The Recent Drama
The new movie “Don’t Worry Darling” had a number of issues leading up to release. All of the online critics want to talk about those issues. Harry Styles’ interview faux pa where he says the movie really feels like a movie (it’s not a misquote, he keeps doubling down on what he said) and the clip where he allegedly spit on Chris Pine (which, if he did, was clearly accidental) are cited in the same sentence describing him as an amateurish actor given a role too big to be anyone’s first, although giving the guy a couple more takes of any one scene could have only helped.
That said, the movie isn’t horrible. I hear that the ‘twist’ is very abrupt and the movie doesn’t give you time to enjoy it, but other than that, the movie is a perfectly okay piece of media. It’s probably a six out of ten or so. Without all of the news of those early production issues, it’s unlikely the movie would have been received any better, but the breath-holding ‘is this going to be horrible’ anticipation caused a lot of people to look for flaws as they were watching the movie. It skewed audience perception, at least the ones most likely to have seen the drama, which are coincidentally the people most likely to go online after the movie and talk about it. And people love a trainwreck, so skewing a review down a point or two gets more clicks. There is no vacuum in which to review the movie. Most reviews even now feature talk about issues with the crew that don’t directly relate to problems within production itself. Some of it does, yes – Shia LeBeouf leaving and being replaced with Harry Styles absolutely does – but the press circuit blunders and social media drama don’t. It’s either ‘not good’ or it’s ‘surprisingly good for the issues it faced’ as a result.
Have we gone past the point where critics, both professional and amateur, can assign a movie a rating of ‘mid’? Instead of a scale, we have two boxes. Does every mediocre or bad movie have to be ‘a disaster’, and every good movie at least an eight out of ten?
Good and Above All Criticism
Rogue One was a fantastic addition to a story franchise with a number of duds in it. I’ve watched it, and I’ve watched the prequels, the sequels, spinoffs, and the Mandalorian. Rogue One is a rare standout that’s so well-written you barely need any background knowledge on the rest of the series to watch it (meaning that this is an okay first place to see the Death Star or the AT-ATs. It is literally a prequel, after all).
The problem is that it’s so good that some people liked it better than one or two of the original trilogy, which is blasphemy as far as the hardcore Star Wars fans are concerned. On a scale of one to ten, the first trilogy is arbitrarily, dogmatically set at ten. If you’re a ‘real’ Star Wars fan in the most intense forums online, you like one of the first three the best, and then anything else after it. Anyone else is either a ‘casual’ or not a real fan.
Environments like this make it impossible to critique additions to cult-classic series. You have to hedge what you say. You can’t judge many of the movies in a vacuum because of the precursor knowledge you have to have (Rogue One is a rare exception) and so that auto-ranking will come into play, if not by the critic themselves then by the responses in the comment section. Things are either great, and an excellent addition to Star Wars canon, or they’re the worst, and unofficially de-canonized. A brilliant work by someone who ‘gets it’, or a soulless cash grab by a corporation trying to cash in on nostalgia. This is such a phenomenon that an entire subsection of people have built a community around the prequels, not even necessarily because they like them, but because they want to have conversations outside of that scale.
Good But Torn To Shreds For Reasons Beyond Its Control
Steven Universe’s fanbase is famously poisonous. That said, a lot of the worst fans are not in the age group that the show was aimed at, but the representation in the show was truly one of a kind. It was groundbreaking. It was the only way some of those older fans ever saw themselves on screen in any capacity, much less positively. The writing wasn’t bad, either, although it was a kid’s show and featured kid’s show-level wit. The show itself set out with a good message and good intentions and was met with the worst of the internet in the 2010s. A fanbase willing to suicide-bait over mis-drawing the proportions of a character combined with an online population of trolls who realized this could be used to lump all of the people they didn’t like together made it difficult to truly form a positive community.
Steven Universe is not remembered fondly because of the fanbase, and being a Steven Universe fan was an entirely different thing from just liking Steven Universe. It came with a set of expectations that were impossible for anyone to meet, and gatekeepers threw people out of good graces in fan spaces on the regular.
The show itself was totally fine, but the internet of the 2010s was an as-of-yet unknown entity in and of itself. The show, despite its many breakthroughs for broadcast TV, is now often regarded poorly by mainstream sources.
Genuinely Bad But Not Criticized Fairly
Is it possible to judge reboots fairly? Does the nostalgia factor cloud the glass too much? How about shows where the authors and producers themselves are the point of contention? Can anything achieve a score of 5/10 when everyone only wants to dunk on bad shows and love good ones unconditionally?
