“I rebel.”

Star Wars Rogue One

Source: Screenrant (via Google Image Search)

MINI-RANT: Summer Movies 2016 and Low Review Scores

“This is a rebellion, isn’t it?  I rebel.”  This line comes from the upcoming Star Wars Story: Rogue One movie and it is perfect for the way I feel right now about review scores and many (not all) reviewers this summer.  Let me be clear: I am in FULL rebellion mode.  I no longer trust reviewers to give a good unbiased opinion as to whether a (summer) movie is good or not for 2016.

As an example, here are some numbers from Rotten Tomatoes (at the time of this writing): The Legend of Tarzan (Critics 36%, Audience 71%), WarCraft (Critics 29%, Audience 79%), X-Men: Apocalypse (Critics 48%, Audience 71%).  Metacritic isn’t much better: I checked a Metacritic score for a movie (I believe it was Independence Day 2: Resurgence) and found that a “reviewer” gave it a 0 rating!  Zero, really?  As an educator who has graded a ridiculous amount of student work, I know that zeroes SHOULD be reserved those who don’t turn in the assignment.  If you turn something in, you get some credit for it, if just for attempting it.  I’m not giving the reviewer’s name nor linking to his review as I don’t want to give him “hits” for the review.

These are gaps of 30-40 points with a 50 point gap on the extreme end.  Are critics so out of touch with their audiences’ expectations, or is something else to blame.  To me, this goes far beyond giving a negative review to a product you don’t like and delves into the realm of propaganda.  You don’t like something and you don’t feel anyone should like it, so you bash it and badmouth it to the point where it can’t make enough money to survive in the marketplace.  How else would you explain the Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice numbers?  BvS (Critics 27%, Audience 66%).  Compare that to Captain America: Civil War (Critics 90%, Audience 90%). Again, all numbers are at the time of writing.

<Sarcasm tag on>Wow, would you look at that?  A movie that the critics liked and want to see more movies made in that style happens to match almost identically, some might say magically, the audience rating.  What a strange coincidence!<sarcasm tag off>.

In reality, if reviewers are really doing their jobs and objectively looking for things in the movie that were well done and things that were off-putting, then the audience and critics should be nearly in lockstep (within, say about 10% of each other to account for various tastes in the marketplace.)  Let’s see if this holds true: Secret Life of Pets (Critics 75%, Audience 69%), Independence Day: Resurgence (Critics 31%, Audience 36%), Central Intelligence (Critics 68%, Audience 70%), Conjuring 2 (Critics 79%, Audience 85%).  If critics were as out of touch with their audiences as the BvS and WarCraft scores indicate (among others) shouldn’t The Secret Life of Pets be off by 20 or 30 points?

This is why I’m rebelling.  I’m going to see the movies that I’ve already determined that I want to see irregardless of the critical reception.  I may be swayed by the audience reaction should an audience score be much, MUCH lower than I anticipated, but right now, as a group I feel that many mainstream “reviewers” are not trying to even be objective about some of the movies that are releasing this year.

In closing, I think I’ll mention the review that I saw of Batman v Superman the night after I saw it in the theaters (yes, its gotten SO bad that I don’t even watch the reviews until AFTER I’ve seen the movie for myself).  One reviewer called it “a mess” and couldn’t wait to talk about how bad it was.  Yet, I enjoyed it and my mother and stepfather who grew up on the golden age Batman and Superman comics enjoyed it.  So, I’m left to wonder, was the movie really that bad, or are you (as a critic) tired of Zack Snyder’s “style” because its the same “schtick” that you saw in 300 all those years ago (which was a “revelation” back then because it was NEW) and now you want to punish him and DC/Warner Brothers (which is all this particular reviewer really seemed to want to do).

So, until review scores get back in line with (what I feel) are audience expectations, I’ll trust my own judgment on what is good and bad at the movie theaters.  Does that mean that I’ll probably see a “clunker?”  Probably, but at least I won’t miss a truly spectacular movie because a reviewer has an axe to grind (aka Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) or even a fun summer popcorn movie (aka WarCraft).

