March 28, 2016


Hey there, person I made up. How ya doing? 

- Well, I'm pissed off. 

Why's that? 

- Critics, man. Fuck 'em. Did you see the reviews for BATMAN V SUPERMAN? They're total horseshit. 

How so? 

- They're overly harsh and completely out of tune with public opinion. Did you see the audience score on Rotten Tomatoes? Clearly, the critics are out of touch. When there's this much disagreement, what's the point of reviews anyway? 

Well, a review is one person's subjective opinion on a piece of media. It can be an in-depth critical dissection of how a film is constructed, complete with a discussion on subtext, cultural relevancy or philosophical underpinnings, or it can just be a simplistic overview on how the reviewer felt while engaging with the media. That's pretty much it. It's an elucidation of an opinion. 

- Yeah, but what good are reviews? 

I don't know about you, but I don't have an infinite supply of money or time. Sometimes it's helpful to read reviews so I can get an idea of what a film is like before I decide to make a ticket purchase. I can't always be sure that I will share a critic's opinion. They might hate it but I might like it or vice versa. But it's no different than if I asked a friend or a colleague for their opinion or recommendation. Reviews, especially when aggregated on a site like Rotten Tomatoes, can act as a buyer's guide. Plus, they're fun to read. 

- So I'm supposed to trust a person I don't know to tell me if I'll enjoy a film? 

A positive review is not a guarantee that you'll like a movie. That's not something that can ever be guaranteed. A review is just an individual's recommendation. Again, it's no different than asking your Facebook friends or neighbors. I can however guarantee that if you gathered up 100 people and asked them for their opinions on a film they have all seen, you would not get a 100% consensus. You would have, in smaller or larger numbers, a variety of opinions ranging from great to awful. And when someone asks YOU for your opinion on that film you just saw, your opinion would become just one more opinion in a great big stew of opinions. I mean, can you honestly guarantee me that I'll like the movies you recommend? No, but you liked them so I might like them too, right? So if we don't expect all people to agree on anything, why would you expect audiences and critics to completely agree on any given film? 

- Yeah, but the difference is so vast this time and I simply cannot fathom why that is. 

That's kind of tricky to determine. For example, look at two other movies recently released. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 is currently at a 24% critics score versus a 68% audience score. LONDON HAS FALLEN is also at a 24% critics score and a slightly less audience score of 61%. Going back a bit, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION has a critics score of 18% and an audience score of 51%. Those are all significant differences. But TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION has 222,643 audience reviews and only 180 critic reviews. MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 has 106 critic reviews versus 11,029 audience reviews. LONDON HAS FALLEN has 156 critic reviews versus 25,799 audience reviews. Maybe if there were more critic reviews, those numbers would be higher. Maybe not. But it isn't exactly surprising that audiences sometimes reach different consensus points than critics. Look at the horror genre. 

- But why is that? Why do critics and audiences disagree so much? 

I don't know. Maybe it's because people like different things. Though like I said, this kind of massive gulf isn't either unusual or unexpected, especially when it comes to a franchise films or adaptations. 

- I think the reason why critics scores are so low is because critics don't “get” these kinds of films. 

See, that's what I like to call Genre Apology. That specific line of reasoning is what I call the Argument from Faux Intellectualism. We live in the day and age of Marvel movies, which are well made and well received products. When DEADPOOL is sitting at an 84% fresh rating, you don't get to tell me or anyone else that critics don't “get it”. That's a bullshit rationalization that's been around for ages. “Critics don't get horror movies therefore they review them poorly”. I'm very sorry to burst your bubble, but critics DO get it. They just don't like it. I personally hate most of the FRIDAY THE 13TH films. Do I not “get them”? I assure you, I get them just fine. There's no deeper meaning to these films. This is Sean Cunningham for Christ's sake, not Antonioni. 

- Fine. But they're clearly not fans and this was a film made for fans. 

Let me put that to bed real fucking quick. There is no such thing as a 250+ million dollar movie made “for the fans”. No movie is made “for the fans”. Movies are mainstream products. They are made and marketed to all sectors equally. And besides, do you really think there were no Batman or Superman fans in that batch of critics? I've been reading DC Comics since I was a kid and I personally disliked BATMAN V SUPERMAN. Am I not a fan? This is analogous in a way to the “well, if you read the book...” argument, or what I like to call the Appeal to the Bigger Picture. I don't know how many times I've been told that if I just read the source material, all my complaints about an adaptation would disappear and I would recognize just how good a film was. 

I'm sorry but no. A film is a self contained entity. Appealing to source material is a weak argument. Would some critics have changed their mind if they had The Dark Knight Returns and The Death of Superman committed line for line to memory? Maybe. Maybe not. It's irrelevant. A film stands or falls based on its own merits, source material be damned. And really, if we're going to be arguing about the merit and value of reviews, would you really want to read a review written by someone so completely blinded by fanboyism that they have no real critical ground to stand on? Reading that review would just be confirmation bias to a fanboy and useless to anyone else. 

- I just think the critics went into it expecting something different. I think their expectations were too high. 

You say that as if it's a bad thing. You bought your ticket expecting a decent time at the theater, didn't you? Are you seriously telling me you expected to be disappointed? Then why even bother going to see it? 

- All I'm saying is maybe they should have lowered their standards a bit. 

