Every fandom has its ups and downs: its good eggs and its bad apples. Rick and Morty might be the best show on TV right now — however infrequently it actually is on TV for — but it attracts a certain type of fanboy that wants to live the social power fantasy of being a total jackass to everybody you meet and being praised as the literal smartest guy in the universe (instead of, you know, a total jackass). There are some DCEU fans that genuinely love everything and anything that Warner Bros has put out over the past couple of years (and I say good on them if they like it, because who am I to judge). And every fandom — especially for shows or movies that only became popular ater the fact — has the hipster gatekeepers devoted to jealously guarded the community against any newcomers who dared to not love it from the moment it was released onto the world the first time around.
And then, of course, there’s these guys: a head-scratchingly toxic subset of the DCEU fandom that hardly has a rival in all of pop culture. It’s not that they like bad movies. I like “bad” movies. One of my all-time favorites, that I recommend to basically everybody I meet, has a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes. As long as you enjoy a movie, it genuinely doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. Keep enjoying the things that you enjoy. You do you.
But a certain band of DCEU fans across the internet has proven to be one of the most insufferable, aggressive and overall toxic bunch of fans that I have ever seen of any fandom. Their identities are so tied up in the external validation of mass-marketed products from multinational corporations that they take any criticism of it — and in particular the overwhelmingly negative reviews that have been the hallmark of this franchise since its inception — as a personal affront to themselves. And convinced that it couldn’t possibly be because the movies themselves are rushed, over-produced and all-around bad, they are convinced — in the very cores of their being — that there is some larger, over-arcing conspiracy directing global events in such a way that their movie du jour dips down a few points on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
This is where one of the more bizarre cinematic conspiracy theories of the past decade originated: that the obviously good DCEU movies (which obviously didn’t suffer from a rushed release schedule, and over-bearing studio, a drained color palette, questionable direction and fundamentally unsound writing) were being tanked by global conspirators. And of course the obvious source of these malicious lies was cinematic rival Marvel Studios, whose own cinematic universe has achieved consistent and universal praise from critics and audiences the world over.
According to this unhinged theory, the reason for the MCU’s success and the DCEU’s failure simply boiled down to Disney paying off damn near every critic on the face of the planet. They were simultaneously bribing these critics to positively review their movies and to negatively review their rivals’, thus ensuring that the gullible sheeple buying tickets would only pay to see the ones owned by the House of Mouse.
This, of course, ignores the negative pings that Marvel has experienced along its path to success, including the negative reception of Iron Fist and Inhumans and the lukewarm response to Iron Man 2. This also ignores the DCEU’s gold-standard success, Wonder Woman, which was one of the highest grossing and best reviewed blockbusters of the year. And of course you’d have to overlook the fact that the DCEU has collectively won more Oscars than the MCU despite the latter’s head start and broader body of work.
But sure, Disney bought off every critic on the planet as the more cost efficient means of selling a lot of movie tickets as opposed to, you know, making good movies that most people (critics included) like. That’s what’s happening.
Some DC fans, though, have started to get revenge for the supposed sleights against their preferred corporate movie franchise. They have been targeting Disney releases by lowering the movies’ user ratings on websites like IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, such as Star Wars: The Last Jedi late last year. And evidently they plan to do the same thing to Black Panther, which is already garnering astoundingly positive word of mouth from critics who have attended early screenings of the film.
On social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, disgruntled DC fans have made events, organizing thousands of people to unceremoniously give the upcoming Marvel film negative reviews despite having never even seen the movie. It’s not that they didn’t like the movie. It’s not that they have any real opinion on it at all. It’s that it’s a Disney movie, which is enough to make it culpable in their confounding minds of ruining their various Batman movies. It’s petty revenge for an affront that never existed in the first place.
So if we have a repeat of The Last Jedi, where a critically beloved movie that’s making money hand over fist with really strong, grassroots word of mouth perplexingly gets negative user reviews on aggregating websites, we know the reason why. The story is as bizarre as they come, but it’s evidently the world we live in now. And if campaigns like this continue into the future, how long will it be until sites like Rotten Tomatoes do away with user ratings altogether, leaving only the critic aggregations for audiences to go off of?