No, There’s No “Marvel Conspiracy.” But, Yes, Everyone Is Full Of Shit.

8 Aug

So, here’s what happened… 

This weekend saw the global release of the motion picture Suicide Squad. And, not surprisingly, its release was greeted with less than stellar reviews. More than that: It was greeted with uniformly terrible reviews across the board. People calling it one of the worst superhero movies ever made, worse than Batman v Superman… Worse than Fantastic 4… A terrible, piece of shit movie, they all seem to assure you. Most of the critics that write for reputable newspapers and magazines didn’t use “piece of shit,” but the gist was clear: “Suicide Squad sucks.”
 
RT.jpg 
 
Its critical consensus score on the review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, that a lot of people are keen to put way too much stock on as being meaningful, is 26%. A terrible number, yes. And the number on Batman v Superman – released theatrically earlier in the year – is really not much higher. It is 27%.

So, naturally this is feeding into the fire of everyone’s favorite current geek conspiracy theory: “Film Critics Are Biased Against Movies Based on DC Comics Properties!” Or… “Marvel Studios Is Paying Critics Off To Give DC Films Bad Reviews While Always Praising Marvel Movies!”
 
Nerds2.JPG
 
Neither of those things are true, by the way. 
 
Not remotely. 
 
Not at all. 
 
It also isn’t true that there is a “war” going on between Marvel Studios and Warner Brothers. If this were the case, Batman v Superman would’ve opened on its originally intended May date, on the same weekend as Captain America: Civil War. But, of course, the people who make these decisions are businessmen. And they understood that it did no one any favors to cannibalize each other’s audiences for the sake of publicity. So, again, no. The only “war” seems to be going on within Internet message boards: where the film nerds and comic geeks can spit bile at each other over all this nonsense and argue about their horseshit conspiracy theories.
 

Cap v Stark: Dawn Of The One People Liked

 
That does not mean, however, that Rotten Tomatoes is a clear indicator of a movie’s worth. Or that critics are completely unbiased pillars of objective film analysis so, if they say a movie sucks, it most definitely must suck. A movie “sucking” is usually semantics anyway. A movie’s true worth must always be measured within its own individual parameters, not in relationship to other movies. And not based on a person’s mood at the time of watching a movie.
 
But we don’t live in a perfect world. And movies are seldom analyzed in this way. Which is why someone could potentially go on a message board or blog and say something like: “Out for Justice is not as good a movie as Goodfellas.” This statement is accurate. But it is also completely ridiculous. Because to rate a film like Out for Justice using the same parameters as you would for Goodfellas would be insane. This line of thinking also leads to an improper concept regarding film ratings. Where, for instance, a critic might give – say – Deadpool four stars. And then give Grave of the Fireflies four stars. And someone might ask: “So you’re telling me Deadpool is as good as Grave of the Fireflies?
 
WTF 
 
I publish my film reviews on Letterboxd.com, which uses a five-star rating system. If you go on that site, you will see that both The Godfather and The Lego Movie received five star reviews from me. Now… Whatever that means, I’ll leave up to you. But I hope you’re smart enough to understand that I’m not actually equating those two films.
 
However, you can equate – say – this summer’s Ghostbusters with this summer’s Suicide Squad if you are so inclined. 
 
And I’ve picked these two examples because they are both comic, fantastical action films with controversial histories. And they were both reviewed through specific prisms that affected their critics’ perceptions.
 
I’m going to run some numbers now, bear with me… 
 
Ghostbusters has a 73% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes and, let’s remember, Suicide Squad has a 26% “Rotten” rating. So, yes, it is clear which movie critics have preferred. What is not clear, once you see the movies themselves, is why.
 
Some criticisms that have been thrown in Sucide Squad’s way: It is a bit of a jumbled mess, with a thin plot, a weak villain, a chaotic and nonsensical cgi-laden climax; and only the charisma of its ensemble – with a couple of particular scene stealing standouts – to keep it afloat. 
 
