He is arguably the father of modern film criticism and the most recognizable and well-renowned film critic on the planet. He is the only movie reviewer to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. He is the man who introduced countless young readers such as myself to such filmmakers as Martin Scorsese and Sam Peckinpah. His prose and insights have formed the foundation on which pretty much all of today's critics operate. Yet I find myself in a position today where I am afraid to read Roger Ebert's film reviews. It is not due to any downturn in quality or any continual difference of opinion. It is not due to the notion that Ebert somehow has nothing more to offer the world of film criticism, as anyone who reads his journal will laugh at such an idea. I no longer read Ebert's reviews (prior to seeing a given movie) out of fear, the fear that he will randomly and arbitrarily reveal plot twists and climactic elements of a given movie without a warning or even a second thought. While it has always been an occasional issue, Roger Ebert has, in the last few years, turned into a full-blown spoiler.
The idea of Roger Ebert spoiling the ending of a movie is not new per-se. Despite writing an essay in 2005 claiming that 'critics has no right to play spoiler', seemingly off-the-cuff plot reveals have been an occasional annoyance over the decades. As far back as 1994, I remember him opening his positive review of True Lies by revealing a scene of violence that was actually the death of the film's main villain. I had seen the film already, so I was merely shocked that he would casually reveal a major climactic moment/punchline. I was not so lucky during the opening weekend of The Jackal in November 1997. If you recall, the film took great pains to hide the identity of the master assassin's actual victim, a third-act plot twist that Ebert explicitly spoiled because he was offended by it. I was lucky enough to attend a paid-sneak preview of Frequency back in 2000, so I was not harmed when I read Ebert's positive review that nonetheless explicitly detailed the shocking climax of the time travel thriller.
But it seems to have gotten that much worse over the last few years. At the beginning of his positive Cloverfield review, Ebert not only revealed that the film was indeed a monster movie (which to be fair, is pretty much essential information to actually discussing the picture) but casually revealed the climactic fate of a major lead character and answered a major question surrounding the marketing campaign for the picture ("Do we see what the monster looks like?"). Later that year, his four-star review for The Dark Knight described The Joker's final plan in explicit detail. Again, I was lucky enough to have seen a press screening of said picture, so I personally was not spoiled. Frankly, my lengthy rave review didn't even spell out the fate of Harvey Dent let alone what Joker's big climactic scheme entailed. Last year, the majority of his one-star pan of Kick-Ass was spent describing the action climax of the picture, a reveal allegedly justified by his offense at its contents.
Personal offense also apparently justified his whopper of a spoiler in his opening paragraph for his negative review for Super just a couple months ago. Without going into details, his opening lines revealed, without warning and in an off-the-cuff manner, the fate of a major character. Just a few weeks ago, his negative review of The Hangover 2 spelled out the content of a major punchline contained in a photo montage that ended the film. Again, Ebert was offended, so he just revealed the joke. And soon after that, he included in his mixed-pan of X-Men: First Class mocking references to the climactic events of the picture in the opening and closing paragraphs, again without warning and with a certain arrogance that deemed the film worthy of spoiling because he did not like it. And that does seem to be the pattern these days. Sure, Roger Ebert will occasionally offer a spoiler warning if he enjoys a film (Midnight In Paris, Source Code), but if he dislikes a picture or (even more likely) is offended by its content, all bets are off and read at your own peril.
None of the movies mentioned above were actually spoiled for me, because I was lucky enough to see them before he reviewed them (either at a press screening or on opening weekend before said film came to Chicago). But Roger Ebert's reviews are designed, as most are, for the unsuspecting viewer, as a guide to whether or not they should see a given picture. So while I can wait before reading what I hope are worthwhile insights and sharp observations, I really shouldn't have to. Even after all these years, and even when I vigorously disagree with his opinions, I still trusted Roger Ebert as a film critic. But sadly, I no longer trust him not to ruin the surprises on a whim. I will read Roger Ebert's reviews for as long as he writes them. But I no longer read them before I see a given film.