We've all been there before: you're talking to your friends about movies that you both enjoy. One of you inevitably brings up a movie that he or she enjoys, only to the other friend's dismay. "How could you enjoy that movie?", they ask. "It's so bad." The other responds, "What movie did you see? This one was awesome!" Name calling and general stupidity follows, and the conversations stops being fun.
If only there were a ranking system that people could use that could potentially disarm these arguments, or at least present them in a way where everyone knew exactly where they stood. Well, luckily for you all, I happen to be obsessed with making lists/ranking systems, so I'm going to do just that.
Let's start with the obvious sections, the movies that almost everyone who sees them knows exactly where they fall. The first group are the amazing movies, movies that are so great that pretty much every who sees them loves them, or at the very least can see that they are great films. For example, Batman: The Dark Knight was easily one of the greatest superhero movies of all time (tied with Iron Man on the tomatometer). Christopher Nolan directed the movie perfectly, recreating the Gotham City with whom the comic fans fell in love in "The Killing Joke". Heath Ledger put in a brilliant performance as the Joker, literally terrifying audiences everywhere with just how insane he actually is. Clever action sequences as well as the brutal fall from grace of Harvey Dent, and you have a movie that came together perfectly. Even if you don't like superhero movies, you probably enjoyed the Dark Knight, and if you didn't love it, you were at least able to appreciate why other people did. That's the mark of a great movie and trust me, the Dark Knight is a GREAT movie.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, everyone seems to have a sense for when a movie is genuinely awful. No one came out of Shyamalan's The Last Airbender thinking it was anything other than a massive pile of shit. Dialogue was forced and stuffed to the brim with exposition, the fight scenes didn't work, and the life and soul that had drawn such a strong cult following for the animated series was brutally murdered before the movie even began. The Transformers movies by Michael Bay belong here too, but I'll get to them eventually. Those movies have earned a rant of hatred all on their own. (Same goes for Green Lantern. To all those that helped produce that piece of crap they called a movie, I have two words for you: Fuck you. Not enough? I'll be coming back to this later. The things I'll do for my audience... :P)
Then of course, there are the bad movies, and surprisingly, everyone seems to agree on these, too. Cowboys and Aliens came out this past summer, and it couldn't have been more of a letdown. It's hard to tell where exactly it went wrong. The plot was weak, but in a movie titled "Cowboys and Aliens", I wasn't really asking for much. The actors had talent and put effort into their work, but none of it really showed. The aliens were underwhelming, but they weren't horrendous. It was just missing that special something that makes a movie like this fun, and seriously, there is no bigger tragedy than having a movie titled "Cowboys and Aliens" not be fun. Thus, a bad movie. Not awful like The Last Airbender, but still far from good.
No, these aren't where the problems occur. The problems lie in the middle three categories: the good, the good-bad, and the bad-good.
What do I mean? Well, let's look at some examples from the Marvel Movie Universe (since, as those of you who listened to the podcast already know, I am obsessed with the Avengers movie and all that occurs in its universe).
First, let's look at The Incredible Hulk. No, not the god-awful Hulk movie from 2003; I speak instead of the film from 2008 starring Edward Norton. Now, this movie was well-received (at least by the old standards of comic book based movies), and I actually remember liking it when I saw it, but as I was ready to write about it as a good movie, I realized something rather strange:
I don't actually remember anything from it.
Other than the most basic of plot points (Bruce Banner becomes the Hulk the same way he always does) and Abomination's reveal (an awesome villain for the Hulk, in my opinion) I don't remember a single thing about this movie. It doesn't stand up. I wouldn't stop anybody from watching it because it appears to be fundamentally good, but it clearly wasn't my cup of tea since I can't tell you anything about it.
This is the prime example of the bad-good movie: a movie that is fundamentally good, but doesn't stick out as good to you because it doesn't appeal to that sense in your brain that tells you that you're really enjoying this movie. It's not bad; it's just not for you. Thus, bad-good.
The Social Network was like this for me. I'm a big characterization nerd when it comes to movies, and the idea of a movie focused entirely on characterization and presenting the story about something I enjoy sounded like it would be something right up my alley, but it wasn't. I hated this movie. I found Zuckerberg to be a pretentious dick, and I couldn't root for him to be successful, but since the camera kept following him, I clearly wasn't supposed to be rooting for the bad guys (who were also dicks), so I was left with nothing but a character study into how unlikable people can be.