So… It is garbage.
 
 RT.jpg
 
Well… I’d like to posit that you can say the same exact things about Ghostbusters. It also has a barely there “plot” that exists only to serve its ensemble of comic characters, it also has a pretty weak villain, and it also climaxes in a cgi mess… Meanwhile, the leads are all charismatic comic performers. And one of them in particular – in this case – Kate McKinnon, walks away with the picture.
 
 
 
Now here are some numbers that are never really talked about when discussing the Rotten Tomatoes ratings. The audience scores. 
 
In the case of Suicide Squad72%
In the case of Ghostbusters59%
 
Suicide Squad had a very strong, somewhat front-loaded opening weekend of 135 million dollars. Some are arguing, then, that it will now struggle to have legs because of toxic word of mouth. But the fact is, 72% of an audience approval rating does not exactly imply “toxic” word of mouth. And the fact also is that Ghostbusters is struggling at the box office after a not particularly strong opening weekend. 
 
So this tells me a different story. And what it tells me is that critics may have liked Ghostbusters, but audiences didn’t love it. And critics may have hated Suicide Squad but, for the most part, audiences seem to be embracing it.
 
Let’s put it in a clearer perspective… 
 
Suicide Squad – Critics say: 26% / Audiences say: 72%
Ghostbusters – Critics say: 73% / Audiences say: 59%
 
And, just for shits and giggles…
 
 
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – Critics say: 27% / Audiences say: 65%
 
So anyway, here’s what I think…
 
Most critics are not objective. Simple as that. Because people, in general, are not objective. And critics, at the end of the day, are people just like anyone else. Except they get paid to watch movies and write about them. They have specific tastes with regards to those movies and they like to think they have an open mind and they’re going to judge each film on its own merits. But they see tons of films. In just one month, chances are, they will see more films than the average moviegoer sees in a year. And it is that much easier for them to be burned out by the films they see.
 
But they also don’t live in a vacuum. They consume the same mass media anyone else does. They are aware of the hype, positive and negative, surrounding big blockbuster releases. And they are also aware – early on – of a general consensus… All of these things factor into how they will perceive and judge a film. 
 
So, this is what happened… In the months leading up to the release of Ghostbusters, there was a lot of awfulness directed towards that film by the MRA community, as well as just general internet assholery. Namely: “Who let the girls into the clubhouse! Oh fuck these girls. They’re stealing all our toys! First it was Star Wars, now it’s this! What’s next? Get these girls out of here!” And so on.
 
 
 
The trailer for Ghostbusters was released to a generally underwhelmed response. Some would say: “Yeah… It’s a poorly cut trailer, none of the jokes are landing… It just doesn’t look that great. Kate McKinnon is the funniest thing in the trailer and will probably be the best thing about a mediocre, bland movie.” Others would say: “The trailer sux, yo… Melissa McCarthy’s fat! And she isn’t funny and fuck these girls and fuck this movie.”
 
But, basically, the negative hype overwhelmed reason to the point that the general cultural narrative among the film literate was: “People are hating on Ghostbusters because they’re sexist and they hate that they remade Ghostbusters with four girls.” And that became, basically, the number one reason people were hating on Ghostbusters before it came out.
 
So, naturally, to hate Ghostbusters was to be a sexist asshole.
 
 Ghostbusters.jpg
 
And, of course, no male critic wants to be seen as a sexist asshole. Because, if you live and breathe on the Internet and are a custodian of our culture, it means you are progressive. It means you can never in any way be seen as sexist, racist, conservative or any of those things. No way in hell, mister. That’s not me.
 
So, of course: “Hey, I LIKED Ghostbusters! It’s got a few pacing issues… The villain is unremarkable. But these are four hilarious, talented women headlining this movie and it’s great that we can have blockbusters like this aimed at a female audience and the original Ghostbusters is hardly a perfect film anyway… And this is the summer kick we’ve all been waiting for. I get it. I’m with it. I don’t have anything against this blockbuster film starring these four beautiful women… Oh, and by the way, Kate McKinnon is the best thing in the movie.”
 
