Movies today are coming out in greater amounts than ever before, and being scrutinized more heavily than any time in history, reflecting an appreciation for an area of art which can be observed from all angles and by all audiences, with products that can be loathed by one person and beloved by another; or at least, that’s what it should be like. But as time goes on, I find this becoming increasingly less true, and that begins to concern me. Despite greater promotion of ‘individualism’ than ever before, the age of the internet and social media sees the potential for bandwagoning and playing sheep at a level higher than ever. It’s often easier to simply go along with someone else’s opinion to spare you fighting about it or looking like a fool when you’re one out of hundred who liked that movie, or who thought that that thing everybody was gushing about wasn’t all that great. You’ll be labelled a troll, unintelligent, unreasonable, or completely out of ‘the know’ if you disagree with the majority, and, accordingly, the internet is a prime place to see people either bootlicking or bashing movies to their last breaths; yet when promoted, they can’t even tell you what they liked or disliked about it. They disliked it because…well, everybody else did. And that isn’t how film, let alone art, should work.
WhaI truly believe that sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic can be traced to be at least partially responsible for this problem. To clarify: Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic both work an algorithm which compiles a great variety of critics’ reviews for a particular film, from a variety of sources, and neatly puts them on a page for you to navigate through. That, in my opinion, is actually helpful- it’s the next part we begin to get a bit hazy. From those reviews the site extrapolates an average score, or, for reviews which don’t work scores, determines whether they are to be held as ‘fresh’ or ‘rotten,’ which is then used to compile either a percentage (on the ‘Tomatometer’) or a ‘Metascore’ which delivers an alleged wide scope or value of what a movie is critically worth. Perhaps, that too, can be useful- but there the problem emerges. People waddle on to these sites, see the score, and all of a sudden, their own thoughts out the window, that’s what’s ‘fact’- whether that number is red or green, a gleaming red tomato or a green pile of rotten gunk, determines whether a movie is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
It’s an entirely different debate to enter into the importance of opinions and having them backed up with honest and intelligent consideration (yes, that’s right, you can’t just pull the ‘it’s muh opinion’ card to justify everything you say if you can’t actually back that opinion up- sorry, internet), but at its core this debate revolves around that concept. Art is subjective, and film making is a type of art. There’s a reason reviews exist, and why there’s such a wide scope of them, and that’s because there is no empirical telling of whether a movie is factually bad or good. Accordingly, opinions on film are, and should be, incredibly divisive in a great many cases. Indeed, even the divide between critics and audiences can often be enormous. In many critically ‘perfect’ films, audiences may find themselves horribly bored, or in many movies which critics ripped into, audiences were more than entertained: top critics gave Now You See Me, for example, a 37% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but well over 70% of fans enjoyed it and the film enjoyed a solid box office and good word of mouth. Among critics themselves this division is equally apparent, as at least two of them- without fail, for literally nearly every movie- will disagree. Click between the ‘top critics’ and ‘all critics’ tabs for a lot of movies on Rotten Tomatoes if you don’t believe me. Man of Steel provides a perfect example- where all critic scores compiled give it a 56% approval rating, top critics grant it 62%, the difference between rotten and fresh; audiences, conversely, on release, gave it an A- Cinemascore and it enjoyed positive word of mouth.
Forgive me continuing on the example, but Man of Steel provides the perfect example of a polarising movie, and the importance of self-formed opinions. It would be wrong to suggest that it received ‘negative’ reviews- no. As a point of fact, when actually reading them, they’re simply incredibly divisive. Many of the negative ones have their own valid points. No movie is perfect. Others are basing their ‘criticism’ off of the fact that Henry Cavill is not Christopher Reeve cloned for this movie, that Marvel weren’t the studio who produced this superhero movie, and that a few buildings were destroyed and people actually died when aliens as powerful as Superman set out to terraform the planet. I make no attempt to hide it: I loved Man of Steel. I thought it was fantastic. Plenty of critics- over half, according to Rotten Tomatoes- were also very warm towards the film, from IGN to Empire. I’m not ashamed of that, even if the Tomatometer reads rotten for the movie’s ‘all critics’ section (and even if Rotten Tomato’s Editor in Chief said they couldn’t fathom the score, further demonstrating the subjectivity).
