By Kevin Jagernauth | The Playlist July 17, 2012 at 12:03PM
Warner Bros. gave the thumbs up on the floodgates to open on reviews for "The Dark Knight Rises" yesterday, and for the most part, advance notices have been strong. We gave the film an A grade and critics from Variety, The Wall Street Journal, Time, Rolling Stone, HitFix, Empire and more have all given their stamp of approval on Christopher Nolan's finale to his Batman franchise. But as we mentioned earlier today, some folks have had the audacity to dislike the film. Christy Lemire from the Associated Press, Christopher Tookey at the Daily Mail and Devin Faraci at Bad Ass Digest are among those who have weighed in negatively, but Marshall Fine at Hollywood & Fine had the unfortunate distinction of being the first one online to offer a voice of dissent. And the reaction was both extreme and embarassing.
Scores of fanboys hit the comments section at both Rotten Tomatoes and Hollywood & Fine to mash their shaking fists of fury into their keyboards. At one point the traffic was so high, Hollywood & Fine's site crashed, and as you might imagine, comments were vitriolic, even though it's a safe guess the majority of the infuriated nerds hadn't seen the movie for themselves. (In fact, many critics haven't caught the film yet either -- Roger Ebert and many more see the film tonight/) The situation got so out of hand, and the comments at times so offensive, that Rotten Tomatoes had to issue a statement of sorts, noting that in the interim they would be closely policing feedback under the negative reviews for trolls/general idiocy and that in the long term, they will "move to a Facebook-based commenting system that doesn't allow for anonymity."
But spending (a rather depressing few minutes) skimming through the comments of Fine and Lemire's review, and jumping over to the IMDb discussion boards (even more depressing), it becomes apparent that there is an unhealthy obsession over the film's score on Rotten Tomatoes. And it's something we've seen not just with Nolan's film, but in how the relative merits of movies in general are being judged on a system that already takes the arbitrary nature of grading a movie, and makes it even more arbitrary. The very nature of aggregating the "scores" of a movie in a reductive system of "fresh" or "rotten" essentially renders that score meaningless by the very simple fact that it removes any middle ground. Films are either fresh -- or not -- and it's both damaging to rounded critiques of movies and meaningless all at the same time.
For example, Playlist contributor James Rocchi gave "The Dark Knight Rises" a carefully considered 3 out of 5 in his review for Movies.com. According to RT, that means the movie is Fresh, but for Nolan fanboys, he might as well have declared it was the worst movie of all time. But in actuality, Rocchi said the movie was both "flawed" and "pleasing," the kind of nuance a punch card movie rating site doesn't allow for. But all you have to do to get an indication of just how silly this whole game of watching aggregated scores can be is just see the vast difference in ratings between Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic (which uses what they argue is a more weighted system) for the same film. RT declares "Moonrise Kingdom" at 94, while MC says it's 84, while "Madea's Witness Protection Program" comes in at 22 vs. 42 split. Is Wes Anderson's movie not as good, or Tyler Perry's slightly less awful as result? What is the difference between 22 and 42? What do those numbers even mean?
Grading a movie, or assigning it a score, is already a tough job for movie critics. Does an A for "The Godfather" mean the same as a 9/10 for "The Hangover" or 4 stars out of 5 for "After Hours"? No, absolutely not. Not to go into the boring details of what the many considerations a movie critic pores over before assigning a score, but the idea that a review can be broken down into a yay or nay, and then ranked from best reviewed to worst is problematic from the start (just look at the IMDb Top 250 -- which has thrown "The Avengers" into the 44th slot -- as another example of random ranking) and negates a variety of factors.
All this to say: don't get bogged down in (for lack of a better word) "statistics." Find a few reviewers you like and whose opinion you trust and read them regularly. Even more, read reviews that don't agree with your thoughts on a movie. But don't let a number or letter or star determine the value of a movie for you before you go see it, and learn to be critical even of movies you do like. And guess what? People are going to dislike movies you love. Someone is going to fucking hate "The Dark Knight Rises." Armond White will probably say "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" was much better. And that's okay. At the end of the day, your feelings on a movie shouldn't be swayed by an aggregated score, and if it is, then you're a fan of popular opinions, not of movies.