If you thought the discourse about Todd Phillips’ Joker was tiresome before the movie was actually released – from baseless threats of movie theater mass shootings to the director claiming he was chased out of comedy by the “woke”- you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Following the actual release of the film on Friday, a bizarre conspiracy theory began to emerge: That film critics, either out of left-wing political bias, affinity for Marvel over DC, and/or out of anger that Joker director Todd Phillips had been critical of “woke” critics of his style of comedy, were actively seeking to undermine the film.
The evidence? Joker received overwhelmingly positive reviews when it premiered in early September at the Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded the Golden Lion. The reviews that arrived this week, when the film opened wide in the United States, were still positive but more mixed, bringing the film’s Rotten Tomatoes critics score down to around 70% as of Friday night. That meant its score was still positive and in the “Certified Fresh” category, but occasionally dropping out of it throughout the day on Friday as more reviews trickled in. Others have claimed that critics were responsible for pushing the rumors about “incel violence” at Joker screenings with the active intention of harming the film.
This is all, needless to say, ridiculous and baseless, just whining, bad-faith, victim-mongering idiocy. It’s built, more than anything else, on willful and ignorant misunderstandings about how film criticism, film festivals, entertainment media, and Rotten Tomatoes work.
For one thing, a film receiving rapturous notices at a film festival and then more tepid reviews once it enters general release is something that happens all the damned time, starting with just about every “Sundance hit” of the last 15 years.
While I agree that the fears of incel violence were somewhat irresponsible, it wasn’t critics, for the most part, who pushed them. It was the more generalized entertainment media (and even the federal government) that pushed that idea out there more so than the critics.
There Are Many Critics
“Critics” and “the media” are not a monolith, and one group of critics liking a film and another group disliking it is not hypocrisy – it’s disagreement, and film critics have been known to sometimes disagree with one another. Critics don’t get together after screenings to hammer out a party line; more often, they argue, and depart the theater still in disagreement.
And those two Guardian reviews, which are so different before and after the Phillips comments? It may be because they were written by two different critics, one at the film festival and the other at the time of release.
Critics don’t get together after screenings to hammer out a party line; more often, they argue…
The Rotten Tomatoes critics score for Joker has changed since the film played at Venice and Toronto, for the simple reason that only a couple dozen critics reviewed the film at the festivals. Since the film screened for critics around the country and beyond the week of release, that number is now up to nearly 400. What was a small sample size is now a much larger one.
Why was there a sudden influx of reviews on October 3 and 4? Probably because that’s when the movie was released, and therefore when most of the reviews appeared.
What Critics Don’t Think About:
And no, critics are not driven by any particular esoteric motivation that you think they’re motivated by. As someone who is a film critic, belongs to two film critics groups, and is friends with a great many other film critics, allow me to provide an exhaustive but only partial list of things that just about no critic I know cares about in the slightest, or gives any consideration to, when writing their review:
– Which corporation owns the studio that’s releasing the movie
– The movie’s place in Marvel vs DCEU fan feuds
– The movie’s current or future Rotten Tomatoes critics score
– Whether the movie’s expected box office performance might “vindicate” or “contradict” the conclusion of our review
– What the director of the film might have said in a recent interview that we may or may not have read
– The possibility that our review might serve to “destroy” or “cancel” a film or its filmmaker
These are all things that fanboys care about a great deal more about than critics do.And perhaps most laughable of all is that most of the vitriol about this arrived prior to the movie’s release, when the majority of those starting fights online on Joker‘s behalf had almost certainly not even seen the film yet.
A Thought Experiment
But let’s posit for a moment that all of the conspiracy theories were true, and that the entire film criticism profession for some reason has aligned against Joker, Todd Phillips, and the DC cinematic universe, with the active intention of harming them.
My question is, why would you care?
…at the same time, they demand those same critics’ validation at every turn, and get unreasonably angry when they don’t receive it.
That could all be true, and Joker would still exist as a movie. It would still be in theaters right now, no one would be preventing you from seeing it or enjoying it, and it would probably still become a big box office hit. It wouldn’t “ruin” the movie for you. As is often the case with controversial entertainment these days, it hasn’t been “cancelled”, it’s only been criticized.
The people who make these sorts of arguments, on the one hand, despise critics and consider them irrelevant and out of touch. But at the same time, they demand those same critics’ validation at every turn, and get unreasonably angry when they don’t receive it.
In the end, what’s most ridiculous of all is that after all of this, Joker was still rated positively by the majority of critics. As of this writing, it’s at 70% on Rotten Tomatoes, not 7%.
But I would ask this of the critic conspiracists who are Joker stans: What Rotten Tomatoes critics score would be sufficient? Would it have to be 90? 95? Or is no dissent to be tolerated at all?