I’ve noticed something as an entertainment consumer here, lately. More often than not I find that I’m directly opposed to the ‘smart takes’ from the critics who we’re supposed to consider experts in the field.
Justice League has been getting trashed in the press, one way or another, since the project was announced. The original director, Zack Snyder, stepped down due to a family tragedy, and was replaced by Marvel Cinematic Universe alum Joss Whedon.
After the film previewed, the “Rotten Tomatoes” aggregate score of critic reviews of the film stands, as of this moment, at a rather dismal 41%. One of the (to my mind) positive things the site has done in recent years is to display the audience reaction for contrast, and there’s an interesting disparity at play here.
The audience rating for Justice League is considerably higher than the aggregate of critical reviews. In some ways you could regard this as a big, “so what”, but it’s fairly well-recognized at this point that low Rotten Tomatoes scores can suppress audience turnout. A prime example was the recent Mummy remake, which ended up a box-office bomb with a mere 16% critical reception at RT. Audience reaction was, again, much higher, and having seen the movie, I do think some of the criticism is over-the-top. It’s not horrible, and that’s coming from a huge fan of the Brendan Fraser series.
So which way do I lean in terms of Justice League? It was a good, fun, romp. It’s a bit of a tonal shift from the previous films in the universe, and what’s funny there is the critics bashed DC for the grimdark seriousness of films like Dawn of Justice, then bash Justice League for its lighter tone. The new Thor movie had a similar tonal shift, but didn’t get nearly the criticism for it. Not sure why, but I thoroughly enjoyed both movies.
The CGI is a bit jarring at times due to the need to digitally erase Henry Cavill’s mustache during reshoots. But (and this will probably garner me some grief) it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the awful CGI of Ares at the end of Wonder Woman. Doesn’t change the quality of the movie, but it does show just how much special effects have spoiled us in recent decades.
The story is, perhaps, a bit faster paced than I might like – but that comes with the caveat that I loved the director’s cut of Batman vs. Superman. So that’s entirely up to taste.
I was dubious of the casting for the Flash, because Grant Gustin is just so appealing on the TV show, but darn if Ezra Miller didn’t pull it off.
All said, the audience reaction is right in line with my take. Justice League is well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.
As to the second aspect of the headline – Rotten Tomatoes. It has gotten to the point where the power it holds over the success and failure of movies exceeds its quality. In a way, it’s funny that the site grew to the point that it did.
Consider this – Rotten Tomatoes looks at a few hundred reviews of a movie. There’s no one set style for reviews. Some critics do thumbs-up/thumbs-down, some use numbers, some use stars. So RT interprets those as “fresh” or “rotten” and produces its score. In a sense, the site generates tomatoes from a collection of apples, oranges, and bananas. The comparative scores aren’t equivalent.
And yeah, more often than not it’s a poor barometer of audience reaction. The Orville is a prime example.
The critics hate it. The audience loves it – and I’m among that number. The show is, in my humble opinion, the best Star Trek show since DS9. It’s a great sci-fi throwback, with a bit of humor akin to The Office thrown in for good measure.
Another, less extreme example is The Punisher.
Big disparity again, even with the higher tomato score. I’m only halfway through the second episode, so I couldn’t even begin to guess the reasoning behind it.
In the past, Rotten Tomatoes was my go-to in terms of making the decision between theater and waiting for rental. Anymore, though, I’m finding that the audience score gives me a much better metric to go by.
Rottentomatoes disparities seem to be getting worse. Certain sorts of movies just don’t seem to get decent reviews these days, especially fantasy movies. And I worry that hurts good movies that might otherwise do ok at the box office (thus meaning we get fewer fantasy movies than we ought to). Legend of the Sword, which I love, has a 29% critic rating and a 69% audience rating, for example. Looking back, on the other hand, Highlander has a 70% critic rating and a 79% audience rating. I can’t imagine Highlander getting anything like 70% from critics today (and, going to your point about turning qualitative reviews into a fresh/rotten binary, the blurb for almost every review is pretty tepid).
There definitely seems to be a disconnect between the ratings for “fun” movies and the sort of stuff that wins awards. Justice League is not going to win any Oscars, but it’s FUN. I’m glad they have the audience metric in there, because for me the critical reviews are of next to no use.
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