There should always be some dissent and discord in an artistic field like film, but in the case of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, it has come in an odd wave of negative reviews. Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, the film’s rating on Rotten Tomatoes dropped to 77% positive after a dozen “rotten” reviews brought the total to 77. This comes just days after the DC Comics film won the Golden Lion at the Venice International Film Festival.
Many critics hailed the movie for changing “how we view comic book films” and presenting an Oscar worthy performance from Joaquin Phoenix while others said it was, “well, not bad.” The biggest contention, however, seems to be the way the film presents its values and themes. Some praised it for, “unapologetically hold[ing] up a mirror in our divided modern times,” or successfully functioning as a “disturbing and terrifying commentary on our current society.”
However, many critics saw this exploration as a weakness. One top critic called it a, “predictable brand of cold-hearted cynicism,” that isn’t worth your time, while another said it is, “a movie with a message [that it] hammers home again and again,” making it “too volatile and frankly too scary, to separate from the very real violence committed by young men… in America almost every day.” This conversation is one that should be had among viewers because film is meant to stir discussion. This conversation, however, is not one that can be summed up in a quick hot-take or blurb, and yet it often is.
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Many moviegoers rely on Rotten Tomatoes scores to determine whether a movie like Joker is worth a trip to the theater or a six dollar rental. But without reading the entire review, the simple percentage leaves out a lot of the nuance that is reviewing films.
According to Rotten Tomatoes, “The Tomatometer score represents the percentage of professional critic reviews that are positive for a given film or television show. A Tomatometer score is calculated for a movie or TV show after it receives at least five reviews.”
“When at least 60% of reviews for a movie or TV show are positive, a red tomato is displayed to indicate its Fresh status.”
In other words, there is no “It was okay” or “I liked parts of it, but other parts weren’t great.” After analyzing the film in exhaustive detail and reflecting on the myriad of aspects of filmmaking put into the piece, a reviewer must deem it positive or negative. If it maintains a Tomatometer score of 75% or higher with at least five reviews from Top Critics, it will earn a “certified fresh” score.
“[But, if] less than 60% of reviews for a movie or TV show are positive, a green splat is displayed to indicate its Rotten status.”
So what does this tell us about Joker? Not much that we didn’t expect. It is divisive in that there are aspects that some will hail as Oscar-worthy while others will deem it self-righteous or overplayed. It’s up to us to have these conversations rather than read a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. We’ll have to see what the masses say when the Audience Scores pour in after Joker‘s October 4 release. You can read the reviews at RottenTomatoes.