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‘Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice’ And The Battle Between Critics And Fans

'Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice' And The Battle Between Critics And Fans

This weekend saw a battle even more cataclysmic than the one being waged between the Dark Knight and the Last Son of Krypton, thanks to the release of “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” —namely, the beef between critics and fans. Reviews for Zack Snyder’s hotly anticipated superhero blockbuster, the followup to “Man Of Steel,” and the official launch of a DC Extended Universe, were posted a few days before the film’s release on Friday. They were, on the whole, not good. “About as diverting as having a porcelain sink broken over your head,” wrote A.O. Scott in The New York Times, while Tasha Robinson at The Verge said that the film “doubles down on the grimness, the ugliness and the indifference to human life” of its predecessor. Our own review wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.

READ MORE: Too Big To Fail: What ‘Batman v Superman’ Tells Us About Blockbuster Culture

The aggregators had represented the overall critical take, with the movie scoring 28% on Rotten Tomatoes. Meanwhile, fans of the two title characters have been unhappy that the critical response was so poor, swamping social media and comments sections with thoughts ranging from angry to murderous. Ben Affleck’s sad face went viral, while future “Justice League” members Jason Momoa and Ray Fisher responded on Instagram with various degrees of incoherent defiance.

Studio big shots spoke out as well. “There’s a real disconnect with what some critics wrote and how the fans are enjoying the film,” said Warner Bros’ domestic distribution chief Jeff Goldstein. The film earned over $400 million worldwide in just three days, numbers that Variety’s Brent Lang called “a devastating rebuke to the power of mainstream American critics.” Has Snyder’s film finally proven that the critical community are entirely redundant to a general audience?

Frankly, that’s a stupid question. In ‘Batman v Superman,’ Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor pits the title characters against each other (sort of, it’s all a bit muddy, and it’s not exactly crystal clear why he does this, but we’re getting off topic), when in fact they should be on the same side, or at least existing side by side in their own separate franchises. Similarly, critics and audiences are being unnecessarily forced into a confrontation.

To begin with, critics didn’t have any impact on the opening weekend of ‘Batman v Superman.’ Nor did they expect to, or even want to. It’s probably true that a brace of glowing pull-quotes can help elevate a blockbuster further into must-see territory. “The Avengers” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” both exemplify well-received tentpoles that did even better than the sky-high expectations, in part because mostly enthusiastic responses from critics influenced a snowball effect of buzz in the run-up to release. Perhaps ‘Batman v Superman’ would have gone even higher with its box office haul than it did with better reviews. Perhaps not.

But opening weekends are less a reflection of how well received a movie is, and more a reflection of marketing, as well as a certain ineffable want-to-see factor. Warner Bros. needed a hit, and spent a huge amount on advertising to get one. And so the picture had earned at least $30 million before reviews even landed. That said, however much the studio spent, “Aquaman v Cyborg: Dawn Of Justice” would have earned a fraction of what ‘Batman v Superman’ has in its first week —those two characters are icons with 70 year plus histories that no other comic book characters can rival, and regardless of the Rotten Tomatoes score, clearly a large number of moviegoers were curious enough to check the movie out no matter what.

A movie like this was always going to open to some hefty numbers, but the jury’s still out on whether a mass audience will like it over time: as we pointed out yesterday, the B Cinemascore the film received is significantly lower than most superhero movies or blockbusters tend to get in general, and a record box-office drop for a superhero movie between Friday and Sunday suggests that word of mouth may not be strong. Which means that those super-fans blanketing Twitter and Facebook with attacks on critics who gave the movie bad reviews may yet prove to be a vocal minority, and likely are. 

Meanwhile, some of that subset of fans have spun conspiracy theories that critics of the film have been bribed by Marvel, or are inherently picking sides in the ancient battle of Marvel vs. DC.  I can’t quite believe that it needs to be said, but both of these accusations are obviously thunderingly false. Critics have a hard enough job getting paid for a review by the outlet that they work for without trying to get a giant conglomerate to send them money for dissing another studio’s film. There is no such animal as a Disney marketing executive who would sooner pay thousands of dollars to critics rather than, say, buying a “Zootopia” TV spot. And Marvel are as invested as anyone in making sure that the superhero bubble doesn’t burst any time soon. A failure by DC puts even more pressure on them to succeed.

As for any perceived tribalism, that’s possibly even more ridiculous. Some critics read comics growing up, and some didn’t. Some might have preferred DC, and some might have gone with Marvel. Plenty read both. But no professional film critic treats one studio like they’re football teams, cheering one blindly and jeering the other.

