as i mentioned in my “current state of film” post, there’s a level of fatalism among film fans on the nature of the medium which i simply cannot get behind. i addressed the reasons why there, so go check it out if it matters. but i feel similarly about film criticism. yes it has propagated everywhere to the point of where i have starting running this page (i have no formal education in film in any way), but seeing this as a net negative is a bit too pessimistic for my liking. because there really are so many talented writers and even when i go on letterboxd i can find a great review by someone i’ve never heard of.
anywho, with the positives out of the way, we can get to the negatives. it’s become trendy to hate on rottentomatoes for their binary metrics, but i don’t really have an issue with that. they have average ratings, user ratings, community reviews, links to the peoples’ in-depth reviews, quick quotes, etc. whatever conclusions people choose to make about Spring Breakers having a lower RT score than The Avengers are their own.
i suppose i have not yet gotten to the negatives, so here we go: rottentomatoes have an extremely low standard for what constitutes valuable criticism. perusing through their qualifications for critics, i’m led to this page. there are a number of kinds of ways you can become a critic on this site. for printed critics (literally printed; newspaper stuff), “Print critics must be currently employed as a film critic at a Tomatometer-approved publication for a minimum of two calendar years to be considered for individual approval.” similar standards exist for broadcast critics. for online critics, “Online critics must have published no less than 100 reviews across two calendar years at a single, Tomatometer-approved publication, and all reviews should have an average length of at least 300 words to be considered for individual approval.” finally, for video critics, there are a few more rules and regulations. first, a resume must be submitted with their qualifications. then they must give their written manuscripts of reviews in addition to their videos. the critic must demonstrate professionalism and a high standard as well. finally, the critic must have at least 20,000 subscribers on whatever site they use. rt also says that all critics must have at least 2 years experience in some capacity as critics.
additionally they have some tidbits on becoming a “top critic” which is primarily based on monetary circulation, as well as a literal disclaimer of how, even if these qualifications are met, the person may not get to be a rottentomatoes critic.
so with all of that out of the way, let’s get to addressing how terrible of a model this is for anything artistically relevant.
to become a print, broadcasting, or online critic, your only bet seems to be at a tomatometer approved critics site. i could make this extremely in-depth and go through all of them but rest assured, this is fully intended to marginalize critics that are not squarely within some sort of monetary status quo, especially considering their other regulations. for an online critic, reviews must exceed a 300 word average length. this is flat ridiculous. at this point in this post, we are well past the 500 word length; if i want to read a critic, this is the absolute minimum i would tolerate for their actual reviews. but this is more of a business nitpick than anything contributing to my actual thesis so moving on.
becoming a video critic and becoming a top critic is almost entirely dependent on literal popularity, that is, who has the most subscribers and clicks respectively. this is absolutely not respectable in an artistic oriented scenario. from a business standpoint sure, it makes sense, and rt is doing great on that front i am sure. but we don’t go on rt for great business models, we go on there to get informed opinions about film. or at least we should, since that seems to be the thesis of the site – aggregating all these people from different walks of life that are passionate about a certain medium. it’s not until you get to a section whose title is “THE FINE PRINT” that we discover, even if we do have a bunch of clicks, we might not necessarily be published if we suck at reviewing. are the red tomatoes – excuse me, flags – popping up yet?
the reason why i have to address all of this before i start picking off individual reviews is because i have to explain why this is a business model which anyone interested in film should be extremely leery of. it is set up in such a way that populism rules out over anything resembling quality, and if that is the case, you get what you click for. i am not here to argue that the critics consensus is always wrong or that you shouldn’t trust critics – i am all for people reading criticism to get recommendations, warnings, and insight – but rottentomatoes is definitely not a reputable place to go for any of these things.
and that’s a problem. everyone knows this site. it’s advertised in promotional trailers. your parents look at it to see if they should go see a movie. rt is very much a populist site inhabited by populist reviewers for a populist viewpoint. and if your impression of the film industry is to look beneath the surface to find great works, similarly, your impression of film criticism would be to look beneath a hub like rt to find great criticism. this does seem to be a bit of an outlandish concept – when i said i would skip out on The Revenant because a critic i liked at slant didn’t like it, i was met with confusion due to its rt percentage. but why would i care about publications i have no interest in already, as opposed to a critic i have read plenty on?
with all of this in mind, we can be brought to The Emoji Movie. a movie i have no interest in, and no desire to defend. it is, most likely, not a very good movie. but i will go through this film’s RT page and try to illustrate what i said above.