My opinions of this movie’s worth were not constructed through some cold algorithm which disregarded everybody’s likes and dislikes neatly packaged for me at the top of a site. Bear in mind, if you disliked this movie and you can justify it, then good for you too. Perhaps we should all learn from Mozart here- "I pay no attention whatever to anybody's praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings," he wrote. That’s really a fairly accurate summary of how I approach film criticism, and I think in that regard it can be a truly healthy philosophy to adopt. (Though perhaps not when I’m making music, because paying attention to only myself over those screaming at me to shut up may result in literal rotten tomatoes being thrown at me- Mozart didn’t have to worry about stuff like that).
Man of Steel also provides the perfect example of bandwagon mentality in action. With an A- Cinemascore and positive word of mouth on release, this began to shift as critics were harsher on the movie; people suddenly didn’t want to be seen as liking it, because then they might be in the minority. Everybody else seemed to be ragging on it and nit-picking it…so why shouldn’t I have? Well, because I liked it an awful lot when I saw it, that’s why, and even after considering many different opinions I stuck to that belief, because I found it to be substantiated and reflective of my honest opinion.
Now, after the second Batman v Superman trailer, which was indeed amazing, a lot of comments show people gravitating back over to Man of Steel’s side. As someone who loved the movie, it’s admittedly nice to see, but for a lot of them, they still can’t exactly tell you why they disliked it in the first place, or why they like it now, because they haven’t actually considered that. If you’re among those like the person last week who’s argument as to why Man of Steel was a ‘terrible movie’ was “Rotten Tomatoes only gave it 56%, then perhaps you need to reconsider your approach to cinema, if you’re going to engage in any sort of criticism. If you disliked this movie, but you had an honest good think about why that is and whether your criticism was fair, then good for you. Anyone who switches on their mind and honestly considers a film is to be applauded.
In Armond White’s words, “(sites like Rotten Tomatoes) offer consensus as a substitute for assessment,” - if you’re going to venture into critiquing a film and suggesting whether it holds any worth, then you owe the filmmakers, actors, writers, editors and every last person who works tirelessly to bring these movies to you the simple decency of using your mind and making your own opinions beyond just a lifeless number, whether you dislike the end result or not. But these are useful tools to an extent, as I’ve said. Film reviews are there to be read, to be taken on board and to form opinions and ideas from. Perhaps, though, without sounding overly arrogant, it might be better if the reviews were compiled on these sites literally for that purpose- to be read in one convenient location, for those who are willing to put the effort and comprehension into actually reading them. Not to be colour coded and deemed ‘rotten’ or ‘fresh,’ so that someone can come along and say ‘oh, this movie only got 20%. Won’t be seeing that” - so that people can get a genuine scope of what movies are about and what critics liked or disliked. Rarely is a review entirely bad or entirely good, and so to dump into it into either ‘rotten’ or ‘fresh’ from the start seems a little unfair to me. The best reviews, I have always found, are the ones which write place far more stock in their criticisms than the final score, which is merely placed there as an honest means of accessibility and easy way of measuring enjoyment.
Film criticism, in my not so humble opinion, was not created to create a grade or a ‘score’ as if it was a piece of work being submitted to a teacher, with a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Film, at its core, is subjective. Criticism was created to reflect that- to provide opinions and ideas, to analyse and observe, but not necessarily to mark or to label as ‘bad’ or ‘good.’ To use what is indeed a horribly rotten cliché, one man’s trash, after all, is another’s treasure. Even on movies with a 14% approval rating, about as ‘rotten’ as they come, 14% of people still actually liked that movie. Are they any less right than you, simply because you stand with the majority? If the majority’s belief was always to be held as truth and fact, then I guess the Great Wall of China can be seen from space, and the Earth is still not spherical- that’d be impossible, right? My plea is simple- use these sites as a basis for forming intelligent and substantiated opinions and to get a scope of what everybody else thought, by all means, but don’t ever think you can base your ‘reviews’ off what the Tomatometer says- you’re better off, if you’re going to behave like a sheep, not to have an opinion at all.
In Mark Twain’s everlasting words, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” If you liked a movie, or if you hated a movie, and you can back that up with fair, as objective as possible criticism, then all the power to you and your intellect. That is the way cinema works, the only way that filmmakers will actually put stock in what people say (trust me, directors do not hold the anonymous, ‘anyone can rate’ IMDb score as an indicator of their movie’s quality), and, accordingly, the only way movies can continue to be perfected and bring us what we want to see. The way we can debate movies among each other and have our own favourites which directly contradict our friends’ - the discussion which a good movie spawns. Don’t ever let a score tell you what you ‘should’ have thought of a film, or act as some sort of factual, objective indicator of its quality, or that flare and passion for cinema will simply disappear.
What do you think of this article? Fresh or rotten? Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments.