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Should movie stars rebut the critics?

There are two things that Samuel L. Jackson will not tolerate: Hotspacho and negative reviews.

OK, there are probably many other things the actor doesn’t especially like, including dinosaurs overtaking humans and, of course, mother[bleep]ing snakes. Those items everyone can agree on, however, and clearly the star of “The Avengers” believed that the entire planet should also agree that the superhero extravaganza can be seen as nothing other than an awesome cinematic game-changer.

That’s why Jackson tweeted last week, “NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let’s help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!” in response to the Times’ review of the film, which is far from an all-encompassing slam. Scott merely resists the need for BIGGER LOUDER MORE as the answer to the question, “How do we keep superhero movies from growing overly familiar?” The irony, of course, is that just because something increases the scale doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel familiar. Even people who loved “The Avengers”—surely that includes many, as the film opened to an all-time record of $200.3 million domestically—would admit that there’s a sense of déjà vu to the action sequences. Throughout Joss Whedon’s film, the iconic Marvel superheroes punch and fly and protect Manhattan in ways that are both impressively executed and nothing different from what we’ve seen in countless other superhero movies, plus, as many have noted, movies like “Transformers” that delight less in character than in collecting giant, noisy objects in the center of a big city and letting all hell break loose.

Scott’s “Star Wars” prequels-referencing response/slam on Twitter, “my son, a minute ago: ‘Mace Windu wants to take the food from our table!’” made me laugh, but it also suggests that movie stars are only the characters they play (and, in this case, a character Jackson probably doesn’t want to be known for). You have no right to dispute what I say, actor; you are defined by your on-screen persona and cannot become an off-screen personality to defend yourself. I don’t think this is necessarily what Scott intended, and the Times critic noted, "I don’t think Mr. Jackson is actually trying to get me fired ... Actors and filmmakers sometimes respond angrily to negative reviews … rallying ‘fans’ against skeptical critics is a time-honored tactic, and I don’t take it personally."

Still, it’s hard not to be baffled that Jackson felt the need to rebut one of the few negative reviews of a generally much-liked film that probably would have made bazillion dollars even if the reviews were half as positive as they were. So let’s pretend that “The Avengers” is a small, independent comedy that the actor’s just really proud of. Is it acceptable for him to lash out at a negative review?

I say no, “lash out” being the operative term. As a critic, I’m always glad when someone emails me or writes something on Twitter/Rotten Tomatoes/wherever to discuss a movie, even if they think I got it completely wrong. But whether you’re a random 12-year-old living in a basement or Samuel L. mother[bleep]ing Jackson, a personal attack accomplishes absolutely nothing in terms of advancing the conversation about film. How much better would it have been if Jackson had tweeted something like, “Hey, A.O Scott, think #Avengers fans would be as excited about a movie full of charmingly small moments?”

Except the point of this Twitter battle wasn’t to talk, it was to attack. In “The Avengers,” the broad attacks take precedence over talk that, for my money, doesn’t really go anywhere. So while I think movie stars have the right to defend themselves and their work, Jackson really just proved Scott’s point without realizing it.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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