Why good film criticism hasn't disappeared, despite what Brett Ratner believes
“The worst thing that we have in today’s movie culture is Rotten Tomatoes,” argued American director and producer Brett Ratner recently, wilfully ignoring some of the real problems in the current mediascape.
He was blaming the popular film review aggregator website for poisoning viewers against Batman v Superman, a film he himself had produced. “Now it’s about, ‘What’s your Rotten Tomatoes score?’” Ratner opined to Entertainment Weekly, bemoaning the loss of film criticism as an art, calling back to the glory days of Pauline Kael’s New Yorker reviews.
“And that’s sad, because the Rotten Tomatoes score was so low on Batman v Superman I think it put a cloud over a movie that was incredibly successful.” Why so cirrus, Brett? Let it be clear, Batman v Superman was already toiling under the brumous misery benchmarked by Man of Steel some years earlier, long before any critical take billowed forth a smug smog designed to obscure it from the view.
Batman v Superman is a successful film, Ratner is right there, but only at the box office. It’s a turgid mess, packed with portentous symbolism and po-faced seriousness. Structurally it’s all over the shop, stitched together in a plain and uninteresting style, yet so assured of its momentous importance in the canon of comic-book cinema that the film takes absolutely no time at all to fill in the narrative blanks between its overly long action scenes. Scenes, incidentally, that go nowhere. At least, in my opinion.
My personal opinion is informed by all of the media I have consumed in the lifetime spent before watching it, and the year since. And my opinion, humble or conceited, is offered forth partially because A) that is my job, and B) it’s personally gratifying, even when people disagree, because at least then you know they’re paying attention. An opinion given not to poison and not to cloud. Simply a reflection of what I was thinking there and then, and capable of change.
Everyone’s a critic, the saying goes. Brett Ratner doesn’t quite agree. “What’s sad is film criticism has disappeared. It’s really sad.” Is that true? I don’t think so. You don’t need to look very far on the Internet to find film criticism. It still exists in newspapers and magazines, and magazine TV shows where people still read newspapers. These reviewers are, for some, household names, reliably informed and unwaveringly honest. For others, they are the gate-keeping media elites, St Peters of the multiplex, joyless cranks who hate a mainstream hit and enjoy nothing more than to take a hatchet to the summer tent poles.
But scratch beneath the broadsheet surface and criticism can still be found everywhere. In blogs, on podcasts, in shoddily edited YouTube videos, or video essays so beautifully produced that they serve to raise the potential of every new online medium as a source of pop-cultural reflection. Criticism is, if vast arrays of virtually rendered 1s and 0s can constitute a literal, literally everywhere. Tweets and Facebook posts offer everyone a platform to publish their thoughts on film. The studios even actively promote this, inviting viewers to share their very own say-so, huddled under hashtags.
There’s even meta-criticism, with pop-culture fanatics turning what was once a dictate into a debate, filling comment sections with as much enlightened observation as vitriolic screed. Well, maybe not as much, the Internet is still a pretty miserable place, after all, but if you know where to look and take a left at Rape Joke Junction, there’s more than enough to merit inclusion.
Rotten Tomatoes, infinitely more popular as a metric of critical value across the pond than on this island, exists to serve its own purpose. A commercial website owned by Fandango Media (with Batman v Superman’s Warner Bros maintaining its 30% share), the site gathers together scores of reviews, almost entirely from the American media, to create a nebulous rating that is either, in ascending order of quality, Rotten, Fresh, or Certified Fresh.
Due to the website’s enduring popularity, a Google search for any new or old cinematic release will now come with its percentage rating, either placing the film in the state of Denmark or anointing it to modern masterpiece. It then tries to flog you tickets, its commercial goals far outweighing its critical ones.
Like taste in art, it is up to each person to develop their own taste in art appreciation. Go forth and read reviews everywhere, from Rotten Tomatoes to Newstalk’s own ‘Film & TV’ section, and find the voices that best inform you, even if you completely disagree. Everyone is a critic, but it’s critical to understand that some people are better at it than others.