As The Dark Knight Rises hits theatres this week, critics posting negative reviews of the Batman film have been flooded with a wave of online abuse and threats sent by fans.
The final instalment of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, which officially opens in theatres Friday, is one of the year's most anticipated films.
U.S. online film critic Marshall Fine offered the first negative appraisal of the comic-inspired tale on his site Hollywood & Fine and via the popular movie-review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.
As expected, fans raised a furor in the comments section. Although most were negative, some commenters went so far as to vow to take down his website, while others threatened violence against him — including beating him into a coma or setting him on fire.
"I recognize that when I express a strong opinion in print, I'm going to get a strong reaction. This kind of material, a comic book movie, has particularly passionate fans," Fine, a longtime print entertainment writer and critic, told CBC News on Wednesday afternoon.
"This is what they live for, so to have somebody say 'This isn't good,' they take it personally. To them it's a slap in the face. It's not just that I said 'I don't like this movie.' They hear that as 'I don't like this movie and if you do, there's something wrong with you.' They take it personally and they respond emotionally," he said.
Rotten Tomatoes suspends comments
The reaction was so virulent — including the repeated crashing of Fine's website — that Rotten Tomatoes editor-in-chief Matt Atchity removed a link to Fine's review (though his negative rating remains in the overall tally) and also decided to disable commenting on The Dark Knight Rises for several days. It is the first time the site has ever suspended user comments.
'Take a deep breath, step away from the computer, and maybe go for a walk...There are plenty of other things to get angry about, like war, famine, poverty and crime. But not movie reviews' —Matt Atchity, RottenTomatoes.com
He explained his decision in a statement to readers entitled "This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things."
"Marshall has the right to not like the movie, and people have the right to express their disagreement with him (although if you haven't seen the movie, your arguments may be on shaky ground). And we have the right to pull your comment down and ban you if we think you're acting inappropriately," Atchity wrote.
"Just take a deep breath, step away from the computer, and maybe go for a walk. Have a smoke if you need one. There are plenty of other things to get angry about, like war, famine, poverty and crime. But not movie reviews."
Atchity, who noted that Fine has "a respectable background in criticism," also said he and his staff would continue to monitor comments carefully and that they are considering moving to a commenting system that reduces online anonymity.
"You'll have to stand by your comments, just like a critic does," he said. "You'll still be able to argue about a movie you haven't seen, but people will know it was you."
'Conversation turns ugly'
Writers behind subsequent negative reviews, including Associated Press reviewer Christy Lemire and Nick Pinkerton of the Village Voice, have also been targeted by fans. Alternately, other reviewers have posted missives defending their craft.
"As a movie writer and critic, Christy gives her opinion and we expect people will agree with some of her reviews and disagree with others," said Lou Ferrara, the AP managing editor overseeing entertainment. "It's unfortunate when the conversation turns ugly."
For his part, Fine is taking the online vitriol in stride, noting that while some hardcore fans might have been waiting for Dark Knight Rises since the release of its predecessor in 2008, the movie is just one of several he wrote about this week.
"I know that mine is going to be a distinctly minority opinion, but it's my opinion. That's what I do: I write reviews. I'm a critic and I've been doing it a very long time," he said.
"I think Christopher Nolan is trying to do serious things here. If you read my entire review, instead of just the excerpt that was on Rotten Tomatoes, you'll see that I'm not dismissive of the film or of Christopher Nolan, but that I'm disappointed in the movie."