A couple of months ago, in the wake of Batman vs. Superman’s release, my youngest brother and I had a short conversation:
Brother: What did you think of the movie?
Me: I was entertained.
Brother: Let me ask a different way, objectively speaking, do you think it was it good or bad?
I stopped judging movies by their “objective measureables” over a decade ago. That then leads to my views about a movie to often be radically different than “professional reviewer” opinions. Indeed, I find that the movies those “professional reviews” destroy, I like. Those that they think are out of this world? Yawn. The conversation continued:
Brother: So you just liked the explosions.
Me: Nooooo, that’s not it.
I’m not automatically enraptured by high-action movies. I believe my comment after watching the second Transformers movie went along the lines of, “Michael Bay is the only director that can make explosions routine and boring.”Action and explosions can be entertaining, but done wrong are just another distraction on the screen.
Brother: So how do you rate whether or not something is entertaining?
Me: Good question. It is a gut feeling during and after the movie. Did I find myself checking my watch during the film? Did I feel like it drug on, not just in spots but overall? Did I leave the theater saying, “Ooh, that was fun?” Those all contribute.
Brother: Are you sure it isn’t the explosions?
It really isn’t. Take The Prestige. I can’t recall a single explosion in that movie (there may have been), nor any gun play (a single shot is fired?), nor any “action sequences.” It is the premise and the story that are just so incredibly entertaining. Good stories can entertain far better than any special effects, explosions, or action on screen. I’d go so far as to say, “Give me a great story over great visual appeal every day of the week.”
Brother: So what is the best movie you’ve ever seen?
Me: You mean the most entertaining movie?
Gladiator. I have, consistently since that movie was released, pointed to it as my favorite movie of all time. Why? Because it hits on all the right notes:
- Fantastic acting. Russell Crowe and Joaquin Phoenix were nothing short of amazing. Crowe’s portrayal of Maximus actually ruined every other movie he’s acted in since, with the exception of Cinderella Man. He permanently carved into my mind an expectation of what his characters were supposed to be. Strong. Honorable. Heroic. Possessing great integrity. The kind of man other men should aspire to be. I found myself in a constant state of cognitive dissonance while watching A Beautiful Mind. Where was Maximus? Where was the man’s man? It left me wanting, not because the movie was bad (it wasn’t), but because of his previous work had such a lasting effect.
- Great story. A simple man performs his duty with such excellence that he rises to command. Ultimately he comes to be a friend of the King (Emperor) and is offered the very thing that most other men crave. A man of integrity, he turns down the offer, because he knows that there is more to life than power, fame, and fortune. His strongest desire is instead to retire in the company of family, wife and son, who he loves dearly. When those things he loves most are taken from him, he sets out on a course of revenge, culminating in mortal conflict with the ones who ordered their execution.
“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”
- Compelling action. Sword fights? Yep. Explosions? Check. Archers pincushioning others? Got that too. Action is prevalent throughout Gladiator, but it serves to accentuate the plot rather than displace the plot. It keeps the movie going, as the protagonists circle closer and closer to another another until both lie bleeding on the sandy floor of the Coliseum.
With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the scale I use for determining “entertainability.” It isn’t just whether or not a movie is entertaining, but to the degree in which it is entertaining. And, as a former teacher, I use a simple A, B, C, F metric for the grading. Why get more complicated than that? Below I break down what each of the letters means.
- A – Highly entertaining. I probably walked out of the theater and immediately asked, “So…you want to see that again?” And yes, I would see it again in the theater. Will likely appear on a list of “best movies of all time” if you asked me to name them. See: Gladiator. The Avengers. The Dark Knight. The Prestige. Shawshank Redemption. Princess Bride. Man of Steel. Serenity.
- B – Suitably entertaining. While I’m not likely to go see it again in the theater, we will probably end up owning the DVD/Blu-ray. The list of movies that fit this designation are too numerous to count, but some that come to mind are: The Force Awakens. Iron Man (1). Avengers 2. Captain America. Interstellar. Ant Man. Star Trek: Beyond. Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Batman vs. Superman.
- C – Not really entertaining. These movies might have entertaining parts to them, but I probably found myself checking my watch while it played. I might watch this again on Netflix, but we’re not likely to waste our money. See: Iron Man 3. All of the Tobey Maguire Spiderman’s. Star Trek: Into Darkness. Superman Returns.
- F – Failed attempt at entertainment. Also known as “lame.” Nothing in this movie, outside of perhaps a scene or two, was remotely enjoyable. More yawns than smiles. See: Zombieland. Zoolander. Anything with Will Ferrell. Green Lantern.
Per the above, you can probably tell that I disagree with “professional movie critics” often. I just want to be entertained. The means by which I’m entertained seldom matters. It proved to be a fascinating conversation with Brother. I’ll be using the “entertainability scale” in movie reviews that I end up publishing online here.
How do you rate the movies you watch?