As each year unfolds, critics sometimes miss the boat on a film altogether. Either they get caught up in current trend of pretending to be a studio executive instead of a film reviewer or they just completely misunderstand what a film was trying to do (or, in the case of two films on this list, gave a film WAY too much credit despite being nothing remarkable). So here are five films that the critics completely got wrong.
The Mummy: Look – no one is saying the Mummy is an amazing cinematic achievement. That’s not what this is about, but it was far from one of the worst films of the year. Critics seemed to walk in with a hate-on for this one and already were predicting the death of the Universal cinematic universe. That alone is telling of how modern movie critics see films not as individual works, but only in terms of its value towards the potential larger brand. What a perverse way to view a film.
While the film itself was no masterpiece, it was actually a fun ride and featured Tom Cruise playing a bit of a sleaze early on. You can read a full review here, but the biggest issue with this one was the marketing (which portrayed it as a serious, straight-up horror/action, when really it shared more DNA with Sam Rami’s Evil Dead 2 & Army of Darkness). As a film it was fun, a bit campy and full of amazing action sequences. Where it failed with critics? It didn’t fit their preconceived notions of what a “monster movie” is as well as how to jump start a “cinematic universe.” Again – a very strange way to review a film, but we’ll see more of that with our next film.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword: Similar to The Mummy, this film suffered from critics not actually reviewing the movie for what it was trying to do, but instead what they thought it should have been. In an era where being a movie critic is more about playing “arm-chair studio executive” rather than actually reviewing a movie as its own thing, its not a huge surprise that Ritchie’s Arthurian story didn’t resonate well with critics. Add in the fact that genre-fanatics (especially within the fantasy genre) are such purists they couldn’t get past modern dialogue in a medieval setting.
In the end, King Arthur was a nice take on a well-worn story with a strong creative voice (something critics also seem to shy away from when it comes to big-budget films) and more than its fair share of cheeky humor. Changing Arthur from someone who was just handed his destiny by a sword to a street-urchin turned revolutionary felt more timely and relatable. Could the side characters have been fleshed out a little more? Of course! But anyone familiar with Ritchie’s storytelling style knows that not every character needs their own movie, sidestory, etc. Just like BulletTooth Tony (Snatch) or Mumbles (Elba in Rock n Rolla), sometimes its enough to just have the actor’s performance and a few well-placed lines of dialogue carry the weight and let the audience fill in the rest – a novel concept these days.
Bright: Easily the most controversial film on the list as critics couldn’t contain their hate for Ayer’s genre-mashup, Netflix Original film. Contrasting that with a much more favorable audience reception this is arguably the most notable audience/critics gap when it comes to enjoyment for 2017. Critics were quick to note the lack of world-building for a potential cinematic universe, the incongruent genres being blended together and in some cases they used words like “incoherent.” Bright was a lot of things, but incoherent wasn’t one of them – it was a pretty simple, straightforward movie than any reasonably smart audience member could easily follow along with.
Noticing a pattern here? Critics in 2017 seemed to crave the familiar. They wanted the same thing over and over again with no real changes made to the genres they love so much. Want to make a fantasy film? Well it better fit into the previously established canon or universe or not be too different than what we’ve already seen otherwise it doesn’t pass our movie muster. Make the same movie again and again with the same style? They love it!
Wind River: You’re probably looking at the words “Wind River” and either going, “never heard of it” or “but critics LOVED it!” That’s exactly the point. Wind River, while very well done at a technical level and sheds some light on significant issues affecting the indigenous American communities, brought absolutely nothing new or interesting to cinema in 2017. It was filled with tired clichés and uninspired characterization. Wind River fell into the same trappings as so many films over the years, but for some reason got a pass because the director is currently on every critic’s fav-list. This story is intimately tied to what’s going on within the native American community, but are they going to cast a Native American lead? Nope. Okay, how about next on the call sheet? Nope, not a Native American. They had to give Renner’s character a half Native American kid and a Native American ex-wife just to get Hawkeye’s Caucasian face reasonably into the story. Yet another boring example of “white savior.”
If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, the film also relied on the very tired “women are only good for being raped, murdered, and avenged” premise. While Olsen’s character was clearly shoe-horned in as a desperate attempt to remedy that – her character was painfully underwritten and left helpless as Renner took care of the real heroics. Even sadder was that native American women – the absolute focal point of the entire ordeal – had almost no dialogue, left to either sob on a bed, be murdered in the snow, raped in a trailer or just dropped from the narrative altogether. Yet this film was praised for its “vivid characterization” (so a bunch of under-written characters is good now?) and how Sheridan’s directorial debut (after writing the critical hits Sicario & Hell or High Water) paints a searing picture for life on the reservation…as long as you’re white and a dude. You want to watch a movie about life on the reservation not squeezed through the very narrow lens like this? Check out Rhymes for Young Ghouls.
Spiderman: Homecoming: Okay, if you were surprised by Wind River, you’re probably absolutely confounded by Homecoming being on this list. The critics fell all over themselves praising this one and if you’ve been paying attention to the previous thousand words in this article, it’s be pretty evident as to why. Homecoming wasn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination. It was…fine. Perfectly passable entertainment that does nothing especially creative or interesting with the superhero genre and sticks very close to previously established style/tone/etc from previous films. Typical origin story. Typical heroics. Typical villainy. Typical jokes. Typical cameos. Typical shared universe crossover work. Again, it’s not a terrible film at all, but creatively it’s the cinematic equivalent of McDonald’s or telemarketing. Stick to the script, follow the formula. No derivations, no improvisation. Take no chances, stick to what works. And – hey, in terms of multi-million dollar properties it is the absolute smartest thing to do in terms of getting a good return on a film and a film franchise but it’s honestly got fuck-all to do with making something creatively distinct or original.
Years ago, this kind of filmmaking homogeny would be lambasted by critics at large. Now it’s praised as the absolute best of what Hollywood has to offer. Critics no longer want to be challenged by the films they review – they want to be coddled and wrapped in a big, warm blanket of nostalgia and the familiar and films like these are examples of that mindset. And one more time – for the third time actually – Homecoming is a perfectly fine movie. Not terrible, not amazing – just passable entertainment that doesn’t take any chances and isn’t groundbreaking in any way. Is it enjoyable? For sure and not all movies need to be challenging, but they also shouldn’t be cinematic pacifiers either.
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