Why Critics and Casual Audience Don’t Agree

I was one of the first people to say that Venom is a bad movie… but it’s one that I enjoyed. I wrote as much in my review of the film and I still stand by it. The movie is definitely not anything exceptional and you have to be okay with a lot of leaps of logic but I still had a good time watching Venom. So, in a way, I guess you can say I think it’s fine. As a critic, I’m in the minority as, according to Rotten Tomatoes, Venom is a terrible film that should be avoided. As a casual viewer who just likes watching movies, however, I’m in sync with them as audience scores are rating it much higher.

And the gap keeps getting bigger.

This isn’t the first time critics and casual audiences have different views about a film. It seems like this has been a ongoing pattern just recently, with high profile examples such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi getting rave reviews while getting thumbs down from the general public. This has led to kind of a rebellion with some film fans vowing to not listen to movie critics anymore for various reasons, like critics being pompous blowhards or not being in tune with what the public wants. But is this really true? Have critics lost touch with what is a good film because of their hoity toity preferences. Well, as someone who technically is both a critic and someone who loves movies, I can give my own perspective and try to explain why the disparity between the two groups seems to be growing. 

One thing casual audiences tend to forget about movie critics, or any other critic for that matter, is they do look at films a little bit differently. A critic may understand the film making process a little bit more because, well, it’s kind of their job. If they want to be good at their job, they have to understand things like cinematography, lighting, camera angles and all that. These may be things the regular movie goer may not notice but the critic would. 

For example, I’m not sure how many regular movie goers notice the overindulgent use of lens flare in the Star Trek reboot. They may have noticed it but I’m not sure they knew what it was called. I remember watching Star Trek on opening weekend and, while I did detect that there was just too much “brightness” throughout the film, I wasn’t sure it was intentional or if it was added to hide things in some of the shots to make it look more “futuristic.” I still enjoyed it as did most critics and audiences alike. But it was critics that really put the spotlight on how annoying the number of “lens flare” scenes Star Trek had throughout the film. It reached the point when the director, JJ Abrams even apologized for it!

There’s also the matter that critics will know more about the history of film and this may also impact the way they view a film that may not come off as important to regular movie audiences. It is now well-established today that George Lucas got a lot of his inspiration from the original Star Wars trilogy from old sci-fi serials like Buck Rogers. You can see that in the opening crawl and even the use of wipe transitions. But, when the movies were released, this wasn’t known but film critics worth their salt would’ve seen these homages and understand what style George Lucas was going for. 

However, these things can also work against a critic as they would be more familiar with the tropes and even predict where a story is going to go. Remember, a film critic’s job is to watch movies and give their thoughts on it. They watch more movies than the regular viewer and, as such, can spot tropes and cliches quicker as they have more experience with these tropes and cliches. Also, unlike regular moviegoers, they might not have the luxury of watching they movies they are genuinely interested in seeing. Even the critics you see in YouTube, they have to go watch a crap ton of films and they know they’ll have to see some crappy films because, well, they feel they have a responsibility to their fans. This just adds to their library of knowledge and it becomes much more difficult to surprise them with plot twists or creative film techniques because they’ve seen almost all of them!

Some critics also have the burden of thinking too much of the medium they critique. A film critic who’s really passionate about his or her job wants most movies to be, at the very least, memorable. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case most of the time since the film industry is a business and *gasp* they’re in it to make money. Venom is a great example of this. Like I said, the movie is really flawed and has a lot of problems. It’s really generic. The fights are exciting but nothing I would remember after a week. The story is filled with plothole after plothole. Most of the characters are one-note and their motivations are non-existent.

You know what Venom’s basically like? The Incredible Hulk movie starring Edward Norton. Yes, I’m comparing Venom to a film that was released a decade ago. That’s because everything about it feels dated. You have a guy who transforms into a monster, a girlfriend who follows the guy blindly and just magically appears at times to move the plot along, a bad guy who gets the same power as the hero and a big monster fight to close out the film.

While The Incredible Hulk actually fared okay with both critic and casual audiences, time hasn’t gotten better over time as it’s considered to be one of the worst films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But superhero films have gotten so much better since then, which is probably why Venom has been getting a ripping from critics. Casual audiences, however, enjoy it because, while it has a lot of problems, they can let those problems go and just enjoy it for the dumb, action movie it was meant to be. Critics can’t do that because the problems will bug them much more than regular audiences would since it’s their job to look at the film’s problems and give their opinions on the final product. 

