2015 Film Essays

It’s Time to Retire ‘Overrated’

star-wars-the-force-awakens

Warning: Minor Spoilers 

I’ve never been a fan of TIME‘s “Which Word Should Be Banned” list, but once in a while (especially during box office weekends), I would give my left arm to have the term “overrated” disappear. The middle-ground between complete failure and a masterpiece is non-existent in the perpetual cycle of joy and backlash on social media, and for better or for worse, the conversation around a movie has a huge effect on how audiences feel going into it. Word of mouth can create an environment that invites viewers to take a shot on an unknown property, and it can also create an atmosphere of hostility and backlash.

Fans wait months (sometimes, longer) to see a blockbuster, and in that time, success can become unattainable. Star Wars: The Force Awakens becomes evaluated not on its own merits, but against an idealized version moviegoers created in their heads, and fans feel underwhelmed when it doesn’t meet those expectations. Reactions from press screenings on Tuesday and late Thursday showings were typically ecstatic, but, unsurprisingly, the word changed later in the week about The Force Awakens. It’s understandable for viewers to call something “overrated” when they feel let down, however, critics should strike the word from their vocabularies.

Using “overrated” to label a movie/show acknowledges the response others have, but the term refuses to meet the discussion in any significant way. Rather than explaining why they didn’t care for a movie, some critics choose to argue with the dialogue around it. Granted, it’s significantly easier to do that (instead of tackling the figurative merits or drawbacks of art), but it’s also unacceptable for persons who are paid to analyze films.

Maybe these collective knee-jerks are just misplaced resentment over blockbusters killing off the renegade arthouse scene in the 1970s. Its not necessarily an unfair response, but concluding that a film sucks once it goes mainstream is hardly reasonable. A movie can’t be blamed for the way others react to it. That mentality only punishes projects that make money. Sure, that seems fair for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, but what about The Martian? Instead of being happy that a smart film made for adults succeeded, the discourse shifts to whether The Martian deserves to have done as well as it did. Few mediums are as subjective as cinema — and that leads to arguments — but any debate that calls out moviegoers for enjoying a movie too much is asking to be rejected.

Hairs raised on my arms as Han (Harrison Ford) explained to Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) that everything they’ve been told about the force is true. That is a scenario a lot of moviegoers have waited to see play out for years onscreen, so it’s understandable that critical assessment may take a back seat. With all of those childhood attachments present, it’s almost impossible to view things like Star Wars impartially. Conversely, there’s no excuse to enjoy something blindly. All discussion doesn’t have to be shut down to preserve “perfect status” in one’s mind. A film can still be good and have issues present. Just don’t point to one or two flaws as proof that the movie is unworthy of praise. A questionable scene or two doesn’t make a film “overrated,” it just means that it’s not perfect. Given how few perfect films there are, only one or two flaws isn’t that bad.

Being a critic often means defending the original positions one takes as they review a picture. Trends may cause one to revise those positions later on, but it comes with the job. But it’s the bandwagons that give cause for concern. Didn’t like The Force Awakens? That’s fine, but remember it is possible to criticize a movie while not being cruel to those who enjoy it. Saying those who did like it are wrong for doing so is purely a dick move.

Not every movie is suited for all tastes, and nor should it be. The beauty of film is that audiences can learn to appreciate different points of view. By placing yourself above your viewing, you can’t, or worse, won’t let a movie touch you. Sure, Furious 7 may have its share of plot-holes, but few things have affected me in 2015 like that last touching moment with Paul Walker and Vin Diesel. The Fast and Furious franchise derives nearly all of its success from the chemistry of the cast and acknowledging Walker’s passing was essential for the story. Fortunately, how Furious 7 said goodbye to Brian (Walker) was handled gracefully and a fitting way for the series to move on.

Genuinely stirring moments like that are hard to find, and it would be a shame to lose one of those experiences because of ego. Go ahead and meet a film halfway, because while “overrated” doesn’t say much about the movie, it definitely tells others that you don’t respect the medium.

Follow Colin Biggs on Twitter @wordsbybiggs

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