keep in mind, during the course of this, what you think of when you hear the word “critic.” it surely arouses many negative views; some see them as towering and unforgiving, others see them as artsy and pretentious. they are rarely any of these things, the good ones at least, but they are commonly not perceived as being unprofessional, silly, immature, etc. finally, keep in mind that i do not and have not ever expressed my desire to be called a critic; my standards for some dude writing a blog or doing a video review are substantially different than those for a critic.
so let’s get to the fun part teased in the title. as of 7/27 at 9:48 pm like central time or something, The Emoji Movie has a 0% on rottentomatoes, with 0 positive reviews, 22 negative ones, and an average rating of 2.2.
alex welch of ign movies: actually his review isn’t embarrassingly bad. it’s extremely straightforward though, which takes up the bulk of the review, as well as some obvious parallels to The Lego Movie. but i do like what he has to say towards the end, comparing its shortcomings to other films’ ambitions and showing how it falls flat. but there’s really no meat on this review. it’s fine, passable even. this is about the lowest standard i would have for a critic, especially one published on the go-to aggregate site.
roger moore of movie nation: haha yeah now we are in embarrassingly bad territory. i’m not going to comment much on this, you can skim through it for yourself. absolutely not someone who should be influencing significant critical trends.
don kaye of den of geek: like the ign review, this is just kind of basic. obvious parallels to The Lego Movie, other kids animated films, a whole bunch of filler at first detailing the plot, a couple of decent insights. but particularly there’s no meat to this. i’m neither wowed by kaye’s thesis nor his writing style nor anything really.
mara reinstein of maramovies: i’m seeing a trend here. like the other not-total-crap reviews so far, it’s a couple of insights met with a lot of exposition, only this one seems to take some sort of weird moral highground that made me immediately assume (correctly, i might add) the reviewer must be some grumpy older person.
johnny okelsinski of new york post: oh yeah like all of these reviews have had terrible clickbaity/quippy/punny titles that are completely unfunny and this is no exception. but this review is actually pretty bad otherwise too. terrible puns (“lol but he’s making fun of a movie with bad puns so it’s fitting xD”) that contribute nothing to anyone’s thesis, this weird elderly bitterness throughout, and…oh what it’s over? yes readers, at a length 176 words, mr okelsinski’s review is complete. with nothing really to say this time – at least he summarizes the plot yet again for me. absolutely not acceptable, in any way, for me. and it shouldn’t be for you either.
michael sauter of film journal international: i actually really dig this review. it has a strong hook to begin with, he gives me enough information to the plot that i’m at least interested in going on, and his analysis is fine (i’m not expecting rosenbaum tier insight from someone reviewing a silly film like this). no clickbait, bad puns, and his review feels personal. no real complaints.
katie walsh of los angeles times: her review is snarky but it has its own style to it that i kinda vibe with. but the tone is a bit too bitter, condescending, and unprofessional for my liking, particularly the last bit (ironically, the one highlighted on rottentomatoes), where she announces that spending time talking to someone face to face or reading a book (regardless of quality, apparently) would be a better use of time than this film. “meh,” in your words, ms. walsh. moving on.
mike reyes of cinemablend.com: hahaha oh boy another bad pun man in the vein of the bad puns of the movie hahaha i just can’t keep up with these. anywho, that aside, this is purely ebert-worshiping right down to its structure. early hook, a bit of plot exposition, obvious criticism with a neat insight here or there, obvious conclusion. everything about this review is boring.
glenn keenney of the new york times: this review took up another one of my free nyt articles so i’m already mad at this dude. terrible title doesn’t help either. this review otherwese is dece, and i mean dece. too short, that’s for sure. there’s some actually funny bits, and the dude clearly doesn’t like it. but i would like to know why these things are bad. there’s no description to anything; we just take the new york times at face value, i guess.
lindsey bahr of associated press: there is a special place in hell for people that use quotation marks around movie titles in the current year. barring that, this is barren. i commend bahr for having found a style that sticks out but one can present more to me with that style. and less exposition. the procreating emoji line made me chuckle though. but why is this considered top critical level? is this the zenith of criticism? i don’t care how good or bad or meh the movie is, this absolutely should not be the standard one strives for in criticism.