Also, critics have the burden of having to be a little more observant than the average movie viewer. This does change the perspective of the critic in a bigger way than you may expect. A huge example for me is Inception, rather, the ending of the film, and how a critic and the casual person will come up with different questions and conclusions. So… SPOILERS for Inception incoming, I guess.

Inception’s ending, as you know, has the hero returning to his children after a long time. As he returns home, he spins the top, which is supposed to tell him if he’s in a dream or not. If it topples over, he’s in the real world. If it spins perpetually, he’s in a dream. But he sees his kids and he immediately runs to hug them, leaving the camera to linger on the camera. It seems as it will keep on spinning but, just as the camera fades to black, we see the top wobble. The end.

Regular movie goers immediately lost their minds as they debated as to if the hero was still stuck in a dream or if he returned to the real world safely. Critics, however, were a little more observant because the hero, who was shown to be obsessed throughout the film to check if he was in reality or not, totally ignored the top as he saw his children. To critics, he didn’t care. The instant he saw his children, it didn’t matter if he was stuck in a dream or not; what mattered was that he was reunited with is family. Oh, it can be fun to debate if he was in the real world or not and it was probably what Christopher Nolan intended to generate buzz, the debate is actually moot.

That doesn’t mean that critics all have a stick up their butts and turn up their noses at silly, non-intelligent, dumb films. The best example I can think of is There’s Something About Mary, one of my favorite films of all time. The film has lots of toilet humor and sometimes really insensitive jokes. Really funny toilet humor and really hilarious insensitive jokes, mind you. As of this writing, Rotten Tomatoes ratings for There’s Something About Mary has an 83% “Fresh” rating while the audience score is only at 61%. 

Are you kidding me with the audience score?

But that’s from the point of view of a critic. What about the casual guy who wants to watch a movie? Well, this is actually a little difficult to talk about since there are so many factors that may drive a casual moviegoer into liking or disliking a film. I believe one of the bigger factors is the hype a movie garners prior to release. Like I said, the movie business is still a business so they want to get as many people’s butts into the cinema. One way movies generate buzz is through trailers. A well-made trailer can make even the most garbage movie a hit. There are so many instances when I was tricked into watching a crapfest just because I thought the trailer looked good. See Suicide Squad… or better yet, don’t.

But this positive hype can actually cloud a person’s judgement into believing they liked something when they really didn’t. Sometimes people convince themselves that they enjoyed something just because they waited for a long time. They just become so invested in it, even before they’ve even watched the final product.

My favorite example of this is Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. While I will be upfront in saying that both critics and casual audiences loved it when it was released, they were for totally different reasons. Most critics liked it because they were blown away by the “realistic” special effects and ambitious use of CGI throughout the entire film. But fans? Fans just wanted to love it because it was the first Star Wars film after so many years! It may be silly now but that’s just how people reacted to The Phantom Menace way back almost two decades ago!

This does lead me to another Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, as this shows the best example of the difference between critics and audiences. The biggest reason why fans hate The Last Jedi is because of what they did with the established characters. Oh, SPOILERS for the Last Jedi incoming as well.

Fans hated that Luke Skywalker became a pessimistic hermit. They also hated that Rey’s parents were nobody special; they just sold her for beer money. They also disliked that there wasn’t any huge backstory for Emperor Snoke and how he was killed so easily. To fans, this was not the Star Wars they were expecting. And I get it. They went in expecting a continuation of the previous film. They wanted to see Luke train Rey. They wanted Rey’s lineage to be something bigger. They wanted Snoke to be a badass. I totally understand that.

However, these reasons, the reasons why fans hate The Last Jedi so much, are some of the reasons why I actually love the film so much! I love how the film surprised me with those twists and took the risk of doing something different with Star Wars. As a huge Star Wars fan, I actually should hate it for those very same reasons but, strangely enough, I like it because it was different and exciting! It wasn’t boring nor was it predictable nor easy to digest.

And this explains one of the biggest differences between critics and regular audiences. Critics want and crave something different while most regular audiences want something safe, predictable and entertaining… most of the time. I’m not saying this is the case 100% of the time. I’m just saying that this is pretty much the case most of the time. Critics generally want to see different and more creative things on the big screen while general audiences want to just be entertained for those two hours or so. There are certainly times when the risk doesn’t work and both critics and audiences don’t like it. But, like I said, this is just a general rule.

