By now you’ve probably heard about the little dust-up between Samuel L. Jackson and A.O. Scott, sparked by Scott’s negative review of “The Avengers” in The New York Times, fueled by Jackson’s angry tweet about it, and largely extinguished by Scott’s measured, classy response. Righteous indigination doesn’t seem out of character for Sam Jackson — or for Nick Fury — but the timing was surprising. “The Avengers” is getting massive critical support from just about everyone but A.O. Scott. It’s going to make a gabillion dollars at the box office this weekend — dig this picture I took last night of all the sold-out midnight showings at just one theater in New York City. A.O. Scott’s one review isn’t going to hurt this movie half as badly as it hurt Jackson’s feelings. It didn’t seem to be about the movie at all — it almost felt personal.
That’s why Criticwire Assistant Editor Steve Greene went digging through the Times‘ archive to see what it had to say about Jackson in the past. Maybe Scott’s “Avengers” review wasn’t the real problem; maybe it was just the straw that broke the camel’s back or, in this case, the super-hero’s eyeball. Here are a few notable mentions of Jackson in Times reviews that he found. All reviews by A.O. Scott, except where noted:
“‘Thor’ is an example of the programmed triumph of commercial calculation over imagination. A post-credits teaser gives viewers who have lingered in the theater a taste of ‘The Avengers,’ which at some future date will braid together the ‘Iron Man,’ ‘Incredible Hulk’ and ‘Thor’ franchises under the eye-patched aegis of Samuel L. Jackson. Or something. This is franchise building of the kind that has long been practiced by comic book publishers to keep their long-running serials fresh and their readership hooked. Translated into the hugely expensive, culture-dominating realm of big-budget moviemaking, however, the tactic of treating the price of a ticket as an installment-plan payment has more in common with a Ponzi scheme. The purpose of putting this movie in theaters is to make sure you and all your friends go to the next one, and then the one after that.”
“When it operates in this nonsensical zone of verbal riffing and broad slapstick (the most inspired example of which is a brawl at a funeral conducted in respectful whispers), ‘The Other Guys’ provides some pretty good laughs. Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson make fun of their action-hero personae and then step aside to let Mr. Ferrell and Mr. Wahlberg do their thing. Those two are gracious enough to cede a little room to Michael Keaton, as the leathery precinct captain, and to Rob Riggle and Damon Wayans Jr., as Gamble and Hoitz’s obnoxious squad room rivals.”
“Such preparation is one reason that Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson show up here, though there are of course others. Mr. Jackson looks good in an eye patch, as Ms. Johansson does in tight skirts and tighter body suits. So you might say that the movie has something for everyone, which is fine but also, in the end, not quite enough. You’re left wanting more, but not quite the “more” ‘Iron Man 2’ works so hard to supply.”
“I’m just trying to figure out why, somewhere in the middle of ‘The Spirit,’ Samuel L. Jackson and Scarlett Johansson arrive on screen decked out in swastikas and jackboots. Nothing in the logic of the film explains it, but then, to use the phrase ‘the logic of the film’ when talking about ‘The Spirit’ may be to take the ‘oxy’ out of ‘oxymoronic.’ …Mr. Jackson and Ms. Johansson at least seem to enjoy themselves, which is their prerogative since they are the villains…The 108 overstuffed, interminable minutes of ‘The Spirit’ yield exactly two memorable moments: when one of Mr. Jackson’s genetically engineered minions (all played by Louis Lombardi) appears as a tiny, hopping foot with a head grafted on to it, supplying an odd, creepy morsel of Surrealism; and when Eva Mendes, playing a character called Sand Saref, sits on a copy machine and presses the button. She produces what may be the only true-to-life image in the movie, as well as the most interesting.”
“‘Soul Men’ not only allows him room to explore the nuances and inflections of profanity, but it also pairs him with Samuel L. Jackson (as Louis Hinds, Floyd’s onetime singing partner), certainly no slouch when it comes to wringing poetry out of the blue Anglo-Saxon linguistic heritage. To say that the chief pleasure of ‘Soul Men’ is watching these two men swear at each other is in no way to sell it short. There is also some hitting and gunplay, but that’s pretty superfluous. Once these guys start yelling at each other, all Mr. Lee really has to do is keep the camera running. They also sing, which is riskier but still pretty good fun…The story is a hectic and haphazard affair, but the soundtrack of well-made soul covers and the cruder music of Mr. Jackson and Mr. Mac’s foulmouthed one-upmanship provide a measure of satisfaction.”
