"There was a time above...a time before. There were perfect things. Diamond absolutes. Things fall. Things on Earth, and what falls is fallen." - Bruce Wayne
That quote that opened the first frames of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a perfect metaphor for what has happened to film criticism as an industry, sad to say.
When I saw Justice League at the fan screening on the night of the world premiere, I was nervous because I didn't know until we got to the theater that the passes had been overbooked to ensure a packed house. I had never gone to a fan screening of a movie before like that. We got to the theater two hours early and the line was still insane. I wasn't comfortable until we got our passes scanned by the WB rep at the door and were allowed into the theater.
Once inside, it was all about finding a seat. We found some good ones up top close to the aisle, but we noticed that there were a large section of seats in the middle of the theater that were roped off as reserved for media and press representatives. That bugged me, to be honest. The idea that even at a fan screening full of people who eagerly want to see Justice League, some of them waiting their whole lives for a movie like that, would still get potentially shutout of the theater because of a bunch of critics who more than likely already had their review of the movie ready in their heads before even seeing it.
That's a pure example of what is now "old world thinking," the idea that movie critics still need to be pandered to and placated for the sake of getting a good review for your movie so that it will do well at the box office. WB and most of Hollywood still largely believes that this is a viable and standard practice to undertake with each of their major tentpole movies, but the reality is that times are changing and this standard system like many others involving the media, is outdated and no longer useful to a moviegoing audience.
The truth of the matter is that professional movie criticism used to be a somewhat reliable resource of opinion and insight for an audience, but now it is a haven of politics, pandering and unbridled pretentiousness in the name of "craft." Perhaps that what it has always been and now with the advent of social media and technology, its true nature has now been revealed to those of us that are paying attention to it.
20 years ago, movie critics were published in the newspaper and there weren't that many of them across the country. A few of them like Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin popped up on television but it was still a very select group of people that were paid to give their opinions on what was coming out at the box office that particular week. When you read their reviews, you actually read their reviews and you could digest exactly what it was they were trying to say without being concerned that it was filtered, even if it was. You didn't always agree with them and in fact, there were some that you didn't like because you never agreed with them. It didn't stop you from seeing the movie if you really wanted to.
Now all of that is a computerized aggregator score on a website that gives you the option of not even reading an opinion on a movie for understanding. In fact, no reading comprehension is even necessary outside of understanding a number, and so much weight is placed upon that number by the industry and by fans of whatever movie it supports positively that a false sense of security has overtaken many who simply don't read reviews anymore but are just concerned with a consensus of them.
But let's say you are different and you actually want to read the reviews in detail. You can still do that, but now instead of a select number of people across the country or locally in your area, you have hundreds, potentially thousands of opinions to choose from and they are hardly a select group. It's really anyone that can write a sentence or make a video these days. Their opinions are also not just motivated by their thoughts on the movie that they saw, they are also motivated by how studios treat them, or by how their website parent company wants them to sound, or by whatever personal motivations that have nothing to do with the movie itself they decide to enter into the conversation in an irrelevant manner. Again, these are all things that have likely been part of the movie criticism process for ages, but there's no hiding it now. The select group has been diluted and everyone's cards are completely out on the table in front of us, brazenly, obviously and directly in many cases.
Social media has only clouded this entire issue further because now not only do those who are anything but professional have a voice for their criticism, but the professionals also have a method of engaging the audience directly and spreading opinions that they might not necessarily put in one of their reviews, though that is becoming more and more loose of a guideline these days. Now audiences can let the critic know exactly what they think of them and vice versa and those audience engagements have become just another motivational distraction that affects a critic's work. When we read a bad review for Justice League, we don't know if that critic hates it because they legitimately don't like the movie or if it's because a group of DCEU fans angered them on Twitter. Maybe they have a friend that also writes reviews and that friend was threatened by a fanboy that went too far, so out of spite Justice League will suffer at their hands of their keyboard and mouse. It's easy for them to say that it has nothing to do with it, but we as the audience can no longer trust that, not after seeing how these exchanges occur on social media, how the critics respond to it and also with a number of them admitting that these experiences factor into a review process when they really shouldn't.
Today, a movie critic represents an obstacle to the audience and nothing more. Their numbers have grown exponentially beyond those of the professional paid ranks, many of them do not treat the process seriously as the craft that it once was largely considered and those that do still consider it a craft are intent on being rather pretentious about it when they speak to us. Indeed, when it comes to a critic interacting with a fan or audience member, the intimation is that we know nothing while they know everything and they are going to educate us on what we should be looking for in a movie. The less insulting reality is that a movie critic simply gives you his or her subjective opinion on what they think about a movie and then you decide if you want to allow that opinion to factor in your own or not. The bottom line though, is that your opinion as the audience member who is paying for the ticket to see the movie that the critic likely saw for free, is the only one that matters to you and that's as it should be. What a critic says in a review, a tweet, a podcast or a video is never gospel and is never fact. They may use facts to support their opinions, but they are still just opinions and they are not needed by you or any other member of the audience to make a decision about a movie you either like or don't like.
Ultimately, we find that the general audience doesn't read these critics nearly as much as we fans do, but that general audience does listen to us fans who will gladly shout from the rooftops that a movie is great or a movie is terrible. They shouldn't take what we say as gospel either, but it is our responsibility to them and more importantly ourselves to make up our own minds about the movies we see, regardless of what any critic says positive or negative about it. We cannot trust the motivations and the intent of movie critics, but we should absolutely trust our own.
Here's hoping that more and more people realize that. Maybe Hollywood will someday too.