Actor Samuel L. Jackson -- he who has ever so briefly played Nick Fury in "Iron Man," "Iron Man 2," "Captain America" and now, somewhat less briefly, in "The Avengers" -- took to Twitter yesterday to vent his spleen. He read A.O. Scott's review of "The Avengers" in The New York Times, it seems, and he was not happy. In response, he tweeted "ENOUGH is ENOUGH! I have HAD IT with these MUTHAF$*KIN CRITICS and their MUTHAF$*KIN BAD REVIEWS!" Okay, he didn't actually tweet that (my buddy and ScreenCrush colleague Jordan Hoffman did, and I'm totally stealing his joke). Here's what he really said:
"#Avengers fans, NY Times critic AO Scott needs a new job! Let's help him find one! One he can ACTUALLY do!"
Now he didn't necessarily call for Mr. Scott's firing. But he certainly suggested that Scott is so bad at his job as the lead film critic for the New York Times that he deserves to be canned. Which is not especially cool behavior from a guy who, for more than a decade, has been perhaps our culture's #1 symbol of cool.
And what did Scott do to incur Fury's fury? Nothing all that severe. He certainly didn't attack Jackson personally in his review; he barely even mentioned him, pausing once in his piece to observe that Jackson's function in "The Avengers" "is more master of ceremonies than mission commander." That's one of only two times Jackson is mentioned by name, and the other is simply a credit as part of a character description.
Scott's review isn't particularly harsh. He favorably compares the film to "Rio Bravo" which, in my book, is one of the best compliments a manly action movie can get. Granted, he also unfavorably compares the film to "Transformers" which, in my book, is one of the worst compliments a manly action movie can get. My point is Scott didn't unload a cheap shot or even a savage and merciless takedown. It was a thumbs-down review, but it was a fair, honest, and intelligent one. It was, in other words, an A.O. Scott review.
I saw this very small drama unfold on my cell phone in between movies during yesterday's Marvel Movie Marathon, which meant I had plenty of time -- mostly during the entertainment wasteland otherwise known as "The Incredible Hulk" -- to think of a response. Then I got home at an ungodly hour of the morning and couldn't sleep because the last 40 minutes of "The Avengers" is like Mentos and Diet Coke, ready to write the whole schpiel I'd cooked up, only to discover that Scott himself had already said all that needed to be said in a statement to E! News:
"I don't think Mr. Jackson is actually trying to get me fired. Actors and filmmakers sometimes respond angrily to negative reviews -- I can't say I blame them -- and Twitter is a relatively new and very public forum for that. Rallying 'fans' against skeptical critics is a time-honored tactic, and I don't take it personally...If I'm going to dish out criticism, I should be able to take it."
A thoughtful, classy response. And I think Scott's absolutely right. Film critics criticize, so they should be able to accept a little criticism themselves. When a film critic says an actor has "been miscast" what are they really saying? They're saying they should have been fired, but in a nice way.
And that's really the one part Jackson left out, the nice way part. It's great to see an actor so passionate about something he's made that he's willing to take a stand for it. That's kind of what "The Avengers" is all about. But doing it on Twitter, calling for a guy to be fired, encouraging your 800,000 followers to pester him isn't the most dignified way of going about it. That's kind of like bullying. And as I feel like I've said six hundred times this week, bullying is not what "The Avengers" is all about.