Reacting to online trolls, Rotten Tomatoes has rolled out changes to its audience rating system, eliminating the "Want to See" percentage score that was exploited to target Captain Marvel, and disabling the user comment function ahead of a film's premiere. While that's certainly a significant step by the influential review aggregator website to combat "review bomb" tactics, it will only delay the trolls, not deter them.
Although the "Want to See" percentage for Captain Marvel and other upcoming releases have been removed from the site, the Audience Score and user reviews will appear once the film opens in theaters on March 8. Rotten Tomatoes' parent company, online movie ticket seller Fandango, says it's considering ways to verify the authenticity of comments -- based on whether users bought tickets through Fandango, or how often they comment on the site -- but any such process certainly won't be in place by the time Captain Marvel premieres next week. That means those trolls who helped to drive the film's "Want to See" score to an all-time low for a Marvel Cinematic Universe release will get take aim once again, through the audience score and user reviews.
The online trolls, in large part, appear to have been incensed by comments made by star Brie Larson about wanting more diversity among the critics and entertainment journalists covering the film. She later clarified that she wasn't calling for the inclusion of marginalized voices to come at the expense of established reporters and outlets, but that didn't stave off online accusations that the Oscar winner is "racist and sexist." That quickly spilled over into the Rotten Tomatoes entry for Captain Marvel, and here we are.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi similarly experienced a significant drop in its audience score on Rotten Tomatoes upon its theatrical release in December 2017. While the website defended the audience reviews of the divisive film as "genuine," there was widespread speculation that the enormous gap between critics and audience scores was artificially inflated by a targeted campaign, or else by bots. (Although Rotten Tomatoes didn't see anything "unusual" about the review activity, a study published in 2018 found that the negative response on Twitter to The Last Jedi was amplified by Russian trolls.)
The "Want to See" percentage rating is gone from Rotten Tomatoes, which is undoubtedly welcome news for Captain Marvel and whichever film is next subjected to a targeted online campaign. However, it's not as if the online trolls will simply put down their cyber pitchforks. As soon as the film hits theaters, the toxic "fans" will likely be back in force, creating an artificial disparity between the critics' score and audience score in an effort to hurt the box office, in the name of making their supposed point.
Rotten Tomatoes made a step in the right direction, but, simply put, its a short-term solution that will not ultimately solve the larger problem. Unless the site develops a way for only verified users to be able to leave audience reviews, potentially by interfacing directly with ticket sales through Fandango, weaponized negative-review "bombs" will always be something of an inevitably to artificially affect audience scores. And with Captain Marvel opening for previews in exactly nine days, the website won't be ready to stem the tide of trolls sure to come.
Directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck from a script they wrote with Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch, Meg LeFauve, Nicole Perlman and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, Captain Marvel stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Jude Law as Mar-Vell, Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser, Djimon Hounsou as Korath the Pursuer, Gemma Chan as Minn-Erva, Ben Mendelsohn as Talos and Lashana Lynch as Maria Rambeau. The film arrives on March 8.