I saw “Joker” for the first time about two weeks ago, and since then I have murdered a grand total of zero people. This would seem to run counter to a lot of the criticisms the film has received, many of which were written prior to its release, that imply it would influence me to commit acts of violence. Other strange criticisms include the movie triggering an “incel uprising” or that the film is secretly about “whiteness”.
The last thing of note about the movie is the 20% gap between the critic and audience score the movie received, receiving majority praise from casual viewers but harsh admonishment from the critics. Everything about the situation seemed off to me, and I started to wonder why critics and audiences seem to disagree on more and more movies lately.
I first noticed this phenomena with the 2016 “Ghostbusters” relaunch, currently sitting at a 74% critic score and 50% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. All the discourse around this film eventually boiled down to if you liked it then you were whipped by “woke” culture and if you didn’t like it, you were sexist. I didn’t see the movie and can’t vouch for it one way or the other, but I’m certain that there were more than those two possibilities.
However, I have seen “Captain Marvel,” which had much of the same talk around it, with the additional bonus of it being a Marvel movie. Currently the movie sits at a 78% critics rating and a 53% audience rating. Now the comic book character Carol Danvers often gets a lot of criticism, so it’s reasonable that the feature film got much of the same grief. Critics praised the film for its portrayal of a strong female lead in a superhero flick, while some audiences criticized it as a failed attempt to capitalize on PC culture. This raises the question of whether or not the divide between critics and audiences lie in the politics of the film at hand.
Jumping over to another Marvel movie, “Black Panther” is sitting at an admirable 97% critic score and a 79% audience score. The film is notable for its African-American lead cast and being nominated for best picture during the 91st academy awards — the only Marvel film to have been up for this honor (it didn’t win). The movie is overall well liked, critics noted its portrayal of racial tensions, while generally audiences applaud Micheal B. Jordan’s villain. Was it Oscar-worthy? I don’t think so, and as many others have speculated, it was likely only considered to make the academy seem “woke”. It’s in this aspect that the divide between critics and audiences is most visible.
“Logan,” a superhero film with a 93% critic score and a 90% audience score, while generally a better received movie, did not have much to say in the way of politics which in my opinion hindered it from receiving a Best Picture nomination. Similarly, “Logan’s” dark tone was praised by audiences and critics, while a similar tone in “Joker” was admonished by critics but contributed to a nearly identical audience score to “Logan” at 89%. In my opinion, the only reason for this difference is that the ideas presented in “Joker” run counter to the current political climate, while “Logan’s” ideas were perfectly passable.
I don’t want to seem like I’m bashing critics, but when two movies share a similar trait and one is praised for it and the other is bashed, it comes off as a bit suspect. Many critics have recently come forward about how they are almost required to give a passing score to movies whose themes align with the ideas presented in modern media, and give a lower score to films that don’t.
Many professional critics fear that if they stray from this behavior that studios will no longer grant them early access to film screenings, leading to an inability to do their jobs. This begs the question as to whether or not film reviews are still worth considering when deciding to see a film. Personally, I’ve opted to refrain from reviews and trailers as I usually find myself going against what the critic said. Plus, trailers just spoil the movie.