Anti-Rotten Tomatoes Movement Misses The Mark — An Opinion

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It was fairly late Monday night after the Suicide Squad screening when everyone had finally assembled for the group Skype call with Disney. Variety and The Hollywood Reporter had been there before everyone else, and BuzzFeed was trying to convince us they'd been there first but was having "connection issues". ScreenCrush came in at the same time as GeekNation and the Nerdist. A few others, and then it was time; everyone had loved the film, but now we had to get the marching orders. Kevin Feige and his assistant was on the call, which was no surprise because they wanted to make sure we knew how important it was to have a focused message between everyone. "It needs to die, and die fast." It was a simple message, and one we'd heard before. Usually a few people on the call would be tapped to be the ones to really write what they felt just to make sure there's variety in the mix, but not this time. If we got the ratings aggregation under 15%, everyone would get a free day at Club 33. Hardwick whined about how much he loved Margot Robbie, and how he couldn't let her down after the promises at Comic-Con only a week ago. But in the end, we all agreed, it would be best for the Marvel Cinematic Universe if we nipped it in the bud — and so we logged out of the call and started to write…

The above scenario is how the howling DC-fan-villagers think it happens every time a new entry into the emerging DC Films universe is released. A Change.Org petition has even been started calling for the shutdown of Rotten Tomatoes due to the piss-poor reviews it's been getting. The fact that the RT score is an aggregate of critic's review ratings from a myriad of sources including both new-media as well as traditional outlets seems to be lost on them. Even if RT were shut down, it wouldn't change the dozens of source articles, all of which readily surface during Google searches.

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Historically reader rage against reviewers has been of the level of, "you're an idiot," or "did you even see the same movie." In recent years things have changed, with the level of venom against women writers far outstripping that focused against male writers (even when the reviews are effectively the same — women get the rape and death threats, and men would still get, "you're an idiot.") With Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, the devoted fans of the maligned film lashed out at all genders with death threats. On the one hand, it's nice to see that the trolls are striving for more gender balance, but on the other they seem to miss the point that making such threats are illegal as well as less than well mannered.

There is nothing more defining in geek culture as the schoolyard argument of who would win in a fight — Plastic Man or Mr. Fantastic, Lobo or Venom. Everyone has things they love for different reasons: it could be from critical taste or simply whichever character they came to know and be fans of first. Somewhere along the line the ability for someone else to have a differing opinion has been completely lost; as if one person's dislike of a film made it impossible for another to see it and enjoy it utterly.

There will undoubtedly be many people who genuinely love Suicide Squad as one of the best films of the year, just as there are those who found Batman v. Superman to be the best superhero film ever to grace the silver screen. At the same time others will think that neither film is worth the price of admission, even on a Dollar Tuesday.

A large part of the pro-DC fandom are fans at this point simply because they're expected to be, in much the same way that Marvel fans had to endure the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. desperately hoping the next episode would finally be good. Think how long Marvel comic fans have had to wait for two genuinely good X-Men films back to back (which they've never had two of in a row and will have to wait for at least two more).

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The MCU has hit a particular stride which hasn't been matched in other superhero films. The challenge for the competing studios is that they're trying to be the MCU, rather than worrying about their own product. It'd be like Chevrolet trying to make a Tesla because Teslas are cool; they might make an electric car, but it won't be very good because they don't yet get it. It might take a good while to come up with their own take on it, rather than trying to just make an electric car, but with their own company's strengths. DC's comics aren't Marvel's comics; they have their own flavor and mix of humor and drama. The MCU regularly churns out films that non-fans can see and enjoy by seeing just that one film, while Warner Bros. has yet to make a film that resonates in the same way. Suicide Squad was supposed to have been that film. The possibility still exists, of course, that it might wind up being the door through which legions of new faithful rush though to discover the wider DC universe.

Plenty of reviews have discussed why Suicide Squad isn't what it could have or should have been: studio meddling, the wrong director, a poor script, too rushed, too focused on Harley's bootie shorts. But none of them caused the issues mentioned, they simply wrote about what the experience was for them as a moviegoer in the seats.

Once upon a time, film and television critics were by and large a stodgy sort of lot — they liked concept and art-house pieces and derided sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, or anything not about someone who'd gone through World War II with some kind of debilitating injury, only to help out a family along the way. Those times are long gone and the vast majority of critics today are film and television fans first and foremost. That often applies not just to critics but also to those in the entertainment industry. From creative teams everywhere to J.J. Abrams to Kevin Smith to Dwayne Johnson, the number of self-proclaimed fans of genre entertainment who now are part of the creative process on both sides of the camera cannot be overstated.

These people, creators and critics alike, love the genre: they love film, television, comics, music, etc. If they could make every review glowing about the incredible creation each piece is, they would, but the job is also to talk about how each product fits into the zeitgeist of the time. The role is to help inform readers and viewers of how well (or not) each release does at achieving its relative goals.

With few exceptions, critics who went into the press screenings this week were desperately hoping that they would walk out shouting to the heavens how wonderful the film was. It wasn't. Instead they had to sit in front of their monitors in the wee hours working up how to let their readers know that the DC drought continues and the wait goes on.

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About Bill Watters

Games programmer by day, geek culture and fandom writer by night. You'll find me writing most often about tv and movies with a healthy side dose of the goings-on around the convention and fandom scene.
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