Mean Critics

I have a weakness for mean reviews. Not clever takedowns or smart rebuttals — I mean no-holds-barred demolitions, swarthy and impolite, a little belligerent, a little arrogant, often rather crude, never content to use a scalpel if there’s an option to use a chainsaw. It’s not that I generally prefer the cruel-in-tenor — on the contrary, in general, I abhor viciousness and incivility. But the best mean reviews are thrillingly spirited — much of it born the easy way, of aggression and apocalyptic vision, sure — but they possess a certainty and energy that’s far harder to capture in positive reviews, or, heaven forbid, anything that could be described as “mixed” or “nuanced.” There are times when nuance, frankly, just doesn’t interest me. Give me vitriol and provocation, sweeping dismissals and devastating put-downs!

I say all this mainly because Reverse Shot, the net’s foremost repository of sneering cinema-crit bile (and I mean that in the best possible way), has just published a wonderfully mean review of Mongol. If you’re in the mood for a good thrashing, I urge you to read it. Here’s the opener:

Mongol marks a personal first for this reviewer: a bloated epic so boring and unengaging that by its numbing conclusion (the word anticlimactic can only be used for stories that actually build) he was zapped even of the conviction to hate it. An international co-production that probably broke the bank of several film companies from Russia, Germany, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, and 2008’s official Academy Awards foreign film entry for the latter country, Mongol is one of those violent, historical blockbusters that have been multiplying like swamp rats (Gladiator, Apocalypto, 300) ever since the head-slapping enshrinement of Braveheart by the Academy back in 1995.

The ensuing years have seen the action scenes get sloppier, the connections to actual history looser, and the cliches thicker to the point where a fourth-rate derivative like Mongol can’t even compete on the basic level of spectacle with its forebears. For a film riding on adrenaline it’s an amazingly dispiriting affair, so inept in humanizing its legendary protagonist, Genghis Khan, and uninspired in its portrayal of marauding chaos that it fails to provide the simple sugar rush of the most competently empty-headed of adventures—Mongol is instead the crash that comes after.