Sean O'Connell smiles with copies of his latest book called With Great Power

Sean O’Connell, B.A. 1996, had the great responsibility of writing about one of the most enduring comic book heroes of the last 50 years — Spider-Man. 

O’Connell, who holds a bachelor’s degree in history, is the author of With Great Power. It’s his latest big swing in a career that includes being the managing editor of the popular entertainment site CinemaBlend and sitting on the board of directors for the Critics Choice Association. O’Connell told CatholicU magazine how it all started at the University.

Your book With Great Power covers Spider-Man’s role in film during the last 20 years. What makes the character so endearing? 

It all comes down to his relatability. As was proven in the spectacular film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, anyone can wear the mask. In the best Spider-Man stories, our hero succumbs to very human emotions. He’d much rather date a girl, earn some money working, or study hard enough to boost his grades than put on a pair of pajamas to go out and fight the villain of the week.

You’re working on a Bruce Willis book next. How has it differed from your previous books?

The process has been completely different, which is extremely refreshing. Where With Great Power and my DC Comics book Release the Snyder Cut were interview heavy and dependent on breaking news coverage, Bruce Willis: Unbreakable has been a more critical analysis of his body of work. He’s one of our last great movie stars, and I don’t believe that he receives enough credit for the brave choices and creative risks he took as an actor. 

Could you have imagined when you were at CatholicU that you’d be covering film full time? What were your interests then?

Never. CatholicU didn’t start its Media and Communications Studies program until my sophomore year, so I was only able to minor in it. Dr. Glen Johnson taught those classes in the basement of McMahon, and he was outstanding. I saw every new movie at Union Station, Dupont Circle, or the two-screen Uptown. I just never realized you could make a career out of film passion until a co-worker and CatholicU alum John Gagliardi (B.A. 1996) opened my eyes. We both worked as Admissions officers and would sit around the conference center geeking out about movies. And John told me, “You really should talk about movies for a living.” Boom. The lightbulb went off.

What lesson has stayed with you?

Dr. Johnson’s knowledge only made me want to start over from the very beginning and rewatch everything with a fresh set of eyes. I still apply every trick he taught me when watching and critiquing a movie. I like to think I’ve developed my own voice as I’ve refined my opinions, but it all started in McMahon Hall. 

How has your view of film criticism and reporting changed during your career?

I still believe in film criticism. I think audience members still value the opinion of a critic, if it’s a critic they trust because your tastes line up. But I always encourage everyone to be the ultimate judge. Go see what you want to see. Engage with it. Embrace or reject it. Film is art. Art is subjective. And critical debate is timeless! 

You met your wife at CatholicU. How did that happen?

Michele (LaMontagne, B.A. 1997) and I were a year apart. During my junior year, I was a Parent Orientation Adviser for the Orientation program. Cynthia Lee Morris ran an incredible program, and we were all so proud to be a part of it. Michele was an Orientation Adviser her sophomore year, and I noticed her out of the crowd of smiling, happy OAs. That was part of the gig. You had to be a bubbly people person to greet all of the nervous incoming freshmen. Anyway, Michele and I arrived for a training program, and we both were the last ones in line to grab breakfast in University Center West. There was one orange juice container left, and I demanded she take it. She tells me that’s the moment that she knew. This was 1994, and we’ve been together ever since.

— M.P.