Leading film and television review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes has come under flak after apparently removing tens of thousands of user reviews for the movie Captain Marvel. According to the Geeks + Gamers YouTube channel, the site had deleted 54,000 user reviews at the height of the issue, allegedly as part of new protocols against fake accounts and reviews.
The latest in the spate of Marvel cinematic releases, Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s and follows Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers as she discovers her true identity as the superhero Captain Marvel, who happens to be the strongest hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
However, prior to its big screen debut, a significant lobby had emerged averse toward Larson’s involvement as Captain Marvel in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. YouTube videos claiming that Larson was ruining the comic film adaptation, and calls to boycott the release resulted in YouTube’s re-categorisation of the search term “Brie Larson” as a news item – search results will return content from established news outlets first.
These resulted from certain statements she made last year regarding the mixed reviews for Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, stating that the movie was not written for “40-year old white dude” reviewers. Needless to say, this statement (usually taken far out of context) ruffled the feathers of many.
These sentiments found another outlet – the user-submitted reviews on sites like IMDb, Metacritic, and Rotten Tomatoes. What soon resulted was a trend of legitimate users submitting the minimum number of stars, alongside bots used to both boost and reduce the overall rating of the movie.
This alone was sufficient to provoke Rotten Tomatoes to disable long-standing features. It revoked users’ ability to leave comments prior to the movie’s launch, along with the statistics that showed the percentage of people who wanted to see the film. In what they called “non-constructive input” that was “bordering on trolling”, Rotten Tomatoes defended their actions in a blog post.
Review bombing is no new trend to pop culture, especially in movies and games where long-standing, devout fans project personal desires and preferences onto developers, publishers and in this case – movie directors. As of late, movies had been at the centre of controversy as studios are seen by some to be overly-feminist or overly-inclusive as to impinge on artistic merit.
Some of these movies, like the 2016 Ghostbusters debut that starred Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon also experienced some degree of “review bombing”. The spate of backlash for the recent Star Wars movies, along with Marvel’s Black Panther had also come under public scrutiny for their overtly inclusive themes.
While bot-executed review bombing is a widespread issue, a main driver behind these sentiments is undeniably a contagion of misdirected, disproportional anger from a select group of individuals with strong personal opinions and emotional investments in the various franchises.
Rotten Tomatoes might be able to change the numbers to something they believe better represents the true ground sentiments, but one thing is for certain: that this will only serve to amplify feelings of hatred and suspicion amongst this limited mob.
[edited 10 Mar 2019: to reflect statements made by Brie Larson regarding A Wrinkle in Time]