Scroll through the comments under any less-than-glowing review of “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and you’ll encounter a few recurring themes. (Actually, under no circumstances should you read the comments yourself. Just trust me on this.) There’s the old saw about critics not getting it, expecting a Batman movie to be “fun” when everyone knows that Batman stories are always dark and gritty. (Not remotely true before Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” permanently transformed the character, but okay.) There’s the idea that movies are meant as entertainment, and any who thinks about them too hard is just missing the point. All par for the course. But then you get into the particular pathology of certain comic-book fans, the ones who just know that a movie they haven’t yet seen is awesome, and anyone who doesn’t agree is either crooked or irretrievably biased. (As a hilarious string of retweets from producer Keith Calder underlines, the latter complaint is almost always lodged by people who think that “bias” is an adjective, but we’ll leave that alone for now.) Here’s one, from a review by The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde: “You give this a rotten score, yet you give the last two Hunger Games a fresh rating? Yea, you’re bought and a fraud!” Matt Zoller Seitz’s review on Roger Ebert.com gets “How much did Marvel pay you for this review?” followed shortly by “There is absolutely no denying that Marvel had a budget set aside to pay critics for negative reviews. They don’t want competition.”
To state the blindingly obvious: The precise number of reviewers who have been paid to negatively review “Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice” is zero. Studios can buy influence through junkets and other perks, but it’s always aimed at getting critics to like their product, not dislike someone else’s. You can argue that critics have it in for Zack Snyder — or, if you’re the kind of person who thinks they’re “bias,” that they have it out for him — but the idea that actual money changed hands is preposterous. More to the point, it boggles that mind that there are people for whom the only possible explanation for a critic — or, really, anyone — disliking “Dawn of Justice” is that they’ve been paid to dislike it. It’s like the people who believe that all the protestors at Donald Trump rallies are hired operatives of the Democratic Party, as if Trump didn’t go out of his way every day to say something that enrages people.
It’s the latter connection that sticks, because it underlines how many Americans have secreted themselves in an airtight echo chamber where they only interact with people who believe what they believe, to the extent that the existence of people outside that circle begins to feel like a myth — kind of like “The Village,” where Bernie Sanders voters or people who hated “Man of Steel” become Those We Don’t Speak Of. It’s hard to confront the possibility that a movie you’ve anticipated for years might be a letdown — so hard, in fact, that some people would sooner convince themselves it’s great, no matter how much actual movie they have to overlook in the process. But then, that’s unfair, too: Viewers like and dislike things for all kinds of reasons, and as long as they’ve got a decent argument to go along with their opinion, it’s no better or worse than any other. People holding opinions that differ from your own isn’t a conspiracy, mostly because it doesn’t need to be.