Let’s Get Critical: Why Criticism Still Matters

“We don’t make films for critics.”

It’s the general statement that happens gets trotted out by artists whenever a surge of negative reviews surrounds their product. Films such as Transformers: The Dark Knight, TV show Iron Fist, and  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice all have  people clambering to tell us that their product in no way wanted good reviews. These shows seemingly polarise critics and audiences despite the fact that, across both groups, the response has been mixed. The comment is something that many folks hear after a tirade of negativity from critics, and they usually come from the obnoxious directors who’ve had the same criticism for years and refuse to at least take a look at their faults.

But I’m not here to talk about that. That’s a different issue.

What I’m talking about is the new divide that has sprung up, mostly online, between critics and audiences over the latest Warner Brothers release. Highlighted by countless amounts of articles, and even in a statement by Warner Brothers, declaring nefarious reasons for critics to be so sullen about the film, the issue has dug deep for those passionate about film. Splitting the two groups – critics and audiences – is inherently wrong. Particularly when those critics, the crème de la crème of writers, are perhaps the biggest film fans in the world and just want to see great movies prevail (which is why Robbie Collins spoke so much about Macbeth or Anomalisa has a whopping 98% on Rotten Tomatoes.) The idea that their eloquently written opinions are contrived as an attack on a particular studio or director is just as invalid as claiming Star Wars was only loved because it’s…well… Star Wars.

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What’s striking about people’s anger at the critical response to Batman v Superman is this invalidation of other people’s opinion: For one to hate something, they have to be cynical, miserable, or not know enough about the background of the characters to enjoy a film (incidentally, if you cannot convey your canon in a coherent structure to appease non-comic/book fans AND fans alike, then you are failing somewhere.) On the other side, if one adores something, people claim they are fanboys, unable to see the faults due to creaming themselves over subtle nods and Easter eggs. The reasons why this is so abhorrent is because you are sluicing people down to a basic component and negating their emotional and intellectual response to a film. The garish imposition suggests that no one has critical thinking and such excellent passionate debate falls away. It’s almost as if people have forgotten to engage in debate without falling into emotional arguments and childish ways.

But again. That’s a different article for a different day and a different blog.

Moving past the initial irate response I had to people I know and have seen telling people they are jumping on a bandwagon or liking a film because it stars a favourite actor, the big rallying cry from writers and audiences is the looming death of criticism.

True, in this age, it feels like there are an abundance of people out there just writing about film because they can or want to get on the poster. From the outside, this may seem like how critics act: angry bloggers who want to be known for their Kermode like ranting or see their name immortalised on a film’s artwork. But these are extremely few and, whilst you may feel Kermode is a grumpy old man, if you listen to him talk about movies in any positive way, it’s extremely uplifting. His rants come from arrogance in filmmaking, which is why Michael Bay ends up on one side of a very sharp stick.

Film critics are audience members, but they are a lot more vocal and stylised with their reaction (some of them also get paid for it, I know. It’s shocking.) Critics aren’t these bastards locked up in their moody chambers defaming a piece of work in a grotesque manner because they feel like it. They hurt, they yearn, they ache, they strive, and they emote whenever they come across any piece of work. I can’t tell you why more critics leaned towards the negative side of Batman v Superman when audiences are loving it but I don’t think it matters either. No one went to see Shawshank Redemption when it first came out despite critical praise and now everyone adores it whilst few critics liked Empire Strikes Back and now everyone loves it. People and opinions change and grow but they are also vast and different. We shouldn’t be slamming people for having them just because they vary from our own. We should be understanding why in healthy debate.

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Let’s be honest here: when has a critical review ever stopped you from watching a film you were gagging to see? Never. I sat through the torturous Victor Frankenstein despite appalling reviews and found I hated it also. But does that mean criticism is dead? No. For a start, the reviews help stragglers on the fence of seeing a film and bends their opinion into forking out a lot of money for to see it.  There are also critics out there who focus on bringing independent, foreign, and cult films (ahem) into the audience’s lives, knowing that they’d love it, and the only way they can do that is to write about it.  Also, reviews have a caveat of responsibility to big blockbusters bound to make pennies: They keep the talking going. Whether good or bad, you can seek out a review and invest in a healthy debate whether the critic agreed with you or not. Usually you want to cement your own opinion, or you want to cause fuss. Either way, you are sparking film industry passion that drives us forward. Criticism may seem like it is at the bottom most rung, but it is still pivotal to keeping movies alive, especially in this social media heavy world. Added to this, movies spark off theoretical pieces and a deeper look at films!

“We don’t make films for critics.”

In my opinion, you shouldn’t make a film for anyone bar the burning fire within you urging you to make something. But you should certainly listen, evolve, and learn from criticism, audiences, and those championing film around you. Everyone should interact with one another, invest in the industry, and stop dividing groups of people into these sections.

Aren’t we all film obsessives navigating the sea of cinema? So let’s use our noggins to engage with our fellow obsessive and help the industry float a little more…

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