Early on Wednesday, long-time Entertainment Weekly film critic Lisa Schwarzbaum posted her review of the final installment to Christopher Nolan’s Batman revival trilogy. Then hell broke loose.
Some of the highlights of the many intelligent, ardent insights posted to the 12-page comment board on her review include a comparison of Schwarzbaum to Rush Limbaugh and Batman to Barack Obama (I won’t argue the latter, but please let’s keep Limbaugh out of this and everything else); an employment question from one ‘Megara’ asking, “How many of these message board revolts do we need to have before Lisa gets fired?” followed with the remark “Seriously EW?” to ensure the full attention of EW bosses; a condemnation of her criticisms from commentator ‘Jack Green’ who was apparently granted an early specialty viewing of the film, calling her “merciless when it comes to movies as spectacular as this one;” solid objective research from ‘malevolentmuse’ who states, “Lisa is, apparently, a girly-girl because she generally only likes so-called ‘chick flicks,’ romantic comedies and overly serious dramas with female leads,” obviously using Twilight and This Means War as examples of said “serious dramas.”
Another commentator used the popular “Seriously EW?” mantra—presumably to snap the editorial board to attention—stating, “You know goddamn well we ALL wanted Owen Gleiberman to review this and not Lisa Schwarzbaum.”
But best of all comes from the cryptic JFX who aptly states: “Allowing Lisa Schwarzbaum to review The Dark Knight Rises is like asking your grandmother to review a comic book. Why is she allowed to review ‘boy’ movies? I don’t care what Lisa thinks about The Dark Knight, I want to know what a superhero movie fan thinks. Lisa is so predictable, always disliking anything that is popular. She’s a bitter old shrew.”
Seriously, comment board?
In response to the many ludicrous comments on her review, Schwarzbaum posted to the Popwatch blog with an impassioned retort only hours later decrying the nonsensical backlash to her (not negative) ‘B’ rating of the unreleased film. The problem, she says, is that she’s seen the film and we, the “readers, partisans, haters, scholars, masses, people of Gotham City,” have not.
But is this really the real problem? Is this just the wrath of jealous fanboys played out through anonymity?
Schwarzbaum hopes the attention will turn to the film itself when it’s finally rolled out to theatres tomorrow. But I’m not so sure the aggression toward this and many other negative reviews would be any different post-release.
Attention will wane naturally, but the feelings will remain where there is anonymity.
The anonymity granted by message boards can be awful stuff. The comment boards on EW.com are really the least of the web’s disgusting offerings, but still, the incident raises some important questions regarding anonymity and gender online.
Commentators accused EW for sending the wrong critic to review the film. Not the girly-girl! She can’t appreciate our Batman! they cried. Their cries pose the question: would a ‘B’ from Owen Gleiberman have been acceptable? I would hazard a guess that, yes, a ‘B’ from a fellow presumed-fanboy-because-he’s-a-boy fanboy would have been unfortunate collateral damage in the pursuit of … what exactly? Good press for their favourite unreleased movie? Well, yes, this seems to be the warped idea of what a critic is for.
Is a critic supposed to get readers excited to see a movie? No, critics—we hope—are independent from studios. The traditional use of film reviews is to prepare the viewer for their purchase—is it worth the night out and the increasing ticket price? Some commentators have a warped view of film criticism. But Schwarzbaum has it right (obviously) when she says “critical insights, analyses, and context, expressed with clarity and style, enhance the understanding and enjoyment of movies, regardless of whether the reader agrees with the opinion expressed.”
When critics receive death threats inciting Rotten Tomatoes to shut down the comments section, something is off kilter. Matt Atchity, the aggregating site’s editor-in-chief, says they are considering moving to the less-anonymous system of commenting via Facebook accounts, a fair consideration.
Instead, I’ll propose a simpler solution: see the movie first.