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Batman Vs Superman Review (No Spoilers!)

Batman v Superman

Okay, so (like Star Wars: The Force Awakens), I wanted to wait and take a moment before posting my (non-spoiler) review for Batman vs. Superman (BvS).  Unlike, Star Wars:FA, it wasn’t so much because of spoilers, but for other reasons which will become clear in a moment.

I LIKED IT

First, this blog post is not going to be one of my more popular ones–I already know that even as I’m typing these words because I’m going to go against “popular opinion.”  I actually LIKED the movie (quite a bit, actually).  I don’t use the “A” movie (Exceptional)/”B” movie (everything else) paradigm that you seem to hear (aka A-List talent vs B-List talent, or triple A movie vs a B movie).  When I rate things, I’m doing so using the scale that universities use for their semester grade reports:

  • A (Superior/Exceptional)–You’ve gone above and beyond in order to create something few could achieve.
  • B (Above Average)–This is a good product with some minor flaws that detract slightly from the overall experience, but is still better than many would achieve.
  • C (Average)–This is “good enough.”  You’ve done just enough to meet the requirements, but haven’t done enough, but have too many flaws to be better than others like it.
  • D (Below Average)–Not up to “standards.”  This has too many flaws, isn’t crafted well, or ignores requirements.  It is well below what most can achieve.
  • F (Failure)–Simply put, unable to succeed.  A product that is lacking in nearly every respect.

After seeing it, BvS for me is a B (Above Average).  It better than a “typical” action movie (I’ll get into why I think so in a moment).  It is competently made (i.e., it holds to the western philosophy of BME–Beginning, Middle, and End.  It has a Protagonist & Antagonist.  It has rising action, it has a climax, it has falling action, and it resolves.)  It follows Fryetag’s Triangle perfectly.  For that reason alone, it should not be rated lower than a C.

However, the critics would have you believe that the movie is a D/F and that it fails on many different levels.  And the justification just isn’t there for me.

OPERA IN MOVIE FORM

I liken the movie to an Opera.  It is a long movie (over 2 hours and 30 mins) and much of the first part is setting up the Batman/Superman, Bruce Wayne/Clark Kent dynamic.  But this a movie that is larger than JUST a comic book movie.  It touches on contemporary real world elements such police brutality, the nature of God and man, what it is to be a hero, what it is to be a above the law, discourse vs unilateral action, what it means to be a democracy, and what it means to be good/bad in today’s “modern” society.

All of this is in a “comic book” movie.  Critics slam this as being too much, having too many plot threads, “a mess,” as I heard one reviewer put it.  No, its not a Marvel movie, but then DC isn’t Marvel.  They have always done things differently than Marvel.  Many critics seem to be slamming the movie NOT because it is a bad movie, but because it is not a MARVEL movie and doesn’t use’s Marvel’s “template” for movies.

BvS isn’t as good as my current favorite Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but it WAS more satisfying to me than Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It wants to have a conversation that the critics don’t seem to want to have in their “comic book” movies.

DC MYTHOLOGY

If you like graphic novels, see the movie.  If you like comic books and are up on your DC mythology, see the movie.  This movie includes a LOT of knowing nods and scenes to those who like comics (DC comics and graphic novels and properties) and does NOT try to explain to those who don’t.  I caught several striking scenes from various DC media: Injustice: Gods Among Us, Batman: The Dark Knight by Frank Miller, various BvS Graphic Novels, The Flash (TV show, current version), and others.

The iconography is striking, but there too, the critics want to complain.  Zack Snyder (the director) is “style over substance,” I heard in more than one review.  But that is what Snyder is KNOWN for.  300 was NOT a “great” movie when you get right down to it, but it was a visually striking movie.  Why is that not good enough now?  Because it’s a KNOWN quality about him now.  Only if you’re NEW and FRESH do the critics seem to take any notice.

WHY THE DISCONNECT?