Buuuut, that being said, I can totally understand why some people loved it. The opening is well done, the cinematography was executed perfectly, and the actors do a great job with the parts they are given (unlikable though those parts may be). I am not arguing that it wasn't a good movie, just that I didn't like it.
To find our next category of movies from the Marvel den, I'm going to fast forward to my most anticipated release of this past summer: Thor. Now, I wasn't necessarily looking forward to Thor because I'd heard great things (reactions were more mixed) or because the trailer blew me away (though it did) but because I really like fantasy and I really like Thor. All I wanted was to see Thor grab his hammer and hit people into another dimension, and in this way, the movie delivered. So clearly that makes it good, right?
Not exactly. See, while I loved the movie due to it perfectly matching my tastes, I have to admit that the art design for Asgard wasn't what it could have been, and the romance between Natalie Portman's character (a love interest so interesting that I've completely forgotten her name) and Thor seemed forced and arbitrary. These are significant flaws that hold it back from being enjoyable for some people, but I still loved it.
This is why the good-bad category exists. I'm not saying Thor is a great movie, or even a good one, but I enjoyed it and people who are like me will too. That's what good-bad means.
Now I know what you're thinking: Chase, you incredibly witty and entertaining man, this doesn't seem that different from the bad-good movie. In fact, the only discerning factor seems to be a matter of taste, so why do they belong in different categories?
The short answer is that you're right and they really don't. The distinction matters on a personal level, but when comparing to others, it's irrelevant. Good-bad or bad-good, the movie is still entirely dependent on your movie taste to discern its ranking. It didn't do enough to make itself good, but it didn't hurt itself enough to be seen as bad. It's up to taste at that point, but knowing that this is where you are is how you avoid pointless debates that end with you realizing that both of you think the same thing.
This is why I understand people who like Avatar (James Cameron's movie, not the Last Airbender; I will never understand anyone who enjoys that tripe) even though I dislike it. Those that enjoy it will point to the incredible graphics and the far-out concepts presented as a sign of its quality. Those that don't will point to the recycled plot, mediocre acting, and pretentious message. Good-bad? Bad-good? Depends on which aspects mean more to you. In my opinion, a movie needs more than really great art direction to be a good movie, but you may disagree. That's fine. So please, let's stop arguing over the difference between bad-good and good-bad movies, ok? Good. Now we're getting somewhere :)
Now that that's settled, let's look at the other Marvel movie that came out this summer: Captain America: the First Avenger. This movie was exactly what it was supposed to be: a fun action-packed movie featuring an incredibly likable protagonist ("I don't want to kill anybody. I just don't like bullies" is my favorite line from anything) beating up people more evil than Nazis. Seriously, how could anyone not like this? Sure it doesn't revolutionize anything the same way that The Dark Knight or Iron Man did, but it's perfectly executed and just plain fun.
That's a good movie. A movie that does what it wants to do without transcending our expectations but is still fun is good. I hate that I have to keep explaining this to people who seem to think that the only good movies are those that make us drop everything and question life and our importance in the world. Those are what the great movies tend to do, but that doesn't mean the B-level action movie or the standard superhero fare isn't good. If you're enjoying it for what it is and those outside the genre can respect that as well, you know you're watching a good movie.
Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World fits here too. Now, I tend to overrate it in my daily life because it is a love letter to people like me, but it's not a great movie in and of itself. It is, however, a good movie if you have even the slightest cursory knowledge of nerd culture. Seriously, this movie is overwhelmingly fun. The artistic style is one of a kind and brilliantly executed, giving the movie a unique and unforgettable voice. The action scenes are well executed, and humor is witty and brilliant throughout. Maybe it doesn't take us to the next level of nerd movie epicness, but it definitely goes to an enjoyable place, and it's a solidly good movie. And at the end of the day, that's all I really wanted from it.
So what do we do with this ranking system I've developed? Well, here's the scale:
If you're within one level of disagreement, let it go (especially in those center levels; seriously, the difference between good-bad and good isn't worth debating). Two levels is probably time to start a conversation and see what's wrong with your friend. Three or more, and we might have to step outside.
I suggest a baseball bat mafia-style. The true American way...