Which is not to say that critics aren’t biased. Critics are biased. We’re all biased. Having taste —good taste, bad taste, whatever— is a collection of biases. Some are conscious, and some are unconscious. There’s an idea that seems to have emerged from the GamerGate swamp that reviews should be “objective.” But so long as a critic is aiming for something more ambitious than ‘‘this film was/wasn’t in focus,’ “objectivity” is impossible: we all see a film through our own prisms, and we each have a very different experience with that film as a result.

Some fans may be confused because critics write from a position of authority, and get the impression that they are being told by critics that they’re dumb for not agreeing with them. But a critic panning a movie isn’t setting out to stop anyone from seeing it or to ensure its financial failure —they’re sharing their own subjective opinion.

Any critic is hopefully doing so with wit and insight: when done right (and there are at least as many bad professional critics as there are bad professional filmmakers, which is to say plenty), criticism is its own art form, and reading a great piece of writing by a Pauline Kael or a Roger Ebert or a Wesley Morris can be as entertaining as the film itself, whether you agree or disagree. They’re not right, and they’re not wrong, and they’re not merely giving consumer reports on whether you should see a movie.

I should probably acknowledge here that I saw ‘Batman v Superman,’ and I hated it. I thought it was grim, boring, incoherently told and fundamentally broken in its depiction of the characters. I should also acknowledge that I suspected I would hate it going in (but, like most critics, I hoped I would love it: no one goes into their job every day hoping they have a terrible time). I have increasing superhero movie fatigue, I’m not a big fan of the Frank Miller comics that the movie largely draws from, and I’ve literally never liked a Zack Snyder film.

These are my biases. I have others —I have a physical reaction against Sean Penn performances, I’m allergic to garbled English dialogue by foreign-language filmmakers (this means you, “Clouds Of Sils Maria”), I don’t like torture porn, I have a British fondness for repressed emotion, and I think Seth MacFarlane is terrible, to name but a few. None of these opinions are necessarily correct. None are necessarily wrong either. None qualify or disqualify me from having an opinion on this film or any other.

But even as I hated the whole, I found moments to like that made the price of my ticket worthwhile. I was entertained by the brief appearances of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, even if she seems to have been written as Catwoman. I found Affleck’s Batman to be a somewhat fresh take on the character and one I’d be reasonably keen to see more of, even if I could have done with him murdering fewer people. And I liked that the film, in contrast to some of the recent Marvel movies like “Avengers: Age Of Ultron” and “Ant-Man,” had a distinct point of view and something to say about superheroes, even if I mostly found that point of view repellent.

And then I came home and sought out the negative reviews I’d been avoiding until I saw it. And I sought out the most positive reviews too. And I looked for what my favorite critics wrote about the movie (mixed takes by two of my top ones, Bilge Ebiri and Mark Harris, made for particularly interesting reading). Sometimes you overlook something, or sometimes it’s worth looking at a movie from a different perspective (particularly, it should be said, if that perspective is from a different race or gender to the white men that make up the bulk of the filmmaking profession). And sometimes your opinion hasn’t settled yet.

Critics and audiences each can and should be wrong. If you’re not changing your mind often, you’re not growing as a watcher of films. You’re just retreating into dogma, and dogma is boring for everybody else. Sometimes we see a great film on the wrong day, or a bad one on the right one (I saw “Elizabethtown” while I was falling in love for the first time, and walked out convinced I’d seen a masterpiece —go figure), or a filmmaker is ahead of their time, or an acclaimed master gets a soft pass for a lesser work.

We’ve all had that moment of returning to a film and realizing that we’ve overpraised or underpraised it, or something in between (it happens to me at least once at every film festival I go to). Famously, “Bonnie & Clyde” only began to take off when Joe Morgenstern retracted his original Newsweek pan and re-reviewed it with a rave the following week, convincing both fellow critics and audience members to give a film they’d dismissed a second look. It’s one of the reasons critics are valuable, and also one of the reasons that you shouldn’t take their word as gospel. 

The Rotten Tomatoes score is never the last word on a movie. The history books have proven critics wrong numerous times —“Night Of The Hunter,” “Predator,” “Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me,” and “Heavens Gate” are among the films whose reputations were initially tarnished by mostly negative notices, but which were restored over time. Conversely, critics have often proved more receptive to a now-classic film than audiences — think of “Blade Runner,” among many others.

Professional moviegoers or otherwise: we’re all fallible, and our opinions aren’t set in stone, but shift and change over time. They can even be contradictory. And in a world where reviews are grouped into “fresh” or “rotten” and measured in percentages or star ratings or grades, that can be frustrating. But it makes life much more interesting. Critics’ jobs aren’t (as Guillermo Del Toro tweeted today) to predict or even align with box office grosses, but to start or continue conversations about art.