While a good handful of critics go out of their way to judge a reboot fairly, a huge chunk of them don’t. It gets more clicks to be inflammatory, and if a company is rebooting a series, there’s a case to be made that they don’t want you to judge it fairly, they want your nostalgia to artificially boost their ratings. It only seems fair to deduct points for not playing fair. And besides, many of these reboot projects are shooting themselves in the foot before they even get to the starting line. Look at the PowerPuff Girls reboot, or the Teen Titans reboot, or the Star Wars reboot, or the Disney reboots, etc. etc. Many relied on nostalgia to get people to watch.
I’d argue for some of them that, if forced to come up with their own original characters, they would have been much better received. Nostalgia can backfire when characters become one-dimensional ripoffs of their originals to better suit younger audiences (in the case of Teen Titans Go, the first GhostBusters reboot, and Powerpuff Girls), or when the reboot is a soulless live-action reboot instead of a fair retelling, like Beauty and the Beast being a reboot vs. Maleficent being a retelling. Rebooting a franchise, even with a new story, is also a path to disaster. Origin stories for well-liked mysterious characters have plagued Disney and its properties for years now. Another such movie, this time about the ship captain in Rogue One, is about to come out even though the Solo movie is a pretty good indicator of how that’s going to go unless they really learned a lot from it. Nostalgia clouds the way something actually was, so reboot movies that aren’t better and/or at the same time familiar often suffer for it. Every once in a while, though, a studio gets it right – those brief flashes of nostalgia-based success are worth cranking out dozens of mid-tier reboots. It keeps the copyright from expiring, yes, but it’s also an easy way to make and sell the same movie twice.
Is It Really This Impossible to Separate the Art From The Artist?:
Modern ‘anti-wokeness’ critique seeks to dogpile movies and shows before they get out of the gate, even if the people rabble-rousing about it aren’t the target audience and don’t know anyone who’s part of said audience. In a general, alarmist sense, anti-woke personas are worried that a black Ariel or a female Luke Skywalker is going to irrevocably taint the originals, that the casting was done for ‘the wrong reasons’, that the movie is bad but they’ll be forced to say it was good or risk being ‘cancelled’. It’s not really like that, of course, but they have something to gain from spinning the tale. No movie can be fairly judged in this hell pocket dimension the internet has created.
Reboots are their own separate issue, though – what about original content that doesn’t fit the tradition? High Guardian Spice, an anime-inspired cartoon show, now has critic channels that have spent more time criticizing the show than its total runtime. It has, somehow, created channels that only critique High Guardian Spice and nothing else. The show is bad, a solid 3/10, but it’s not that bad. Crunchyroll, its hosting platform, has funded worse shows!
The problem is that Crunchyroll and High Guardian Spice knew the show was bad. It knew it was riddled with errors because it pushed its animation schedule to the absolute brink. The writers were rushed, the animators were rushed, there are actual PNGs mixed in with the animation because shortcuts were taken at every opportunity. It didn’t know what age range it was aiming for, and so all of the swearing and blood were designed to be removable if it was decided the show would aim younger, and it’s extremely noticeable. There are times when characters clip through things or pass under reality. The microphone quality is inconsistent across voice actors.
It was unfixably, irrevocably, bad. You can’t just fix or reshoot an animated show once it’s left production. They were stuck with it. What can you even do?
Bear with me, this is going to sound a little conspiratorial. I think Crunchyroll knew it was bad in a way they couldn’t fix, and so – in an effort to either garner sympathy or generate hate-watching – it began releasing trailers showcasing the diversity of the team creating it as a sort of lightning rod away from the other issues happening with the company at the time. It would be saying “this show is bad, but it’s not our fault”. And it worked! Anti-woke rabble-rousers were quick to point out the lack of good male characters (never mind the lack of good characters across the entire spectrum) the wooden writing around social issues (all of the writing is wooden) and it’s general slapped-together nature as evidence the staff writing it was incompetent because they were who they were.
If CrunchyRoll had not made a point of telling everyone that the staff was mostly women and the head producer was part of two minority groups, I sincerely believe this show would have flown right under the radar like it deserved as a 3/10 show. Instead, as mentioned before, there are channels who have individually produced more video of critique than the show had total because it fits nicely into a ‘culture wars’ narrative that only some people can produce good art. And critic videos are still being released to this day despite a lack of new content. That’s insanity. I’m not sure that’s ever happened to another full-length show.
No In Between
It is okay for a movie to be ‘mid’. It’s okay to not like the same things everyone else does as much as they do, and a show’s worth goes beyond its popularity or whether or not you ‘should’ be watching it. But maybe give some of those bad movies a shot – the internet encourages negativity, and even ‘bad’ media might still be worth watching even if it’s not Citizen Kane.