“The twist in this tired scenario — a variation that allows Mr. LaBute, not for the first time, to assume the posture of social provocateur — is that Abel is not your average white bigot but rather a righteously angry, or at least seriously crazy, black one, played by (who else?) Samuel L. Jackson. Abel finds various pretexts for abusing and humiliating Chris, but it’s clear from the start that this white man’s marriage to a black woman is the main source of his animus. His fury might be interesting if it were rooted in anything more than the filmmakers’ glib desire to play with the audience’s assumptions. The hostility of a middle-age, middle-class African-American man toward a younger, more privileged, racially mixed couple is a potentially interesting subject, fraught with bitter history and complicated sexual politics. But Bernie Mac did more with the topic in a few throwaway moments of the lamebrain comedy ‘Guess Who’ than Mr. Jackson manages in all of ‘Lakeview Terrace.’ Abel’s resentment of Chris and Lisa exists in a political and cultural vacuum, and turns out in any case to be explained by an episode from Abel’s past that will make your jaw drop (or ache from laughter) when it is revealed. Mr. Jackson’s glowering, bellowing performance is so close to self-parody that I had to check the end credits to make sure I hadn’t been watching Dave Chappelle doing an extended version of his Comedy Central impersonation.”
“Then, you know, something happens. In this case, the something is mostly Samuel L. Jackson, who, as a mysterioso avenger, arrives barking his lines and wearing the latest addition to what has become a notorious collection of extreme hairpieces and looks. Snow white and close cropped, Mr. Jackson’s hair in this film dominates its every scene (it’s louder than the predictably voluble actor), rising out of the visual and narrative clutter like a beacon. It glows. It shouts. It entertains. (It earns its keep.)” [Manohla Dargis]
“Really, though, the character, played with his usual fearsome wit by Samuel L. Jackson, is a tried-and-true Hollywood stock figure: the selfless, spiritually minded African-American who seems to have been put on the earth to help white people work out their self-esteem issues…To their great credit, Mr. Jackson and Ms. Ricci understand that the relationship between Lazarus and his prisoner has its comic side, and some of their scenes together — as when he takes her for a walk in his garden, using the chain as a leash, or when she is reeled in across the porch like an angry wide-mouthed bass — play out like kinky screwball… Mr. Jackson, rarely bothered by characters that make no sense — he was the star of both John Singleton’s ‘Shaft’ remake and ‘Snakes on a Plane’ after all — redeems Lazarus with his wily professionalism, much as Terrence Howard redeemed DJay in ‘Hustle & Flow.'”
“At once hard-working and hardly working, Mr. Jackson turns in one of his customary performances, meaning that he glowers, barks and periodically unleashes a 13-letter epithet the way only he can.” [Dargis]
“Mr. Jackson acts with his usual steely authority – his Coach Carter is so convinced of his righteousness that he never needs to be nice – leaving it to the younger cast members to supply warmth and levity as they absorb his stern lessons.”
“After sitting through ‘Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,’ I’m tempted to quote an evergreen Public Enemy song: don’t believe the hype. Only Mr. Jackson, Frank Oz (the voice of Yoda) and, later, the formidable Christopher Lee seem comfortable in their performances, perhaps because they know better than to take the proceedings too seriously.”
Around the time of “Attack of the Clones” you start to see fewer and fewer of the current Times bylines on Sam Jackson movie reviews; it seems like Elvis Mitchell was assigned the Sam Jackson beat in the early 2000s, reviewing everything from “Changing Lanes” to “xXx” to “S.W.A.T.,” and he hasn’t been at the paper in many years. If Jackson were holding a grudge against him or anyone else from that period, it’d be pretty odd to air it out now, and in this way.
Is there enough here to warrant a public flogging? That depends; how short is your temper? There are more than a few negative reviews in his filmography, but when Jackson himself is criticized in the Times — which isn’t all that often — it’s more for his taste in material than for his performances. But maybe that’s what pissed Jackson off. One might assume he only does movies like “The Avengers” and “Star Wars” and “Jumper” because those are the ones that come with the biggest paychecks. Perhaps that is true. Or perhaps beneath the macho bluster and the badass swagger, Jackson is actually a giant sci-fi nerd like the rest of us. And, as we well know, sci-fi nerds can often have very thin skin.