I’m linking to a YouTube video to help explain what’s going on with the review scores.  Basically, the Youtuber is correct: there is a contingent who want to use social media to FORCE Warner Brothers to cater to them (fans) or those who want to punish the movie in some way (critics).  I’ve seen this before in other mediums: MASS EFFECT 3 for video games comes quickly to mind.  Many fans hated the ending of ME3 and social media outcry FORCED Bioware to go back and “redo” the ending of the game.  This is what I feel is happing here.  However, this has been building since World War Z, Man of Steel, Jupiter Ascending, and most recently, Gods of Egypt.  The Youtuber ‘s (Grace Randolph) channel “Beyond the Trailer” is one that I’ve recently found) and she does a great job of quickly of explaining a lot of my problems with the critics for BvS, in particular.  It’s short–only 13 minutes long and very informative:

Beyond the Trailer (Special Report BvS)–Grace Randolph

There is nothing inherently wrong with the movie.  It should be getting B’s and C’s.  Not the D’s and F’s that it is currently getting.  This is a good movie, with some flaws that keep it from being exceptional, but not one that should be denigrated as a failure.

The Good, the New, and the Problem (. . . with reviews)

So Destiny has released and I’m absolutely loving it (yes, Destiny is why I missed a blog entry last week.  So sorry!)  🙂

The game is AMAZING and I’ve reached the “soft” level cap of 20 just today.  I enjoyed  Mass Effect 2 and 3 on the Playstation 3, but looking at their backgrounds, I said to myself that the verisimilitude just wasn’t there yet.  There was a mission where Commander Shepard goes against an AI and the mission was awesome, but the backgrounds just didn’t sell it.  The backgrounds looked flat, almost painted.  The system just didn’t have enough resources to truly replicate an alien world, plus alien sky, plus character actions and shooting, plus enemy actions and shooting and everything that the Mass Effect 2 and 3 were trying to achieve.  I told myself that the “next” generation of systems would capture that realism much better and that is what Destiny has done.

Yet, many reviews (and reviewers) have called Destiny mediocre.  They say that it is a mediocre shooter that has simply taken some of the trapping of a MMO (massive multiplayer online–like World of Warcraft).  Many reviewers claim that Destiny’s success is simply based on hype and marketing (although I can’t help but remember that Bungie ALSO created Halo for the Xbox and that didn’t get the same criticism, but now that Bungie and Activision have a preferred marketing agreement with Sony, now that criticism is being raised, but that’s a blog entry for another time . . .)

My problem with reviews, and by extension, many critics, is that we the audience want the GOOD, while the reviewers and the critics prize the NEW.  And unfortunately, the new and the good are not necessarily mutually compatible.

Reviews and reviewers face a problem–they live in a world that doesn’t match reality.  You can see it easiest in movie reviews (especially those who are “film” critics as opposed to “movie” reviewers), but many reviewers (professional and amateur) fall into the same trap: they seem to prize the new and innovative irregardless of actual quality.   Reviewers see many more films, are sent (or must purchase) many more games, comics, food, or whatever is being reviewed.  Many (not all) people seem to have problems watching a movie more than once–for them, seeing how the plot will unfold is the gold mine.  Once they’ve watched it, they KNOW what happens and they are satisfied.  Now magnify that for reviewers–they’ve watched the buddy cop movie over and over again (with different actors in different roles), but they are seeing essentially the same movie.  Same with many genre pieces–by default, a Fantasy movie is going to have some element of magic to it, that’s what makes it a fantasy.  Same with Science Fiction–there are certain tropes (robots, aliens, spaceships, future, past, etc) that are associated with Sci-Fi.  Sure, you can vary those tropes, but they still have to be present in some way at some level or you don’t have a Sci-Fi story.  Thus, many reviews note the novelty of something.  It’s doing something new and different from the rest, and that to many reviews seem to be the ultimate goal and that many reviewers seem to prize.

