Admittedly, I can’t back up that statement with personal experience – I chose to see Adventureland instead this weekend (which I’ll have a thing or two to say about tomorrow). But I’m reasonably confident in that assertion regardless. There’s the dismal 37 per cent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, the middling score of 44 on Metacritic, the countless reports of creative difficulties on the project and – most significantly – the reviews from those that downloaded the leaked version of the film, reactions that ranged from “mindlessly mediocre” to “awful.” Given all this, I figured that my money was best used elsewhere.
Apparently, most of you didn’t feel the same way.
I’m hardly surprised by the massive box office for X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but I confess that I still find it a bit bewildering. Here’s a movie that people are flocking to see despite almost every objective voice out there telling them not to. Now, I recognize that many moviegoers simply don’t read reviews and just head to the local cinema regardless. But I know lots of people – smart people – that saw Wolverine this weekend who are the media-savvy “shoulda known better” types. What’s their game?
Part of it is that most of us like to make our minds up for ourselves. We’ve all been led astray by critics enough times to doubt their correctness every now and then – especially when their opinion runs contrary to our own gut intuition. And this is where Wolverine gets us, and why movie studios are so eager to greenlight sequels and remakes over original material. Even though The Last Stand was disappointing, it was more mediocre than terrible and was probably more than entertaining enough for most fans. Combine that with two highly-entertaining predecessors and our gut tells us that this should be more of the same. Jackman’s Wolverine is a character and a performance that we’ve bought into before, so we go along with it again.
That’s decent explanation for why people want to see Wolverine at some point; heck, I’ll probably end up watching it on DVD for those same reasons. But that doesn’t explain why people had to seethe movie right away, this weekend, the moment it came out. After all, this isn’t the 1970s where the only way to see a film is by making a trip to the cinema. Thanks to DVD and HD television sets, the experience of watching a movie at home is rapidly approaching (and in some ways, arguably surpassing) that of seeing it in the theatre. Plus, the price is right – a rental and homemade snacks beats overpriced tickets and treats any day of the week.
So why rush out to the theatre to spend money see a poorly-reviewed action flick?
I don’t buy the argument that it’s simply a need for popcorn thrills – I think people are more mindful of mindless entertainment than we realize. I bet you that Wolverine’s poor word of mouth is going to lead to a pretty disappointing second weekend (especially up against a buzz-heavy opponent like Star Trek). But the existence of that word of mouth hits the nail right on the head. The irony is that although movies are among the most non-participatory media we consume, they’re arguably amongst the most social.
We live in a demassified world, one where the divide between MY culture and YOUR culture has never been greater. We’re desperate for any kind of collective experience, and more often than not we seem to choose movies as our outlet. We love blockbusters because in their loud inoffensiveness we can almost all find something to enjoy or dislike – but more importantly, either way it gives us something to talk about.
So, the main reason why so many people saw Wolverine this weekend because so many people were seeing Wolverine this weekend. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy – people go to the movies because other people are going to the movies and they don’t want to miss out on the conversations to come, whether on the Internet or in the office. It’s one of the rare opportunities we have left for us all, for one weekend, to have something in common.
Even if the movie does suck.