Spoilers. A word that used to be largely unheard of within film outside the Fast and Furious franchise has now become so much part of the current lexicon that debates rage about them and journalists write in fear of going anywhere near them.
As most who follow film are aware, a spoiler is exactly that – something that spoils your film experience, specifically by revealing too many plot details in a review and ruining any surprise a viewer may have chanced upon when watching said reviewed film. Somewhat inevitably, spoilers were born from the internet – a term coined in the forums and chat-rooms by uber-fans venting their anger over critics who go a step too far with their critique. Taken up by the masses, the term was originally used with a grin and almost self-knowing naffness of using the word ‘spoiler’ but has now become so omnipresent that reviews will be brandished with a crude ‘SPOILER ALERT’ tag if they dare mention that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, oops – SPOILER. Actually that would be a spoiler in the truest sense and one deserving of any complaint it was to receive. It is, however, rare for a critic to drop such a whopper of a film detail in any kind of review and it isn’t these types of clangers that are fuelling the rage on internet comment sections. The bile-filled rants aren’t a result of uncovering a M. Night Shyalaman style twist while thumbing through a copy of Empire but are increasingly focussed on a far less consequential detail of a film, some tiny minutiae that, once revealed, will inextricably ruin anybody’s slight enjoyment of a 90 minute feature.
The levels of anger this generates is quite astonishing and nothing can bring out the complaints like an eagerly anticipated comic book adaptation so when reviews for (the already much guarded) The Dark Knight Rises started to emerge it was with some saddening predictability that the internet crumbled under the weight of criticisms from disapproving fans. The Guardians Xan Brooks managed to enrage fans with his take on the latest Christopher Nolan epic getting them all riled up by littering his review with such horrific spoilers as Bane and Batman having a fight, Catwoman appearing and Bruce Wayne beginning the film in some kind of self-imposed exile. This despite the sure-fired guarantee that those who voiced, or rather typed, their concerns would have seen the preceding The Dark Knight where their hero is left on the run and no doubt would already know the other characters to be introduced in this latest chapter of the Gotham saga. Having read the review and subsequently watched the film I found none of these spoilers particularly spoiling and in places he could have gone far further – I mean who expected it all to be just a dream?
It is with these complaints that there seems to be a level of hypocrisy involved. They say 80% of statistics are made up on the spot so with that in mind I’ll say that 79% of spoiler complaints are from near obsessives who hold onto a film as dear they would a close relative or a limb, the super-hero/ comic-book adaptation cycle that spoilers come into fashion forms the basis of my (100% certified) statistic. It is often a certain type of fan of a certain type of film that they seem to irk most and yet it is this very type of fan who avidly fills those very cyber pages with as much pre-release talk, exclusive looks, pictures, trailers and details as possible in the run-up to a big studio release. The fans have become so powerful that Hollywood itself has yielded to the mighty behemoth that is Comic-Con – a place where avid followers of blockbusting action meet to whip each other into a frenzy about upcoming releases. This is now seen as an integral part of the promotional machine with directors turning up and introducing whole chunks of films months from release, as well as introducing cast members and hinting at significant storylines. They are all spared the ire of fans for revealing too much, all that is pent up and saved for the critics in the weeks before general release.
Perhaps it is a case of ownership. In the case of Batman, there is already a captive audience – one who sees the franchise as their own and who are easily angered when a pompous critic who can’t possibly understand the importance of certain nuances not only get to see the film first but are able to describe to others elements of their beloved film.
From a critics vantage point of having seen the film, it is up to them just what is and isn’t a spoiler and it is here where the grey area lies. There’s an element of reviewing that relies on relaying part of the film’s synopsis to ensure the reader knows what it is they’re paying to see. Plot, however is scarcely half the story when it comes to the world of cinema. The nature and scope of films ensures there are far greater aspects to them than merely a matter-of-fact list of events. A films set’s itself apart through a mix of characters, dialogue, tone and cinematography to name a few and relies far more in the telling of a story than the story itself. That’s why fans of rom-coms don’t mind knowing the man and woman who hate each other at the beginning will end up together at the end and horror fans will still go to see jocks, wise-cracking teens and prom queens get cut-off in inevitable order. Even the most celebrated writer of all time Shakespeare knew this and ruined the greatest love story by throwing in a spoiler right at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, telling us they both end up dead.
There’s a responsibility on the part of the critic to know when to allow the true revelations to be a surprise – one that on the whole they adhere to but there is an equal responsibility for cinema goers to understand the nature of reviews and realise no matter how much they are looking forward to a film they don’t have to actually read a review.