It’s probably fair to say that most men inherit their love of cinema from their fathers. For me, it was my mom. My mother was (is) the person who would leave bizarre rentals out on the shelf or chase down foreign horror films for me to watch on the weekends. My dad, on the other hand, has never gotten that worked up about movies. Sure, there were always exceptions to the rule; he’s a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings films and will say kind things about most movies starring Tom Hanks or directed by Steven Spielberg. But for the most part? Ask him his opinion when is over and he’ll shrug and give his standard response: “Eh, it was alright.”
This used to piss me off to no end as a teenager. No matter what type of film I would show him – horror, blockbuster, or indie – my dad would invariably offer me the same little shrug and apathetic words of faint praise. And I hated it. It got to the point where I would recommend darker and more melodramatic titles for our irregular movie nights, hoping to jar him out of his cinematic stupor and make him feel a strong opinion about anything. I didn’t care if he hated a movie or even if he got angry with me for choosing it as long as it didn’t leave me with the frustrating apathy of, “Eh, it was alright.”
Here’s the thing, though: I’m starting to think my dad might have been right all along. There’s nothing wrong with saying that a movie is just alright.
This weekend, many people – including myself – will head to the local theater to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, in turn either the biggest action movie of the summer or one of the most disappointing movies ever made. There is no middle ground. Take a look at the early IMDb reviews for the film and you’ll see a laughably polarized audience. If we add together the total number of ratings between two and six stars, we find that half of the available scores constitute only 13% of the submitted reviews. Put another way? The total number of one-star reviews account for 6% of the entire reviews submitted, almost half of the ratings from one-fifth the possible outcomes. Even if you buy into the Reddit conspiracy theories that this user data is being fabricated, this still represents an intense amount of love and hatred for the film.
A lot of this polarization echoes the world we live in. The past few years have seen unprecedented wealth inequality, political infighting, and racial divides. We as a society have tried to tackle some incredibly nuanced and divisive concepts – gender, reproductive rights, healthcare – and have only managed to entrench ourselves on opposite sides of the issue. And even when dealing with something as (relatively) inane as two men in tights punching each other in the face, we tend to structure our thinking around the best and the worst. A recent study of IMDb user reviews found that it takes four-to-five decades for controversial movies to converge to the mainstream, with convergence occurring more quickly in circumstances where audiences are willing to interact with people of the opposing viewpoint. “One can then (hypothesize) that echo chambers are harder to build or to maintain in the artistic or cultural realm,” the authors wrote, clearly underestimating what happens when you give Batman a gun in a Zach Snyder film.
If consensus can only be sped up through interaction, then this study makes a pretty compelling argument for the increased viability of ‘just alright.’ There’s nothing wrong with saying that a movie like Batman v Superman falls in the vast middle ground of movie ratings; if anything, admitting that we fall somewhere between the extremes can only speed along the process of establishing the film’s legacy and impact. My dad’s middle-of-the-road opinions on film provide me with an opportunity to walk back my admiration a few steps – to see if the initial emotional responses hold up through a more thorough examination – and open the door for him to discuss the parts of the movie he genuinely enjoyed.
And if you’re worried that ‘just alright’ represents some kind of watered down critical take on a film, you shouldn’t be. As much fun as it might be to read an incredibly glowing or negative review of a film, I often find that the conflicted piece of criticism demonstrates an author working twice as hard to form half the opinion. Read our own Rob Hunter’s review of Batman v Superman, for example, or Bilge Ebiri’s piece in The Village Voice, and you will see two talented critics carefully sifting through the good and bad alike to come to their inevitable moderate opinion. They don’t actively like or dislike the film, but that ambivalence demands a corresponding thoughtfulness in their writing, and the writing seems crisper – less emotional and more analytical – as a result.
Next: Even Ben Affleck’s Batman Can’t Stop Zack Snyder
The younger Matthew would pull his hair out if he heard me admit this, but I’m warming to the idea of mediocrity in my early thirties. I like the idea of films whose strengths and weaknesses don’t immediately add up to greatness or disaster. The good or great movies will always be preferable, of course, but when something like Batman v Superman comes along and people seem to vary wildly to the extremes, I welcome the opportunity to fall somewhere in the middle and talk to both sides about what I liked (and what I didn’t). There’s nothing sexy about a rallying cry structured around mediocrity, but with the amount of vitriol we’ve experienced over the past few days, maybe some mediocre reviews would get the ball rolling on some actual, honest-to-good discussion. I know one thing for certain: this might just be the most ‘alright’ movie my dad will ever see. I’m looking forward to that conversation.
What do we want? A 2.5 star review! When do you want it? You know, whenever.
Related Topics: Batman