of studied artfulness and pretty excess. Unfortunately, some students take this technique as proof that his films are works of art, once again, I think, falsifying what they really respond to—the satisfying romantic glamour of his very pretty trash. Morocco is great trash, and movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them. The kitsch of an earlier era—even the best kitsch—does not become art, though it may become camp. Von Sternberg’s movies became camp even while he was still making them, because as the romantic feeling went out of his trash—when he became so enamored of his own pretty effects that he turned his human-material into blank, affectless pieces of décor—his absurd trashy style was all there was. We are now told in respectable museum publications that in 1932 a movie likeShanghai Express “was completely misunderstood as a mindless adventure” when indeed it was completely understood as a mindless adventure. And enjoyed as a mindless adventure. It’s a peculiar form of movie madness crossed with academicism, this lowbrowism masquerading as highbrowism, eating a candy bar and cleaning an “allegorical problem of human faith” out of your teeth. If we always wanted works of complexity and depth we wouldn’t be going to movies about glamorous thieves and seductive women who sing in cheap cafés, and if we loved Shanghai Express it wasn’t for its mind but for the glorious sinfulness of Dietrich informing Clive Brook that, ‘It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily’ and for the villainous Oriental chieftain (Warner Oland) delivering the classic howler, ‘The white woman stays with me.’”
5. Develop a Unique Voice
Previously, this point was titled “Recognize Your Prejudices,” and I spent multiple paragraphs extolling the virtue of acknowledging your critical blind spots, as well as a ludicrously in-depth analysis of Roger Ebert’s hatred for Adam Sandler comedies. After reviewing what I had written, I realized I was promoting a form of generic, audience-pandering criticism. Some critics take pride in their prejudices, slinging vitriolic barbs at a specific actor or genre with relish. They develop unique voices out of their subjective views, which speaks to the heart of the critical enterprise: of the two things that set a critic apart (the first being their talent at writing), their specific subjectivity (and ability to subsequently communicate that subjectivity) is the most important in establishing a consistent readership. Rather than curb their prejudices, critics should seek to harness them.
This lesson can be clearly seen from the previous point on Ferguson, Farber, Agee, Sarris, and Kael. Each of these critics register clearly in the mind’s eye the same way the best auteurs of the cinema do. In other words, Pauline Kael didn’t write film reviews, she wroteKael reviews, and so forth. In order to become a successful critic (the kind people like to read on a regular basis and say things about like, “I wonder what [insert your own name] had to say about that film?”), the pursuit of a distinct, personal style that distinguishes one from the gray, undulating mass of interchangeable film critics is of the highest priority. The style can be humble, it can be arrogant (although see point 2, please), it can be conversational, it can be academic, it can be exhaustive or succinct, it can be personal, schizophrenic, or even profane, but it must be unique.
I’ve included selections from critics that, in my mind at least, stick out like neon-orange lifeboats in a sea of sameness. I don’t like all of these critics, and some flaunt their egos and arrogance to a disgusting degree, but they have set themselves apart. Nathan Lee, recently ousted from the ranks of the Village Voice, brings a glib, uber-sarcastic, and biting wit to his writing, which is insightful as often as it is juvenile. Regardless of one’s opinion of him, he remains a unique voice. I’ve chosen one his milder, yet fully entertaining, rampages againstPirates of the Carribean. My second selection is from a critic I cannot stand, Armond White, who will not (apparently) be content until he has insulted every human being on the face of the planet. With that said, he has carved a specific, unique niche for himself in the world of film criticism. No one else does quite what he does, which is saying something.
- Nathan Lee on Pirates of the Carribean: At World’s End:
“And so Disney’s immense, booty-busting, pro-piracy epic has come to an End. I doubt very much that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End is, in fact, the last we’ll be seeing of Captain Jack Sparrow and, you know, all those other people. How could it be? Treasure remains to be squeezed from Planet Earth, great swaths of which are evidently held captive by the grip of this imbecilic Giant Squid. Far be it from me to spoil the conclusion of the picture, which may or may not hint at adventures to come. Not that I could even if I tried: Long before the third, fourth, or fifth climax in this endless, obligatory summer diversion, I slunk into my seat in a passive, inattentive stupor, fully submitting to the fact that I hadn’t the slightest idea what the hell was going on.”
- Armond White on The Incredible Hulk:
“Norton probably thought he’d get away with joining the same fake-political franchise as Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr. does a morose cameo as Tony Stark). His only smart idea was hiring director Louis Leterrier. But Leterrier (who did the terrific Transporter II) is hemmed-in by this King Kongification of The Hulk. Action fans who ignored the Èlan of Transporter II and such Luc Besson–influenced films as Unleashed, Crank and Hit Man will be settling for less if they accept The Incredible Hulk’s busyness. There’s a dull Cloverfield urban rampage and a behemoth battle royale no different than the damn polar bears fighting in The Golden Compass. Summer audiences are expected to forget Ang Lee’s attempted enrichment and simply go along with the Marvel inanity. After The Incredibles, couldn’t we reasonably expect Bruce and Betty to domesticate and become, say, The Flintstones? And the sex scene where Banner warns Betty, “I can’t get too excited.” is lame after The Simpsons’ Paul Bunyan episode where Marge cautioned, “Just let me do a few more yoga lessons.” Instead, The Incredible Hulk is another asexual Marvel adaptation, sublimating eros with pubescent violence. Hulk comic fans should reject it, grow up and become cineastes who appreciate Humphrey Bogart’s masculinity crisis in Nick Ray’s In a Lonely Place. That’s what Ang Lee rightly knew.”
…(see Part 2 here.)