 
And, I just want to let it all out there, I’m sort of making fun of myself a little bit too. Because here is MY review of Ghostbusters
 
That would get a Fresh Rating on Rotten Tomatoes I think. 
 
Now, I’d like to think my approach was fair and reasoned. I spotted that the film was paced like Hell…and had an inconsequential storyline. But I also conceded that its stars are extremely capable comic performers and, as a result of their charisma and chemistry, the film is nonetheless a very watchable entertainment.
 
But maybe a part of me was being as reactionary as anyone else. I don’t know. All I know is I like to think I am a progressive thinker and am not sexist. I’m also not naive enough to to think that all it takes to prove that is one lousy movie review.
 
So what happened with Suicide Squad? Here’s what happened… Batman v Superman happened. 
 

DC v Marvel: Dawn Of Hyperbolic Bullshit

That movie came out a few months ago and it shit the bed so royally with most critics that the short release window between the two blockbusters was not enough for them to wash the red out of their eyes. 
 
In the past, they had been willing to overlook certain flaws: A thin plot here and there, unremarkable villains, an uneven tone… Because “Oh, what the hell… This is all in dumb fun, it’s kind of cool to see a comic book world brought to life on the big screen anyway… These actors are having fun. It has a bunch of action… It isn’t boring… Yeah, what the hell… I’ll give it a pass.”
 
And that’s how a pretty mundane, bland, relatively unremarkable and mediocre adventure picture like Thor can get by with a 77% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
 
 
 
It may have come after a not so well received picture like Iron Man 2. But it wasn’t right next door. And it wasn’t coming onto the saturated market we have today (a market, which it helped create by the way) and – at the end of the day, even though no one will cite Iron Man 2 as their top Marvel movie, it still got a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, again, even with all of its problems… Even as it is desperately trying to set up the Marvel Universe film franchise, while also telling its own adventure story… Even with its half-assed poorly utilized villain and a ridiculously unsatisfying 10-second final brawl… Even when the only thing it really has going for it is an eagerness to please and the charisma of its stars… Critics were okay with it. It’s honestly not a very good movie, but critics were okay with it. And, what the hell, so were audiences. For the record: Audience rating on Iron Man 2 is 72% – EQUAL to the critics. (And on a par with Suicide Squad, but that’s neither here nor there.)
 
 
But now… It’s like we get ten of these fucking things every year. And not all of them are great. In fact, most of them are frankly not that great. And, in some cases, they’re bloated incoherent messes that are too pretentious and gloomy to even be dismissed as “fun.” As was the case with the theatrical version of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. 
 
I’m saying “theatrical” only to make a superficial personal distinction. Because, much like most critics, I didn’t care for Batman v Superman when it first came out…  Here’s my review, if you’re curious.
 
But then, I saw it again in its “Ultimate” 3-hour cut. And I noticed a much improved film. Here’s my review of that.
 
Both versions of the film are slightly bloated and, yes, pretentious. But one at least functions within its internal logic, tells a coherent story and is – like it or not – the film the filmmakers wanted to make.
 
But anyway, the point stands. If you didn’t care for Batman v Superman, you didn’t care for it. Period. It wasn’t the flavor of ice cream you wanted. Fair enough. And, yes, a lot of critics simply did not care for it. And then, just a couple of months later, they had to sit through another one of these damn things from the same studio and – very likely – the same “ethos” or whatever… So they just weren’t having it.
 