**Spoilers ahead** Ultimately, Batman and Superman put aside their differences. In a totally ridiculous moment, Bruce Wayne discovers that both of their mothers are called Martha and spares his extraterrestrial frenemy. If he’d worked this out earlier, if he’d remembered that there was a man behind the costume and had a little empathy, it would have spared a certain amount of bruising and property damage for everybody. Even in the baffling choice of execution, it’s a pretty good metaphor for the ways that critics and moviegoers should behave towards each other.

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Comments

Jamie Jones

I sincerely agree with John Biltmore, they do not want us to watch it, they want us to hate it and to share their opinion. What sort of a job is a critic anyway? I am told time and time again they have no impact on the box office, so if a critic holds legitimately no repurcussions for the movie when slating it, what harm are they? Why does anyone care? They care because they clearly do habour an impact on movies and moviegoers. Fans like myself have to now argue a case when we recommend this movie, as people will reply "I’ve heard its bad from reviewers" and we have to argue a case against a "professional". Personally, I state that it’s a great movie, its different to Marvel and critics have had it ought for the director since his work on Sucker Punch. DC has become a "fun thing to hate" much like Justin Bieber.

People like to hate things.

If this movie was truly bad, it would have disappeared without a hitch, nobody would have cared enough to rant and rave and post article after article explaining why its bad and "top 10 things I hate about BvS" and "top 10 things I wished happened in BvS" and all the nonsense.

I’m exhausted from defending DC, but I’ll continue doing it because they deserve it, these movies aren’t bad, they aren’t perfect, they are great and can match the best of Marvels. In the end which side you lean on, Marvel or DC, should come down to taste – I hate how DC get critiqued for things Marvel have done without anyone batting an eye.

Nobody cared that Hulk raged out on the Hellicarrier, not only 30 minutes later telling the group he has "control of his abilities" before turning to the Hulk at will and punching an alien in the head… tell me, why did critics not tear that apart? A massive plot hole created just so Loki could escape from the Avengers, one I and many fans overlooked but refuse to do the same for any flaw in BvS.

Bullshit.

Kris Knight

No other movie in recent memory has had this amount of animosity and vengeful wrath from critics. No reason was given to the trashing other than describing it as a "mess". Other movies have also been labelled the same, but given much fairer reviews.

I doesn’t matter how much you try to rationalize the critics’ point-of-view, it’s more than evident now. They were going to stomp on this movie, even if it was The Dark Knight reincarnated. Humans act through mob mentality. For some reason, something triggered an initial hatred for this project. Could it be the cheesy title? Ben Affleck? DC trying hard to be different than the generic and formulaic pattern of Disney? Who knows… So one after the other, they picked a stone from the ground, and lashed out.

Keith

Wow this is actually one of my favourite reviews I’ve seen and I totally agree with you that a critis role can and should be important. However, I do feel some critics especially the critics at rotten tomatoes do owe the likes of yourselvs an apology for tarnishing the reputation of critics! I’d urge you to go back and look at some of the earliest reviews of this film, the majority of them where so over the top and laden with frankly pathetic critiques, couples with blatant bias! Some provoking headlines and snippets – marvel have nothing to worry about! We’ll have to wait till May to see how a superhero films should be made when civil war is released! A conic book film should be fun, this is a lifeless adaptation with no point or message etc etc! Snyder can’t do this can’t do that, you get nothing from watching this etc etc this list goes on a gets more minial and ridiculous. As you can see there whether intentional or not they heavily promoted marvel, and committed the cardinal sin of telling us the viewer what we should or should not like! There was very little critical input or insight into the film just a tone over hyperbolic criticism designed to stop the people watching it.

I watched this film and loved yet I understand that there where flaws and I genuinely feel I could suggest ways to improve it especially the ending. I’ll happily accept that some will hate this, film, the characterisations, the style it was shot, the genre etc etc. But it’s not a critics place to blatantly tell me what I should or shouldn’t watch!

In the immortal words Of Batfleck we as viewers don’t want to go war with Critics, they bought the god damn war to us! Lmao

Dheep'

"To begin with, critics didn’t have any impact on the opening weekend of ‘Batman v Superman.’ Nor did they expect to, or even want to."
That is such complete & utter BS. Of course they tried (The "Critical Community") – & found out just how little they matter. Whatever the collective Ax to grind was, they ground it. To no effect. I had no interest seeing the movie, but almost went just as a reaction to the Savage PRE – tanking attempt. Very gratifying to see there was no influnece on the general populace.