Fuck off with that. If I have to “lower my standards” to enjoy your movie, YOU HAVE MADE A BAD MOVIE. That is what I call the Argument from It's All Your Fault. BATMAN V SUPERMAN has been in pre-production since the days of Nolan's Batman trilogy. It boasts several Oscar winners and nominees. It cost over 250 million to make. It had ample time in editing to fix all the numerous plot holes and disconnects. It's a major release from a major studio. And it's a mess. How exactly is that MY fault? Why is it MY fault that I didn't like THEIR movie? Perhaps if we stopped lowering OUR standards and demanded that the studios raise THEIR standards, movies would be better. 

- Well, I liked it and audiences seem to agree with me, not you. 

And that's fine. I'm not the one ranting about this online. You are. So why exactly does it bother you so much that critics dislike BATMAN V SUPERMAN? Why are you not upset that critics seem to dislike MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 or PAUL BLART: MALL COP? I would have to wager it's because you're a fan. There's an old saying that people will defend to the death that which they spent money on. Same goes for properties they really like. It's the reason so many people are upset whenever a remake is announced. They feel some kind of ownership of the property and when critics (or anyone really) rips it to shreds or just says “this is crap”, the gloves come off. Believe it or not, BATMAN V SUPERMAN does not need your defense. It's doing just fine. 

- Yes! It is! So again, what is the point of a review? That means the movie is good! 

Look, BATMAN V SUPERMAN was NEVER going to be a box office dud. Never in 250+ million years. But that's an Argument from Popularity (I didn't coin that one). AVATAR broke all kinds of records. So did THE FORCE AWAKENS. So what? That means a lot of people went to see it. It says nothing about how good a film is or how well it will be remembered. Also, just because someone bought a ticket, that doesn't mean they enjoyed the film. 

- But critics are smug bastards trying to tell me what I should or should not enjoy. 

No, they're really not. They're telling you what THEY enjoy. It's a recommendation, not a mandate. If a critic's review bothers you so much that it angers you, you might want to think about why that is. Because the problem is not with the critic. It's all you. 

- Well, I trust the audiences, not the critics. 

Isn't that just a reversal of your issue? Since when does audience approval mean that something is good? Are there not films in existence that are beloved by millions but you personally dislike? I can think of a ton them. I hated AVATAR, for example. I hated AGE OF ULTRON. Those have high critic scores AND high audience scores. So I guess I'm doubly wrong in my opinion. But please, use whatever reasoning or tool you want. Be an informed consumer. If you want to trust the audience score over the critic score, do it. That's what it's there for. But have a little consistency. When you go to see a movie with a 75% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and it sucks, rage about that too. 

- But I don't trust critics to tell the truth. They just want views. Panning a film is a way to generate interest in their review. 

Top critics are top critics for a reason. They're set. They're getting paid one way or another. Believe it or not, critics actually care about their reputation. They are not going to risk panning something just for clicks. Hell, MAN OF STEEL is sitting at an 84% critic score right now. You remember that movie, right? The one that caused a massive stink from comic book fans? If they cared at all about nerd cred or mainstream approval of their work, they'd be issuing apologies for that one right now. Only they have nothing to apologize for.

This reminds me a bit of the whole shitting controversy caused by the Rooster Teeth podcast when the hosts lambasted Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb over his “negative” review of the console edition of Fallout 4. Gerstmann spent some time in his review discussing technical issues the console editions had while praising virtually everything else, giving the game 3 out of 5 stars (unlike Fallout 4 on PC, which he gave 4 out of 5). The podcast hosts shit their beds over this. Why? Because to them, a 3 out of 5 was a “bad review”. It went against the trend of 4 to 5 star ratings. They attacked Gerstmann's credibility (which he has plenty of, by the way; he's been doing game reviews for years), accusing him of writing a negative review for publicity, accusing him of being some kind of fake intellectual game snob. Does that behavior sound familiar? 

- So the critics are not to blame for anything here? This is all about me? Is that what you're saying? 

Yep. I mean, seriously now… what could there possibly be to “blame” the critics for? Having the wrong opinion? Are you that insecure in your own opinion that you need it to be critically approved? To me, this is a great big "stop hating what I like!" internet moment. 

- I just think critics are done. They're obsolete. 

No, they're really not. There's a world of knowledge you can discover through film criticism. The day and age of newspaper-employed film reviewers might very well be done, but that isn't the end of film criticism. If you care at all about film as an art form, film criticism is your very best avenue towards a well rounded appreciation of cinema. 

- But I don't care about film as an art form. I just want to watch movies. 

Then go for it. Ignore the reviews. If you think film reviews are pointless, useless garbage, don't read them. But again, be consistent. Next time you watch a movie, keep your opinion to yourself. Don't type it up on Facebook or Rotten Tomatoes. After all, if you did, you'd be acting as a critic, right? The very thing you declare obsolete. I mean, you're not seriously going to argue that there's some intrinsic difference between an amateur critic and professional critics, are you? Because the only difference is the latter has a word quota and a paycheck waiting for them on Friday.

- So everyone is a critic? 

Fucking A. Your opinion is no more or less valid than mine. Try not to get so butthurt when people don't agree with you. Go enjoy what you want to enjoy. No one can stop you.

And with that, I'll be off now. I have reviews to write. Isn't that why you're here, after all? To read reviews? You know, those things you think are pointless wastes of time with no real relevance or purpose?

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