There’s a certain and unfortunate level of pretentiousness that infects critics. I’ve been guilty of it, too. We journalists (or critics or bloggers or whatever) are, hopefully, trained writers and analysts that—again, hopefully—have a huge interest in what ever we’re covering. So we invest a ridiculous amount of time in order to become an “expert” in that field. It might be politics, sports, art (paintings/TV/FIlm/Music/Whatever, etc…). I’ve learned as an entertainment and pop culture guy that critical analysis, yes, is important. But what I’m trying to focus on nowadays is feel.
The thing that maybe makes me an “expert” is the context I can put things in. For example, let’s briefly talk about Drake’s Views album. Now if I was writing a proper review, I would talk about his whole catalogue, dive into this new album, then compare and contrast where I could while talking about what his more inventive peers are doing. And based on all that I’d arrive at something along the lines of:
On Views’ “U With Me,” Drake says he “made a career off reminiscing.” It’s true. Typically the Toronto underdog turned Pop stud’s memory raps yield noteworthy results. Unfortunately, trips into his past on Views lead avid fans listeners to narratives they’ve often heard from him before. Especially as it relates to his romantic endeavors. This guy has got so. many. exes. With Drake, it seems like the names of his women change, but what they do to him don’t. [Gives examples of repetitive storylines that we’ve heard from him that appear again on Views].
But I’d also talk about how the album felt. Feel is important. The mood on “Redemption” made me feel like drowning in a swamp of my own wrongdoings. “Controlla” made me want to wind my hips like an extra in a dancehall video. “Weston Road Flows” made me wish the drive I was taking while playing the album could last a little longer, because I didn’t want it to end. So despite Views being about 20 minutes too long with content that isn’t fresh, it’s far from the creative failure I’ve seen many critics pan it as.
Now with all that said, walk with me.
I saw X-Men: Apocalypse recently. Clearly, coming out just weeks after Captain America: Civil War and the massive praise it got put it in the tough situation of critics comparing them to each other. But I enjoyed it. First, let’s start with meh-ness. The story was cool enough. In short, an ancient mystical being with an enormous ego, Apocalypse, returns from centuries ago with plans to destroy a 1980s-era Earth that he believes praises false gods and technology. If all goes his way, he’ll restore it to a world he rules. Of course, the X-Men must stop it.
The script and dialogue are well done. I do wish there were more fighting and battle sequences. There’s basically one big one at the end and it probably ranks fourth among 2016 superhero flicks so far. (Civil War, Deadpool, and Batman vs Superman, who it does beat in the comedy category. BvS was dry as hell.) And I’m really wondering why Bryan Singer was so hype about casting Jubilee and her yellow coat in the film and then proceeded to not showcase her powers once. No fireworks or sparkles. None. WHY?
Though I did enjoy Wolverine’s savage-ass cameo, Cyclops’ origin story and Quicksilver’s heroics at the halfway mark. So the movie was good, not perfect. But here’s how I’ll explain why I feel like Apocalypse was worth my $14 ticket and, really, how I grade all comic book flicks. The question is Did It Make Me Nerdilly Feel Pumped and Ready To Save People and/or Fuck Shit Up?
In 2013 actor Henry Cavill’s first foray as Superman, Man of Steel, came out. Critics mostly hated it. It scored at 56% on Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer. But after I saw it, I remember feeling, well, bigger. At the time, I lived in Brooklyn and saw it at the UA Court Street Stadium in Carroll Gardens. Admittedly, Steel wasn’t the best. However, the feeling it gave me was real. That day I was wearing a plaid red Ralph Lauren button-down over a t-shirt. When I left the theater and hopped on my bike to head home to my BedStuy apartment, I unbuttoned it and sped back to the crib like I was running late for a meeting with my couch.
Why? Because Superman made me feel faster, stronger even—like when I would watch Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, or Ronin Warriors as a child and wanted to play fight and do karate on my little sister at home. There I was—then a man in his mid-20s—peddling like a Tour de France cyclist with my shirt flapping in the wind like a cape. No villain to fight. No wrong to right. No Lois Lane in sight.
That’s how I felt, though! So yeah, a critic’s job is to critique. And as was the case with Man of Steel, there are some holes I can poke in Apocalypse. Things I would have liked to see. But any superhero movie that can bring out that kid used to duel with imaginary monsters and morph into a costumed crusaders is getting a good review from me. I don’t care how many plotholes it has. I’ve got to blast through that snooty critic armor and ask myself if I caught that hero vibe.
Watching the X-Men battle against Apocalypse brought that out of me. That feeling is priceless. $14 is cheaper than priceless. Actually, it’s a steal.