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At the time of writing, it is the 24th March 2016, and if you are reading these words on, or shortly after the aforementioned date, then you’re probably aware that the general release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) is imminent.
Somewhat fittingly for a motion picture that depicts pop-cultural titans warring with each other, the responses and reviews have been conflicting, and regrettably/suitably (depending on your viewpoint) erring towards the negative side of the spectrum.
Criticising the structure, seriousness and bombast of the movie, reviewers have been vocal in their displeasure. Have their tastes been tainted by the lighter, breezier and more comedic output of Marvel? I can't answer that at the moment since I haven't seen Batman v Superman just yet, so for now this question remains unanswered.
However the critics, in turn, are getting a dose of pure venom from die hard fanatics of The Caped Crusader and The Man of Steel.
Head to IMDB, and chances are that you will see sections of text, filled with expletives which essentially boil down to:
“Critics are useless, what are they good for? F#ck them!”
I'm paraphrasing here, but so ardent is their support that they are attempting to turn the tide by up-voting the film on Rotten Tomatoes (another well used review aggregate) on principle alone, jeering and jostling amongst themselves to prove the critics wrong, and denounce anyone who stands against them.
Amidst the threats, swear words, disillusionment and tears there are also the conspiracy theories; one wild accusation is that the critics have been paid by Disney/Marvel, to deliberately trash the reputation of this tent pole release from DC/Warner Bros. to further their own prominence.
Probable, yet very unlikely, as demonstrated by several prominent British reviewers who mocked the suggestion on Twitter:
This sort of paranoid idea is nothing new. Arguments over which publisher and studio is better than the other have divided comic books fans for years, and has only been deepened by Marvel’s recent success at the cinema. You only need to scan the comment sections of articles on Comicbookmovie.com to see this rivalry in action.
As I read this outpouring of hatred earlier today on Twitter and IMDB, I suddenly thought that this all seems strangely familiar.
And it was, because this sort of thing has happened before. I cast my mind back to 2012, the year of Marvel’s The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, which were the two most anticipated comic book movies at that point in time. Again, Rotten Tomatoes was the battleground, where tensions frayed over whether Avengers would remain in the prestigious +90% approval rating, with critics being attacked in the comment sections if they dared to tarnish its chances.
Then came The Dark Knight Rises, which took it to a whole new level. Vile threats and previously-unseen waves of hatred (on the internet at least) were leveled at detractors of the beloved Batman and the esteemed director Christopher Nolan.
Indeed, it even led to Rotten Tomatoes dismantling its commenting system, which remains closed to this day. It hasn't gone that far yet with Batman v Superman, but you never know...
Are these people just typical of the worst kind of internet troll? What is it about comic book movies which drive people to such vituperations?
I believe that the answer is a bit more complex than them being mere trolls. These movies after all, are adaptations of characters that are very dear to many people, who have grown up with them from a young age; I could be extremely critical and say that it’s a psychological issue, whereby these fans have retained the same emotional maturity from these ages along with their character, which act as crutches for their insecurities. As such, criticism of these movies threaten their own unstable quintessence and they subsequently act out in an extreme way because of it.
I don’t necessarily believe in this hypothesis. I see it as something else. That these people fervently want others to be as awed and inspired as they are when reading the original books, and for their interest in them to be verified as correct. It doesn’t help that movies like Batman v Superman are marketed extensively to hype it up to stratospheric levels.
I understand all of this. At some point in our lives, haven’t we all wanted someone to share our point of view or love of something?
Yet when people don’t, or they are disappointed, to quote Alfred (Jeremy Irons) from the Batman v Superman trailer:
“That's how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men... cruel.”
Now, the questioning of a critic’s role is another facet of the argument, it not an entirely new one. Yes, they are not as necessary to the movie system as say a director or actor, but what are they after all, other than fans of similar things as us, sometimes with an academic understanding?
No one suggests that we should take the word of critics as law (though some of these attackers seem to think that someone has said we should), when in reality a review should be seen as an indication rather than an instruction.
Yes, they can influence how we perceive a movie, but history has taught us that they aren’t always right, and we audiences are not either; believe it or not, The Shining (1980) did not get the critical praise that it has received in recent years...and look at it now. It is infamous in popular culture, constantly referenced, quoted, parodied and re-analysed as a strong and worthy example of art and entertainment.
Indeed, movies are art, though perhaps the most collaborative form, and like other pieces they have to be sold as a product to reward the enterprise and fund the next. People respond emotionally to these movies, investing their time getting to know the characters and story, but as products, movies are judged by their effectiveness as well, like any other item up for sale.
Take the Amazon.com review comments for a new Dyson Vacuum for example. Moreover they can point out the flaws of it, to warn you from making the mistakes they made with it, and even tell you not to buy the product for whatever reason. And yes these words can influence you.
Some people want the very best qualities in a product to suit their purposes, and alternatively others are more forgiving. However these comments ultimately can’t stop you from buying the product and using it for whatever purpose you desire (though hopefully it is legal). Overall, your happiness with it is determined by what you make of it, and so it should be with movies.
There’s a school of thought which suggests that a critic is also there as a vocal indicator to the artists, as well as being there for the audience. Indeed, they act as the amplified voice for the audience, praising what works well and condemning what doesn’t, so that it drives the producers to improve their work for everyone.
The impact of what they say is always debatable, but we can’t deny that things have changed because of a wider critical perception. Take for example the lessened praise for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014), which assisted in creating disappointing box-office returns and the subsequent historic deal between Marvel Studios and Sony Entertainment.
I can see all sides of these arguments; some critics can be savage for the sake of boosting their own notoriety, and others are amazingly lenient to undeserving movies, but that doesn’t make any opinion invalid. I wholeheartedly admit that I really like The Amazing Spider-Man 2, knowing that such an admission would garner a torrent of hate on certain forums. But so what if I do like it? By saying that I like the movie doesn’t mean that I believe it is the best movie ever and that I don’t discount its flaws. Furthermore, I accept them as they are.
The abusive, polar reactions of rabid fans is to be condemned, not because they like or dislike something that you do or don’t, but because it is hurtful, unnecessary and spoils the entertainment for everyone else. The passion that people feel for their interests is to be commended, but not when it reaches extreme levels. Unfortunately it’s not an easily remedied problem, and I have no doubt that it will occur again in years to come as new movies reach us; when connecting with our emotions directly and often viscerally, a reaction is bound to occur in some shape or form.
So what if critics don't like it? Does it really matter, what the score is on Rotten Tomatoes?
I have disagreed with critics many times, and with the audience as well. Yet it happens, and life still goes on.
Bearing in mind everything that I’ve heard about Batman v Superman, I’m still excited to see it tonight, and I will take my seat with an enthused state of mind. I may complain about it with friends afterwards, I might defend it vehemently...who knows?
But at the end of the day, whether I like or dislike it, that’s up to me, and I choose not to berate those who hold different opinions than I do or cause upset. And why should I? The world would be very boring if everyone agreed on everything.
As I’ve said before, you can’t please everybody, and whilst entertainment can appeal to broad swathes of the audience, one movie will never satisfy everyone outright. A healthy and friendly debate about it is fine and dandy, but what we have seen in recent years is not, and I hope that it won't become a regular staple of film criticism on the internet.