Okay, so there is can be some big disparities between critics and general audiences. What can be done about it? Well, I believe the real issue is the way we all read reviews. You have to realize that the critics doing these reviews are giving something we all have about a film: an opinion. That’s really what a critic is doing when he reviews a film, book, TV show, video game or whatever. The problem is that we like to get the majority view and treat it like an absolute. Oh, Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic say all critics hate Venom? Well, thought the film was good and my friends thought it was good, which means all critics are wrong!

My suggestion is, when it comes to reviews, only rely on the critics that kind of share your taste most of the time. You don’t even need to follow a “professional” critic anymore, thanks to the the proliferation of the Internet. There is bound to be a critic or two out there that you agree with most of the time. Personally, I don’t go to Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic to see if a film is good or not. I generally get the opinions of two guys, Chris Stuckmann and Jeremy Jahns, two YouTubers who have been reviewing films for the longest time. I generally agree with their reviews. Not all the time, of course. But enough so that I can gauge if I’ll like it or not.

There will always be some disconnect between critics and general audiences as the two groups will be looking at the same thing from different perspective at times. This isn’t a bad thing as we can learn things from each other. Critics can tell us the artistic merits of a filming style or technique while the general audiences can show us to lighten up and look past the flaws to uncover a gem underneath. But, ultimately, whenever you watch a movie or TV show, play a video game or whatever, you don’t have to listen to anyone. Just like it or hate it because that’s your honesty opinion.

Why do you think critics and casual audiences disagree with each other? Let me know in the comments section below!


4 thoughts on “Why Critics and Casual Audience Don’t Agree

  1. You make some great points here. However, I think you missed the big elephant in the room, that a large number of “audience” reviews and ratings on the internet are also from trolls from various factions (MRA, Alt Right, 4chan, etc.). If it weren’t for the trolls, the disconnect between critics and audience members would still be there, but it wouldn’t be as wide.

    This trolling problem is why the IMDB had to shut down its forums. Troll factions were using the forums as a place to organize mass downvoting/upvoting campaigns against various movies and TV shows, as well as to astroturf user comments to spread disinfo and propagate hatred, but posing as “long time fans.”

    For example, Alt Right and MRA trolls have been targeting IPs like Star Trek and Star Wars for a long time with their “get woke, go broke” meme, posting thousands of reviews pretending to be long time Star Trek, Star Wars “disappointed” about “forced diversity” and “Mary Sues” (an anti-feminist dog whistle coined by Max Landis). One troll proudly claimed responsibility for tanking The Last Jedi’s audience score with bots.

    So, this whole issue plays a large part in what’s happening. A significant portion of “audiences” leaving reviews and ratings on the internet are not really movie goers. They’re trolls. Of the ones who aren’t trolls, many of them are following the lead of professional trolls like Max Landis, who will decide even before they’ve seen certain movies that they must automatically suck because they have a female or minority character as a lead.

    • I agree with you to a certain extent. There are definitely trolls and people with an agenda who do try to manipulate the ratings of films and they do have significant reach. But I do think it’s mostly casual audiences that constitute the bulk of the discrepancy. For example, I may like The Last Jedi a whole lot. But, among my friends and the people that I know, people who are geeks such as myself, I’m in the minority as most of them hate it.

      I guess there’s also the issue that people generally have to be “correct.” If they like or dislike something, trolls have to “prove” their correct by making it seem like the majority agree with them. That’s dumb because liking a disliking something is dependent on personal taste and not what the majority of people think.

  2. Pingback: Let Entertainment Be Entertaining | 3rd World Geeks

  3. Your suggestion that critics focus more on the finer points of filmmaking may be well-intentioned, but is ultimately pointless at best. When you go onto rotten tomatoes or IMDB and see a bad review, you don’t see comments from critics citing bad camerawork or poorly done reaction shots. As a matter of fact, you NEVER see it. It simply doesn’t happen.

    Critics judge movies along the same metrics that average moviegoers do. While you may have personal opinions based on the more technical aspects of a film, they either don’t factor into your public review, or you leave them out intentionally. Critic reviews almost always comment on the things you expect them to comment upon – plot consistency, character believability, plot pace, and other things along those lines.

    If your claim that critics are harsher on films because they take more technical things into account than average movie-goers, then you’re also damning them for doing an incredibly poor job of articulating that in EVERY public space.

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