In Defense of Film Critics Who Didn’t Like ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

As of this writing I have not seen The Dark Knight Rises. In fact, chances are, I’ll never see The Dark Knight Rises. Of the eight feature films that director Christopher Nolan has been associated with, I’ve sat with The Prestige, Memento, Inception and even The Dark Knight. Of the four, Memento was great, The Prestige was just a tad overrated, The Dark Knight was fine as a popcorn movie, and Inception was … well, don’t get me started on Inception. The barrage of insults and negativity I would bring to that discussion would more than likely spark outrage among the masses.

And speaking of outrage among the masses …

In case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few days, let’s play a little catch-up: Last week, the website Rotten Tomatoes was forced to shut off its comments section on the reviews for The Dark Knight Rises after a few — a mere few! — reviewers didn’t give the movie an admirable write-up. The plethora of hate even forced film critic Marshall Fine’s personal website, Hollywood and Fine, to crash as the true bat-believers decided to go for the jugular by ascending on his tiny corner of the Internet en masse. The fallout caused the Editor in Chief of Rotten Tomatoes to take to his site to write a letter to his readers that read, in part …

“It’s probably safe to say that The Dark Knight Rises is the most anticipated film of the year. More than The Hobbit. More than The Avengers,” he wrote. “And my staff and I knew full well that when the first negative review came in, the reviewer would get pasted in the comments. That dubious honor goes to Marshall Fine. He’s a critic we’ve included on our site — he’s got a respectable background in criticism, and we think he should be included on our site… As expected, we saw a mountain of comments come in about his review, and we’re policing them to make sure they’re in line with our TOS. Broadly speaking, threats and hate speech will get your commenting privileges revoked. But Marshall has the right to not like the movie, and people have the right to express their disagreement with him (although if you haven’t seen the movie, your arguments may be on shaky ground). And we have the right to pull your comment down and ban you if we think you’re acting inappropriately.” (“The Dark Knight Rises — This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, Matt Atchity, 16 July 2012)

Let’s back up a minute and return to his parenthetical statement — “Although if you haven’t seen the movie, your arguments may be on shaky ground.” Shouldn’t that sentence be mounted as a bullet-proof argument against the idiots who commented about beating the film critic in question into a coma with a thick rubber hose? I mean, come on, now. If you haven’t yet seen the movie being discussed, how could you possibly justify making such horrific remarks based merely on anticipation and opinion, and not fact?

Look, as I said above, I’m not the biggest Christopher Nolan fan. Nor am I privy to going to the movie theater to see big set pieces that make things go boom and turn a fantastical world upside down. I don’t like special effects. I don’t like loud sounds. And maybe even most of all, I really don’t like the way people who see Nolan’s films continue to proclaim how “brilliant” or “spectacular” or “smart” his movies are. Are some of them pretty good? Maybe. The Dark Knight wouldn’t have worked if Health Ledger didn’t give his once-in-a-lifetime pitch-perfect performance. Memento is still a great movie today, and I’ll go to bat for that any day of the week. And Inception … well, don’t get me started on Inception.

But with that said, even Chris Nolan (whom, I would like to add, seems to really, really like Chris Nolan) would have to admit that this type of reaction and outrage is a bit much. The most absurd aspect of all this, of course, is that some of these critics aren’t entirely panning the movie — they are simply just saying that it’s not as good as they had hoped. Take the Associated Press‘s Christy Lemire, for instance, who suffered some of the most insulting comments of all. Not only did her review not completely trash the movie, but it also ended with tip of the hat to the director himself.

“This is the problem when you’re an exceptional, visionary filmmaker,” Lemire wrote. “When you give people something extraordinary, they expect it every time. Anything short of that feels like a letdown.” (“Review: Batman series ends as epic letdown”, The Washington Times, 16 July 2012) See — that’s not so bad. Of course, that follows such statements as “The Dark Knight Rises is plot-heavy, obsessed with process, laden with expository dialogue and flashbacks that bog down the momentum and — dare I say it? — just flat-out boring at times,” and “Nolan’s approach is so coldly cerebral that it’s a detriment to the film’s emotional core. It’s all doom and gloom and no heart. There is no reason to care about these characters, who function more as cogs in an elaborate, chaotic machine than as real people whose souls are at stake.” Still, she managed to grant the flick two out of four stars, a much better rating than she typically gives films that don’t work for her (being at the AP for 12 years now, I think I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve seen her give a movie four stars).

So what gives? I can understand feeling passionate about movies, and even though I admittedly don’t usually like Nolan’s work, I can concede to the understanding that there are a gatrillion people out there who swear his films are the best things since the invention of electricity. What I can’t quite grasp, though, is how this many people became this bothered… over a movie most of them presumably haven’t even seen yet. Naturally, the argument here is that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but I think this particular incident goes further than that. In a modern-day world that is so disgustingly dependent on criticism and commentary, I don’t think it would be unfair to assess that these types of reactions are more a result of culture than they are personal obsession.

We live in an era that could easily use the phrase “Spoiler Alert” as its motto. Technology has advanced so breathtakingly much since the days when Citizen Kane was still forcing people to question what Rosebud was and Casablanca transformed the way we look at comedic romance on the big screen. Such advancements have also provided the forum for anyone with a heartbeat to feel as though their opinions matter by having the ability to, for instance, take to the tiny corners of the Internet to broadcast their feelings to the masses.

Because, of course, everyone cares about what Troy in Montana has to say about Savages, you know?

No, but seriously. One has to think that the amount of film critics today far outnumbers the amount of film critics, say, 50 years ago, right? The more accessible that the art of passionate opinion becomes, the more likely we are to find ourselves confronted with people who just don’t know when to shut up. The result can be both fantastically scary in unjustifiably ignorant. Why? Because Troy in Montana doesn’t get paid to write about movies for a living. He gets paid to cut down trees and sell them to rich people. Christy Lemire and Marshall Fine, on the other hand, have been studying film for longer than most of us have even had the ability to tie shoelaces. They do get paid to write about movies for a living. Their opinions are more valuable than Montana Troy’s.

Now, of course we all have the ability to disagree with those thoughtful and researched opinions (take a look at last week’s In Defense column, Celebrities Making Fun of Themselves à la ‘Episodes’, for example). But what we shouldn’t be using that ability for is an ignorant and malicious diatribe aimed at doing physical harm to people simply because they didn’t much care for a movie. Not only is that irresponsible, but it’s also adolescent. Let me reiterate: It’s a movie, people!

“If I could ask everyone for one thing,” Atchity wrote in his letter to readers, “it’s this: don’t be a dick. Even if you think someone else is being a dick. Just take a deep breath, step away from the computer, and maybe go for a walk. Have a smoke if you need one. There are plenty of other things to get angry about, like war, famine, poverty and crime. But not movie reviews.”


So regardless of if the same people who attacked film critics last week finally see The Dark Knight Rises and feel it is the absolute perfect way to end this massively popular trilogy, or they see it and instantly regret being as mean and spiteful as an Internet comment thread could allow, one lesson should be learned from all this: The next time we read a bit of criticism and we don’t agree with it, maybe we can take some time to add a little perspective to our anger and understand that all of this — both the movie and the review — is all a form of harmless entertainment that is designed to leave an impression on us one way or the other, anyway. Allowing such silly things as movies, music, books or any other form of art to affect us so much that we lash out in such ignorant and hateful ways is both unwarranted and negligent.

Well, that is, unless if you are talking about Inception, of course, in which case all bets are off …