 
 
And they didn’t have to worry. They could hate on it all they wanted. You know why? Because to dislike Suicide Squad carried no sociopolitical weight. It’s a mixed cast and it was written and directed by a man, so I’m not sexist if don’t like it. And, besides, most critics are hating these movies anyway… So, it’s okay… I’m in good company. I can go ahead and pick it apart and see all of its flaws and give it a truly unforgiving bad review and no one will be any wiser… And, just to be on the safe side, I’ll point out how it has sexist characters… I’ll point out how the only two main characters that die are minorities. Because I am progressive. I’m not racist. I’m not sexist. And I want people to know that. I didn’t like this movie because it sucks, oh and by the way it also sucks because it has these racist, sexist things in it. Oh, but props where they’re merited, the female lead is sensational…she deserved a better movie.
 
 
So, yeah… It’s horseshit, basically, is what I’m saying.
 
Look. This doesn’t have to be complicated. Because it isn’t. These are all just movies at the end of the day, and you’re either going to like them or you won’t. There’s no magic formula and there are no conspiracies. There’s just a saturated market with burned out film critics being fed the same regurgitated nonsense every week. 
 
But, if you insist on placing any stock on Rotten Tomatoes to guide your moviegoing choices, here’s an idea: Stop looking at the critics score as an indicator. Look at the audience score. Because the truth of the matter is always going to be somewhere in between. Even if we can agree that Suicide Squad is not a great movie, there’s no way you can convince me it’s uniformly terrible or significantly worse than any number of blockbusters that have been let through the cracks in the past. 
 
If you see a case where the critics scores and audience scores are on basically equal footing, that’s where you know no one is full of shit in the scenario. But, if the difference is large…make a calculation and take out an average…because that’s a more accurate reflection of the truth.
 
And here’s a little prediction for you: In a little under a year (In July of next year, in fact) Wonder Woman will hit theaters. This is another Warner Brothers action picture from a DC comics property. 
 
 
And I predict it will get good reviews. I predict its Rotten Tomatoes score will be in the 70% range. And, if it’s actually a terrific movie, then that number will be higher. But I don’t expect it will be greeted with the same toxic critical response that met this year’s batch. 
 
It has a couple of advantages. The main one being it is the first DC movie being released that year (The second, Justice League, bows in November and, if my prediction of Wonder Woman is correct, you can expect Justice League to get a more positive reception than Batman v Superman did as well. Maybe not 70… Maybe upper sixties. But expect lots of “course correction succeeded” type of reviews). Another advantage is Wonder Woman is the first major superhero blockbuster being directed by a woman and with a female lead…and the trailers suggest it is all about just what a kick-ass, independent feminist icon this woman is.
 
So, unless it is simply a horrendous, piece of shit film, it is going to get decent reviews from critics. You, know, like Thor and Iron Man 2 did. Which means, of course, that it doesn’t even have to be spectacularly good. It simply has to fulfill the requirements of being entertainingly watchable.
 
Now… if, perchance, Wonder Woman does turn out to really be a terrible film it will get bad reviews, of course. And, yes, a low Rotten Tomatoes score. But it will have to truly be horrible for that to happen because critics are going to be coming to it with an eagerness to accept it. Because it will be the first of its kind and they will want to embrace something that feels fresh and new. 
 
And, if it’s bad, they will definitely say so. But I expect that – even in the worst of the reviews – Gal Gadot will escape relatively unscathed… And many of them will say something along the lines of: “Patty Jenkins could have done so much more if she’d been given a better script to work with. The action is so well-directed…and it’s a great looking film…” And so on.
 
So, no, there’s no conspiracy.
 
But everyone is full of shit anyway.
 
So, don’t worry about it. Just like what you like. We don’t all have to like the same things. 
 
None of this actually matters.
 
 
There. Now you know everything.
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2 Responses to “No, There’s No “Marvel Conspiracy.” But, Yes, Everyone Is Full Of Shit.”

  1. bill n. August 9, 2016 at 12:29 pm #

    You say Suicide Squad has a RT rating of 26% at the beginning of the article and 27% near the middle. May want to correct to avoid the trolls.

    • Erix Antoine August 9, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

      Thanks! Noted. I don’t really worry about the trolls. But I do care about accuracy and consistency.

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