The Problem is not Rotten Tomatoes, The Problem is Film Outrage Culture

promotional still courtesy 21st Century Fox
promotional still courtesy 21st Century Fox 

As reviews for “Dark Phoenix” show it to be a poor film, fans are not sure what they are upset about.

This weekend sees the release of “Dark Phoenix”, the culmination of the 21st Century Fox “X-Men” franchise. Many fans are actually relieved over this, as many have regarded the Fox treatment of the property to be a mess. (Not more so than the same studio repeatedly butchering “Fantastic Four”, but similar.) There is anticipation that Disney’s purchase of Fox means those characters will now be under the guidance of Marvel, and proper development can finally take place.


Currently there is a brewing outrage though, as “X-Men” does have its core fans, and they seem upset that “Dark Phoenix” is being lashed by critics in general. On Rotten Tomatoes the film is sporting a dismal 22% approval, after more than one hundred reviews have been tabulated.

At The Playlist Charles Barfield gives voice to this outcry, by suggesting that the issue here is people are rooting against the film by circulating the tally. If you simply report that critics are trashing the film then you, and Rotten Tomatoes, are part of the problem. There are many amusements to be had in this mindset. Not to dump entirely on Barfield, he is simply giving voice to what many are saying.

But those that are carping over the reviews are in direct opposition to the last superhero controversy that took place on RT, just months earlier. When “Captain Marvel” was poised to be released there was concern over a surge of fans indicating on the site they did not want to see the movie, as a result of the social activism comments made by star Brie Larson. The site reacted by closing down its feature where readers could indicate if they did or did not intend to see the film.

Defenders were stating that trolls were flooding the site with negative reviews to a movie they had not seen, just to damage its prospects — except that was not what took place. Many simply indicated their lack of desire; those were not reviews. Regardless, the news cycle filled with the claim that these audience impressions had to be shut down, and only legitimate reviews were to be heeded. Now the call going out is that we should dispatch these critical pans and instead listen to what the audience thinks.


It appears the only constant in all of this is that anything less than praise for a movie is problematic.

To say that there is a divide between the passions of movie fans and the aesthetics of film critics is by no means me being revelatory. There is a long tradition of critics hating a release that fans embrace, and titles receiving uniform praise from the professionals that get spurned by the audiences. These dichotomies cycle throughout the calendar year but seem especially pointed during the summer blockbuster season.

This is typified currently by last week’s #1 film, “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”. The movie mavens have largely given the film a downgrade, but the audiences have actually enjoyed it. Is a rampaging leviathan destroying the city of Boston while contending with other mutated behemoths the apex of cinema? By no means. It is what I have called “Big Gulp Films” — a bloated, oversized, content-free affair that could leave you queasy after consumption. I also would recommend it as giddy summer fun.



What is taking place is that fans of established properties like comic book films have a built-in passion. They regard these properties emotionally, and that irrationality is compounded by art being subjective. This generally means a fan’s devotion is unlikely to be swayed by a divergent critical analysis. And just as likely it could lead to the imbalanced reactions we have been treated to in recent years.


How else do we reconcile that in just the matter of a few months we are told first to only trust the impressions of professional critics, then we should dispatch the reviews of professional critics? Fans should read reviews and digest the content, rather than reading statistics and reacting.


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