After 20 years, the “X-Men” film franchise comes to an end (until Marvel Studios reboots it, at least) this week with the release of “Dark Phoenix.” Billed as the culmination of the entire franchise, ending with the most celebrated story in the entire canon of X-comic books, “Dark Phoenix” should be a triumphant send-off for one of the godfathers of this modern superhero era. And yet, it’s not that. In fact, it’s actually not very good, at all.
But if you go to Rotten Tomatoes and quickly glance at the coveted Tomatometer score, “Dark Phoenix” currently sits at 21% (as of this writing), earning itself the dubious honor of being the lowest-rated “X-Men” film of all time. Clearly, that means the film is worse than 2017’s “X-Men: Apocalypse,” 2009’s “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” right? All three of those films hold significantly higher RT scores (the lowest being ‘Origins,’ with a 37%), while also being discussed as the worst of the franchise. Well, that’s where the Tomatometer fails you, True Believer.
Despite “Dark Phoenix” being a subpar film, it’s still, by most accounts, significantly better than ‘Last Stand,’ ‘Origins,’ and ‘Apocalypse.’ This illustrates the fatal flaw with Rotten Tomatoes, and review aggregation sites, in general — the lack of nuance.
By definition, a review aggregating website pulls reviews from all different media outlets, looks at whether or not the film is either good or bad (no room for any in-between measurements) and spits out an average rating. “Dark Phoenix,” for example, has a 21% rating, which only really means that 21% of the critics who saw the movie would say that it’s not quite “bad.” Not every critic who gives it a “fresh” rating thinks the film is the greatest thing ever. And not every critic who gave the sequel a “rotten” rating thinks the film is garbage. But given the choices, everyone has to pick one or the other.
Hopefully, you all know this by now, and it’s likely that many of you don’t even really bother with Rotten Tomatoes’ Tomatometer as an accurate barometer for a film’s quality. Unfortunately, there’s a fair amount of folks that don’t really understand how it works, and thus look at the rating in terms of a high school book report grade. And compounding the problem is the culture of film fans in 2019 that lives to argue and tweet out hyperbolic statements about a film either being trash or the best achievement in cinematic history, with no reasonable discussion to be found.
And that’s where the true problem with Rotten Tomatoes lies — uninformed and/or toxic fans. Weaponizing a 21% Tomatometer rating as a way to objectively prove that “Dark Phoenix” is worse than every other film in the franchise is silly, and worst of all, completely false. The same could be said for the fans that look at “Avengers: Endgame” and its 94% rating and say that the film is objectively better than one of last year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees, “The Favourite.” No matter how much you enjoy Captain America using Thor’s hammer and fighting Thanos, it’s just not better than Yorgos Lanthimos’ period dramedy. It’s not.
That being said, Rotten Tomatoes isn’t the real issue, though it is incredibly flawed and should be updated to somehow allow for more nuanced grades. (Yes, there’s the “average rating” feature, but RT has recently buried it under the “more info” tab below the Tomatometer and Audience Rating.) The crux of the problem lies with fans, and fandom in general, who give so much weight and power to review aggregation websites nowadays. These sites should be used as general tools, not weapons in your Twitter feud.
To sum up this rant in some sort of coherent way, the TL;DR is simple — “Dark Phoenix” has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score of any ‘X-Men’ film, but that doesn’t make it the worst. And if you attempt to win an argument using a Rotten Tomatoes rating, then you’re not doing the film, the cast/crew, the studio, and, most importantly, yourself any favors. So, find yourself some reviewers you trust, and enjoy their work. Or better yet, just watch the film and judge for yourself.