However, most audiences want the good.  Most audiences want to know if the movie is a good representation of whatever type of product or genre of product is being reviewed.  Generally, we don’t get to see movies all day long.  We have finite resources.  We need information from someone who has seen it, played it, read it to make an informed decision.  Is it good, is it worth spending money on?  Yes, it can be innovative, but that by itself doesn’t guarantee quality.  Audiences seem to have a higher tolerance for repeated types of media so long as they are good.  For instance, it has taken years for the Western to go out of favor.  The Western was a staple of the movie industry from its beginnings to well into the ’60s and ’70s, but slowly fell out of favor starting in the ’80s and ’90s.  There are always a few attempts to test the audiences’ reaction to Westerns (Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven are two notable examples), but the Western as a genre is still moribund in movies (although there have been TV series that have become fairly popular and the Western seems to be making a resurgence there).  Right now, thanks to CGI, the genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction have risen to a new prominence.  (Yet there are still critics out there who refuse to give credence to ANY Speculative Genre work–not to slander, but I think the magazine was Film Comment, but I could be mistaken, but if I am correct, I challenge you to read that “magazine’s” review of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  I couldn’t do it because the reviewer’s prejudices against the fantasy genre were on display (again, if that is the wrong journal, I apologize, I tried to read the review at the library and the library no longer has the paper issues of that particular magazine so I can’t fact check the way I want . . . but based on their feature Trivial Top 20: Worst Winners of the Best Picture Oscar, I’m pretty sure they’re the right magazine–take a look at #22 on the list).

Brandon Sanderson has a great comment on the nature of criticism in an Epilogue entitled “Of Most Worth” in his novel The Way of Kings.  Paraphrasing, one of his characters speculates on what we prize most and, no spoilers, says that it doesn’t matter so much as what is created, but rather what is created first.  This is the same with many critics–they are so busy looking for the new that they overlook the good.

I personally want to know if something is good and I find myself at odds with reviews and reviewers.  I’m using Destiny as an example of something that’s good that critics don’t like, but I do, so I’ll use Bioshock as something that the critics like, but I don’t.  I don’t care for the way it tells its story (through audio logs that you pick up along the way), I don’t care for the grimness of the world, and didn’t much care for the way the story was unfolding.  Another game that I didn’t like was Red Dead Redemption for many of the same reasons (audio logs excepted).  But to the critics, the games were new, innovative–we’d never seen anything like this so it MUST be good and I simply disagree.  Just like I disagree with the assessment that ONLY being great makes a game mediocre.  I just can’t make that leap.  A great game should be great irregardless of whether it is doing something new.  The same is true with other media.

I missed seeing World War Z at the movie theaters because I relied on the reviews saying that the movie was only mediocre, only to buy the Blu-Ray and watching and being BLOWN AWAY by the amazing storyline that was only slightly hampered by its ending (the set pieces were awesome).  I still find myself wondering what it would have looked like in IMAX 3D.  What I learned from that was that there are some things that I’m predisposed to like, so irregardless of the reviews, I’m just going to go and get it (within reason–if the reviews are ALL unanimous and one of the criticisms is incompetence, then it would be foolish to ignore those sentiments.  I’m talking about those things that I like that I already know critics aren’t going to like).  For instance, Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie that I’d made up my mind to see back in the spring when the trailers first started hitting the internet REGARDLESS of the critical reception.  That the critical reception was mostly favorable was a nice surprise, but I was going to see it no matter the reception.  I like Marvel movies, I like Science Fiction, I grew up in the ’80s so I know the songs in the movies, and I like the actors.  I was predisposed to like the movie, so as long as the movie was competently put together, I was going to enjoy GotG on some level.

Please don’t get me wrong–this isn’t a diatribe against reviews, reviewers, and/or professional critics.  I just think there is a disconnect between the ideas of revolution and evolution.  Many critics seem to want revolution while many audiences prefer evolution.  We don’t mind revolution so long as it is good.  Critics seem to eschew evolution for those revolutionary ideas irregardless of the quality of the ideas.  Destiny is a fine game–it merges the old (first person shooter) with the new (MMO elements–not found in shooters) and the makers of the game (Bungie) deserve far more credit than they are currently getting for their efforts.  As much as we value Revolution, our world is an Evolutionary one.  Yes, new ideas are important, but so too are the refinement of the ideas that we already have in order to create a synthesis between the old and the new.