Robert Ebert is one of many critics that disliked the movie but his review was one of the most vicious. He hated the movie on a fundamental level, liking nothing about it. His review is essentially a series of insults that comes down to a crappy plot with stupid characters and loud confusing visuals that lasted too long. Only he didn't put it in such simple terms. Personally I just thought he clearly isn't the audience for this movie (much older males) and his review very clearly reflected that. I think my review more accurately reflects the audience this movie was aimed. He is a good example of why I read more than one opinion to get a wider viewpoint as often most mainstream critics have a set of expectations that I don't.
His review apparently led to outrage from Transfan that loved the movie and they let him know what they thought of his write-up. His response to that is a blog post entitled "I'm a proud Brainiac" (found via MB.com). At the heart of this, he basically believes that those that like Transformers 2 are idiots. In turn those that liked the movie think Ebert is an idiot. His response, essentially comes down to "no I am not stupid, you are!" What I have a problem isn’t that he disliked the movie, so what many people did. My problem is I think he (and many others) fail to do their jobs as a movie reviewer.
He says "it's not a critic's job to reflect box office taste. The job is to describe my reaction to a film, to account for it, and evoke it for others. The job of the reader is not to find his opinion applauded or seconded, but to evaluate another opinion against his own." Except this is bulls#@t. If this was true, reviews would come after the movie reaches theatres not before. How can I evaluate my opinion against his when he has seen the movie and I have not?
A critics job, in reality, is to provide an opinion (i.e. a "review") and "account for it" to assist their readers in making an informed decision on how they will spend their time and money. If a job of a movie critic is only to watch out for the next great piece of cinematic art then he wouldn't have a whole lot to write about. His job is to inform with his opinion and arm people with the information they need to commit to a choice. That he doesn’t seem to know this after all these years disturbs me.
A primary problem is Ebert seems to think his job is to judge a movie on its artistic merit only. If his audience was other critics, that measurement would be sufficient. However, he is speaking to more than just fellow critics. He is speaking to the average movie goers and their criteria tend to extend to entertainment value. As a result, a critic should judge a movie not just artistic value but by its entertainment value and provide readers with the proper set of expectations for a particular movie. All three should be a core to any review. Often only one is. The result is you get artistic films that gets loud accolades from reviewers but lacks in any entertainment value or vice versa. Often films may achieve both but still fall short for the average audience because the critic fails to set the proper expectations for a film. The thing is this disconnect between what the critic says about a movie versus what the audience ultimately decides on entertainment value occurs after the money and time has been spent and when this occurs the reviewer has ultimately failed at their job.
He felt the movie had no meaningful artistic value as his snarky review and blog post makes clear. What about entertainment value? Will it entertain me and why or why not. He was focused on how loud and poorly developed it was. I don't really argue that but I still found it to be highly entertaining. His review never indicated if that event could occur because it probably never crossed his mind because his expectations are set to a far different set of criteria then mine were.
I went into Transformers 2 expecting a loud, CGI fest with great action scenes with minimal story and character development and that is what I got. Can I demand more? Sure. The movie is made though and you should go in to any movie with a certain mindset appropriate to what is coming and what you want. If you wanted just a fun two hours of entertainment, then Transformers 2 probably met those expectations nicely. If you wanted something with more story and character development you were probably very disappointed. A properly written review would have prepared you for either scenario so you could decide if it was worth your money to view the movie.
Does this mean a critic can't demand more? Of course not. Most of the reviews that measured the film on more than just artistic merit (even the overwhelmingly positive ones) were quick to point its flaws but they also made sure to inform you of its entertainment value and set your expectations accordingly so if you spent your money and time you were less likely to be disappointed.
Ebert can feel like a "Brainiac" all he wants, his bruised ego isn't important to me. I just want him to actually help me in making an informed decision on my movie choices. Instead he has become the opposite of that. When he likes a movie, I become concerned as he consistently fails to measure a film on entertainment value and that is my (and many others) primary consideration when choosing what films to see.
The primary lesson here isn’t so much about Ebert but to try and figure out what information is important to you when reading reviews and find critics that consistently meet them. Equally important is to read more than one review to make a truly informed decision. Use Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic to try to find a set of reviewers that tend to meet your taste in movies and when they reach a consensus, you know what to do and when they don’t maybe more research is needed. Better yet, just let your friends are the guinea pigs.