jinamo

Critics vs Fans : Dawn of BO record

loudrockmusic

^^ insert Comic Book Guy .gif

Craig Jamison

I too agree that your article is very well written. Extremely well thought out, articulate; and taking the time to dissect a complex situation. I think an important thing to remember however is that nowadays (unfortunately) far too many critical reviews ARE NOT. Hastily slapped-dashed together the end result often seems to be a combination of emotionalism (which isn’t bad in and of itself), a lack of taking the time to digest and reflect (which IS a bad thing when writing), and (perhaps worst of all) a tendency to too often fall prey to the the "art of witty-isms": the desire to be noticed and remembered for turning a pithy phrase which rolls of the tongue rather than actually discuss the film at hand. For example, every time a new vampire film opens you just KNOW half of the reviews will feature the line "This film sucks", "Has Teeth", "Sinks it’s fangs into you", "Is anemic", etc. The writer tends to arrogantly (and at times condescendingly) get in the way of the subject at hand. I believe it’s this (accurately or inaccurately) perceived sense of condescension which many (not just fans, but) film goers in general find offensive. The average audience member usually won’t mind if you disagree. But it’s in HOW one disagrees, or in HOW one expresses their displeasure with a film. Just there are fans who are a bit too proprietary, and full of themselves, so too are there far too many critics who believe their learned view (and too often many of them get their facts incorrect as well – sometimes one needs to refer to more than the press release and Wikipedia) is the only legitimate view. And then, as in the case of BATMAN v SUPERMAN, when the box office defies their opinion / prediction, for the next three days we read what (if from politicians) could be considered "backtracking", or at least the attempt to "save face" with comments such as, "Well, we’ll see how it fares next week. Then, if it’s successful that next week also, we next hear, "It had no substantial competition; wait until the next week", and so forth. If more reviews were as well thought out and written as your’s, and those of people like Leonard Maltin, Elvis Mitchell, the late Pauline Kael (whom I often disagreed with, but respected), Roger Ebert and more, there would be no "Critics v. Filmgoers" WWF SuperSlam. Anyway, just this one guy’s opinion. :)

cirkusfolk

Predator was critically panned when it first came out?

Reality Hurts

Critics hate going to comic movies, except for the really good ones.

Facundo

It is a fantastic film!

The Critic

Anyone who thinks that criticism of any kind should be "objective" knows absolutely nothing about the history or the importance of criticism.

theschu

I’ve loved and appreciated the art of film criticism since the days when my dad and I watched Siskel and Ebert together and I learned to think about movies more critically. From watching them and also reading the reviews of Richard’s Schickel and Corliss, A.O. Scott, Owen Gleiberman, Lisa Schwartzbaum, Elvis Mitchell, Wesley Morris, Vincent Canby, Pauline Kael, etc I learned how to articulate my feelings about the movies I saw. I was able to discover movies I might not have known about.

I think a lot of people who complain about "the critics" honestly don’t know the difference between the professional critics like those mentioned above and some dude who writes for a blog or movie website like joblo. No offense to those guys. They’re fine. But you can tell the difference between them and Roger or Pauline when you read their reviews.

John biltmore

Critics MOST CERTAINLY are attempting to get people to stop from going. As a matter of fact there are a MULTITUDE OF them, who have specifically said "don’t go watch this" there was even one who said he wished ALL COMIC movies ended. Critics might not be paid, but they sure HATE going to comic movies, and any thing they can do to make that happen..

TC Kirkham

Dude, I rarely see eye to eye with you, but this time you hit the nail on the head – it’s refreshing to see a journalist who isn’t bashing the fans for being bashed, but taking time to explain why the differences between critics and fans exist; I said much the same thing in my own column on my site on Monday, but you have gone into even more detail. Well bowled, my friend…nice job…

jesse wylie

there’s nothing new about a divergence between "critical" and "popular" opinion regarding any art form. generally speaking, whether painting, photography, music, etc., the opinions of those who have seen, studied, and written about the "art"/entertainment a lot likely will have a different "taste" than those who view simply for entertainment. the best films,i think, are those that bridge the divide: films that are artistic and yet appeal to broad audiences. if this film errs on the side of "schlock" (i haven’t seen it), that may be because the creators weren’t interested at all in creating a "superior" product but instead were interested purely in entertainment, and future tie-ins: ie, making money. as long as there are enough other films with a different goal, i don’t mind that–i just won’t watch, except for the fairly rare "star wars" exception.

Emperor Zerg Rush

"But a critic panning a movie isn’t setting out to stop you from seeing it, or to ensure its financial failure, they’re sharing their own subjective opinion." – Except, with this film, it’s the people constantly reminding us all that a majority of those critics didn’t like this film almost as if they genuinely believe that such a reminder is going to influence the decision to see it or not. Most critics didn’t like it, it’s safe to say that we ALL get that message at this point. It doesn’t need to be trotted out and flogged in a public square on an hourly basis.

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