jordan hoffman of new york daily news: this review is the laziest thing i’ve read in a while so i won’t bother going in depth w it in response also haha clickbait haha poop haha cool top critic badge tho
alissa wilkinson of vox: idk how you can miss the irony of denouncing an emoji film for being a giant ad while also, like, being a mainstream critic, but whatever. i like parts of this. i like tying in the story outside of this movie back to it, and wilkinson makes good points. glancing through the length, i got a bit more excited. but it’s a lot of baseless griping, exposition, and pictures (surely not an advertisement for anything though). through it all, it does have what i want from a good review: wilkinson’s definitely got the analytic eye and the ability to communicate her thoughts, but this is way too weighed down. still, it’s acceptable.
vadim rizov of av club: man i really can’t get enough of these titles. otherwise, this review is passable i suppose. he communicates that it is overly corporate and cliched and doesn’t bore me with exposition. barebones but tolerable.
john defore of hollywood reporter: i got excited when there was just a basic title but then he had to make a Lego Movie comparison so bleh. this is another decent one. contradictory of course – praising The Lego Movie and joking about how everything is ad-infested (speaking of which, adblock counts 38 ads on this page alone) before railing on this one for being corporate requires a bit more explanation for me to take it at face value.
owen gleiberman of variety: i really dig the hooks of this review as well as the personality of it. but there’s a bunch of exposition that drags the review down and seems to come out of nowhere which is a shame as i was enjoying it up until that point. the snark also gets upped as it goes on, to obnoxious levels. decent insight here and there. tolerable maybe.
tim grierson of screen international: okay the structure of this one is all over the place. i have no idea what grierson is doing, and he does a great job of convincing me he feels the same way. the first and last paragraph are great, insightful pieces, and everything else is either convoluted or OTT exposition i don’t care about. not sure what to make of this one.
emily yoshida of vulture: oh boy another OTT title about how bad this movie is. i honestly thought this was more of a videogame journalism thing but no, it’s very common in mainstream film publications as well. anywho, yoshida is on some weird stuff here, and if she’s being ironic, it’s hard to discern any of it. i do like that she is able to voice why The Lego Movie is better. actually this review is pretty good. i totally get what yoshida got out of this film and why she thinks it’s bad. well done.
david ehrlich of indiewire: is there like an antonym for clickbait yet? cmon millennials, you don’t work, at least make up new words like you’re so good at Ha Ha. actually you know, reading these reviews, i’m surprised that nobody has really mentioned how insulting this film is to its younger audience with the whole “words are uncool” thing. just an observation. to ehrlich’s piece, i commend how in-depth he is with his criticism, and his takedowns feel earned, though not all that well-written. but his actual criticism is fire.
alonso duralde of thewrap: the title. ugh. comparisons to The Lego Movie. ugh. like so many reviews from the start of this rundown, this is just a bunch of words and exposition that don’t come together to really say all that much about the film. and this reviews is absolutely as unfunny as any bad movie i’ve ever seen.
scott mendelson of forbes: hahaha i mean it’s not exactly unexpected but i mean the fact that forbes opens by saying that this is a studio product aimed to make money primarily and it shouldn’t be faulted on that ground is maybe the funniest thing i’ve encountered in this journey. oh wait, nevermind, there’s a box office section and a review section. still kinda funny. mendelson calls the first section of the film an obvious allegory for gay closeted kids; i have never seen this in the other reviews or anything like it. and it isn’t really added onto here. i see a typo here and there. but then after his homosexual subtext stuff he just kind of says nothing. very confusing review. but not really bad.
matt singer of screencrush: oh boy. unprofessional, unfunny, exposition abounds, although nothing of substance does. the brain expanding meme made me chuckle, though.
matt prigge of metro: while the content of this review is harmless enough, oh mannn. terrible title, terrible humor, elitist “i hate the youth” vibe, AND putting movie titles in quotes? also this reads like a reddit post and you all know i hate reddit. get this out of my face. get this person off of rotten tomatoes.
and with that, we have concluded.
while there are some quite good reviews to be found here, the majority of them teeter on “i suppose i would read this if i had no other input” and “i suppose i would not do that,” but with plenty that seem to belong on r/movies surrounded by upvotes for unfunny quips rather than on the most well-established critical aggregate to have ever existed.
please, not for any debate on whether or not a tomato matters as a metric as opposed to a solidified number (metacritic), at least consider what you are doing on this site when you go on it. are you trying to find critics you like? not actually a bad idea, i found a couple myself doing this. are you trying to get an informed opinion on a film? i would highly suggest that you seek out individual critics you can read for your own benefit rather than the benefit of rottentomatoes and their click-fetish that any site that big has.