The latest Chris Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises nearly upon us. A film so hyped and anticipated, it has reached and surpassed ‘event movie’ status. The early reviews have been devoured and dissected by fans of the previous films in the series. Even film fans who were not particularly keen on the previous films will look on with interest, as any film franchise this popular and successful will have knock-on effects on the industry for years.
The release of The Dark Knight Rises has also been accompanied by the news that the review-aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, has had to take the unprecedented step of suspending comments on its The Dark Knight Rises reviews. This is due to the savage nature with which fans of the franchise attacked reviewers who either gave the film a negative review, or weren’t seen to be positive enough. This touches on another issue that I have with review aggregator websites, but I will deal with this in a later article. Many creative properties can engender this kind of reaction, and the internet really does give everyone a voice these days, a very democratic concept. But when it gives rise to these fundamentalist zealots calling themselves fans, is that a good thing? Why is it that this has happened with this film, and why now?
Chris Nolan’s Batman films have been huge successes, Batman Begins wasn’t the first superhero film, but was released in the first rush of superhero films that followed the success of the Spider-Man and X-Men films. It received strong reviews in the mainstream press, mostly pleasantly surprised that it was possible to make such a grown-up superhero film and was lauded by comic-book fans, developing a loyal following.
Fast-forward to 2008, and the release of The Dark Knight. The revolutionary viral marketing campaign, the intervening years of fanboy hysteria and debate concerning the identity of the Joker, the early death of Heath Ledger, and the well-timed drip feed of trailers culminated in the perfect storm that was the film’s cinematic release. What was different this time? The second entry in Nolan’s trilogy had genuine crossover appeal, and was praised for being a more intelligent and adult comic-book movie, with grown-up themes and a towering performance by Ledger as the Joker. By this time, fanboys upon fanboys had joined the army of Bat-fans. The financial success of the film, coupled with a burgeoning online community, nurtured by the viral marketing, had reached an almost virulently loyal state.
Like anything successful, whether it be a pop song, a work of art, or a film, there will always be contrarians, people who genuinely dislike the film, or those who find it hard to like something that is so overwhelmingly popular and hyped. It has always been this way, and it is the people who fit into these broad categories that lead the then-inevitable backlash. The internet has given a voice to everyone, and that is a good thing, but this voice can also be a force for evil.
So, back to 2012, and the release of TDKR. If you actually check the movie’s RT page, as of the time of writing, it holds an 87% ‘fresh’ rating, which is extremely high for a Blockbuster that will be so widely-reviewed. The general gist seems to be that the film has a very complicated plot that becomes hard to follow, lots of characters, and that it is a very long film in terms of running time. Both positive and negative reviews mention these points, and the positive reviews tend to be more or less 5-stars, whilst the less glowing tend to find those issues to be too problematic to really go as far as giving it a perfect score. Hey, we all know that making a threequel is hard, it’s known to be very difficult to maintain that quality. Regardless if the RT score, this film wil more than likely be seen as a great achievement, and the trilogy as one of the greats in cinema history. If anyone has any suggestions of good third entries, please leave a comment.
As this article in The Guardian recounts, the vitriol being directed at those reviewers who would dare be anything other than overwhelmingly positive about the film has been so extreme as to move Rotten Tomatoes to shut down the commenting facility for this film. The first time this has happened in the history of the website.
At this point, I should point out that I love the Nolan Batman films. I am a fan of the comics, and have been very impressed with the sheer creativity that Chris and Jonathan Nolan have exhibited in bringing this property to the screen. However the scale of adulation for the films sits quite uncomfortably with me, as they either seem to be overtly praised, or over-criticised in an attempt to balance it out. I look forward to the day when the debate will have died down, and I can watch the film without the baggage of fanboy flame wars echoing behind my eyes.
The point is this: the internet has given people a voice, but it allows them anonymity. When you hide behind the cloak of anonymity, and you have never met the person you are addressing, you are crueller and more zealous than you would if you were talking to them in person. Without the shackles of social convention holding you back, you are able to really let loose in your quest to best your opponent, they are the Joker to your Batman, and it’s up to you to take them down as soon as possible. The safety of Gotham’s at stake! Sometimes, you have to be the hero Gotham needs, not necessarily the one that it wants right now, so if it takes racist, sexist, foul-mouthed slurs to achieve the objective, then it needs to be done… Doesn’t it???
Congratulations, you are a hero. You have made a film-reviewer who just happens to not share your opinion on a film feel worse than they did before reading your comments. At this point, I’d like to point out that this all concerns a film that hasn’t even been released yet, meaning that the vast majority of these people haven’t even seen the film to have an opinion on it. This last fact makes the whole thing seem farcical, which it is. The internet is still a new medium, still developing etiquette and traditions, but this should never be acceptable, ever. It makes me feel ashamed that I like the same films as these people, and it needs to stop now.
However, this Friday, at 8pm, I will be at the Cineworld in Hammersmith with my tickets at the ready, and will I let it bother me while watching the film?
Not in the slightest.