The Beauty of “I Liked It, And”

Okay, internet: I liked Age of Ultron.

Saying so feels almost like a confession of wrongdoing. In particular, articles concerning Black Widow tacitly assume that if you call yourself a Black Widow fan, you probably hated the movie and her portrayal in it (hint: I do call myself a Black Widow fan, and I didn’t. This is not the post where I am going to dissect that reaction, if I ever do.). It has become almost stylish to find ways to mock, pick apart, and generally decry everything about the second move in the Avengers franchise.

And I liked it. I haven’t talked about this much for a simple reason: there seems to be an assumption that my making that statement is the end of the conversation, or that in making it I am somehow overlooking or ignoring all the Problematic aspects of the film. And honestly, some of that is my fault – when met with a torrent of negativity about something I genuinely enjoyed, I tend to get defensive, and try to focus on the things I loved, because, well, everyone else is already yelling about the bad things. I am too busy making a space for myself to have enjoyed the piece of media to feel like I am able to discuss the problems I may have had with it.

However, recently I was fortunate enough to have a conversation with a good friend of mine about Age of Ultron, in which I found myself able to express the things I didn’t like: that I felt the Bruce/Natasha romance was clumsily executed, that I felt the movie suffered from overly severe editing and uneven pacing that affected both plot and character development, that the Hulkbuster scene went on way too long and wasn’t, really, all that necessary. And yet also, at the same time: I loved the scene where Black Widow reaffirms her commitment  to heroism by sacrificing her chance for personal freedom (by way of kicking Bruce Banner into a hole). I loved Wanda Maximoff’s character arc and her growth into a hero in her own right. I loved the relationship Natasha had with Clint Barton’s family – that she was so clearly an intimate part of their lives.

None of these things cancel each other out.

I have struggled a great deal on the internet with the difficulty of liking something that has issues of one kind or another – that is problematic, in the now almost parodic parlance of Tumblr. I have done a great deal of “I liked it, but”, a kind of protective caveat: “I know this thing has issues but I still liked it! Please don’t hurt me!” There is a certain brand of activism, and criticism, that takes problematic aspects as a condemnation of the whole. It is the yourfaveisproblematic mentality that prohibits nuance and understanding that a flawed whole can still have redeemable parts, or that a piece of media that might be capital-p Problematic might still have meaning for people beyond its issues.

I’d like to consider changing “I liked it, but” to “I liked it, and.” I’d like to push for a conversation that’s inclusive, rather than exclusive – that leaves room for people like me, who want to critically examine media without condemning it. A conversation rather than a declaration. If something is irredeemably awful, why bother engaging with it? For me, the best critical discussions tend to come out of love.

I liked it, and here’s how it could have done better. Here’s what didn’t work for me.

I’m tired of criticism that doesn’t give me space to love something even as I struggle with it. In many ways, that’s how I keep going. Sometimes before I can dig into everything that went wrong, all I want is a moment to say, “yeah, that made me feel good.”

Then we can get into the hard stuff.

Further Reading: Okay I sort of lied about not wanting to talk about my Black Widow in Age of Ultron feelings, here have a link to someone else’s Black Widow in Age of Ultron feelings with whom I perfectly agree.

Oh yeah, and this piece: I kind of want to retire the idea of being a critical fan.

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