“The time has come,” the blogger said,
“To talk of silly things:
Of critics and their film reviews,
Of cabbages and kings
And why fans’ rage is boiling hot,
And we can’t have nice things.”
*This originally started as a section of my “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” review before I realised it was kind of becoming its own thing and if Warner Bros can release a deleted scene so soon after the movie debuts, I thought why not?
Much has been made of the poor critical reaction to “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice”. It’s fair to say it hasn’t received the rapturous reception the studio and the fans were hoping – and expecting. What’s been more unpleasant is how it’s played out in the tedious tribalism which seems to have developed around the emergent DCEU and the more established MCU. Accusations of vast conspiracies have surfaced; a ferocious and largely pre-emptive defence of the movie, using any and all means to prove that it’s better than the critics have said and that anyway the critics don’t matter anyway was launched, largely by people who hadn’t yet seen the movie and were operating on blind faith. The power of Snyder’s pseudo-Christ compelled them.
The thing is, if you love a movie, love it. Love it with everything you’ve got, but there’s no point in raging against those who don’t. All the snarky memes in the world won’t help turn the tide; ranting and raving like an old testament prophet won’t convert the heathens and heretics who haven’t idolised and idolatrised the same selection of source comics; you will not miraculously provoke epiphanies in those who disagree with you. And finally, box office figures – the last refuge of the damned – will no more prove that “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” is a good movie any more than they did for the “Star Wars” prequels or any of the “Transformers” movies.
The truth is, the brouhaha about the professional critics’ reaction has created a thick smokescreen masking the unpleasant truth that the fan reaction has been less than effusive. I’ve not seen a great deal of flat out hate for the movie, but I’ve seen a lot of disappointment in what Snyder has presented us with. Ultimately, that’s got to hurt and WB will still be scratching their heads as to how they too can enjoy the critical and financial success their Marvel rivals do.
But as tempting as it may be to compare the Marvel and DC movies, it doesn’t really make sense, at least not right now. With “Iron Man” and the launch of their shared universe, Marvel delivered a real game changer and ushered in the current golden age of super hero movies. Of course, they couldn’t have done it without the growing momentum created by the films which had come before but what they were attempted and achieved with “Avengers Assemble” had never been done before. But Marvel are now 12 movies into their venture (lucky number 13 arrives at the end of April) and their success is unprecedented. Judging WB/ DC’s first real attempt at a shared movie universe seems unfair at best. You can’t really judge the DCEU because we haven’t really seen it yet. After “Suicide Squad”, “Wonder Woman” and “Justice League Part 1” we’ll have a much better idea and there’ll have been more than one artistic vision at play which could change everything.
DC’s problem may lie in the fact that they haven’t really got to grips with the difference between comic books and movies. Snyder certainly hasn’t, especially given his recent lukewarm defence of his movie: “I’m a comic book guy and I made the movie based as much as I could on that aesthetic. And so I don’t know how else to do it 100%, so it is what it is.” In a way, aesthetics is at the heart of DC’s dilemma. Yes, it looks amazing and there a beutiful moments where Snyder absolutely captures the page as live action perfectly but film is a different medium and has different storytelling needs which aren’t Snyder’s strongest suit. There’s a lot of talk that the film wasn’t made for the critics but for the fans. That’s certainly true. Unfortunately it seems to have been made for a very specific, narrow section of the fan base: one that’s vociferously vocal and deeply committed to its specific denominational interpretation of the source material. It’s the voices which laud the ‘dark and gritty’ approach, demand the sombre tone and bay for more blood, more violence because it makes them feel grown-up and serious and in turn they deride Marvel for its lighter touch, dismissing it as childish and toothless. That’s funny, though, because if you watch the opening half hour of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, Cap kills at least half a dozen soldiers with his bare hands and nobody bats an eyelid. Contrast that to Batman branding bad guys with hot iron or Superman snapping a single neck and everybody loses their minds.
It may be because the narrowness of the fan base being pandered to has started to compromise the ability of the filmmakers to tell a story with true crossover appeal – the crossover appeal they need: to non-comic book fans. Marvel’s family friendly approach is also smart from a long-term strategy point of view. Get the kids in early and get them into your characters and you’ll have a fan for life. Aim your tent pole blockbusters at the late teen/ mid-twenties older comic book – sorry, graphic novel – fans and you risk alienating or excluding the next generation of would-be Bat and Superfans. The DC Animated Universe understood this, so it’s a real puzzle the movie versions are struggling so. It’s easy to blame Snyder (and somewhat appropriate) but Christopher Nolan bears some responsibility here too. He set the current Batman zeitgeist, going out of his way to remove the superheroic elements from his super hero trilogy. He’s even said repeatedly he doesn’t think Batman and Superman can work in a shared universe because of the disparity between their power sets but he was happy enough to cash the Executive Producer cheque for “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” all the same.
Even ‘it’s made for the fans’ doesn’t really get the movie off the hook anyway. I’m a fan and although I kinda liked “Batman v Superman”, there’s a lot in it which didn’t work for me (on a storytelling, character and plot level) and I struggle to see it as anything other than a misfire. But so what? That shouldn’t mean anything to anybody but me. If you’re interested, I’d be delighted to discuss what I felt worked and didn’t, and the reasons why and listen to your take on it too. You probably saw something I didn’t or picked up on nuances that I missed and if nothing else it would be fun to geek out over the whole ‘Apokolip-tic’ vision Batman has. And really, that’s kind of the point. Whether you enjoy a film is surely a personal, subjective thing, and someone else’s opinion – whether a professional critic, a hobbyist movie blogger or some random person on Twitter – shouldn’t matter to you and certainly shouldn’t be able to diminish your enjoyment of a film you love. No matter how many facts, figures or condescending canonical points you make, it’s very unlikely you can evangelise someone to love a film they’ve seen and disliked; and the more hostile and vitriolic the discussion, the less chance there is to persuade. It can happen, of course, and that’s where film reviews, critics and bloggers have a role to play.
It’s useless to try to exist in an echo chamber and there are plenty of bloggers and reviewers I read regularly who often have different takes on all kinds of subjects which interest me. Sometimes they’ve opened my eyes to alternative possibilities and interpretations. Occasionally they’ve even made me appreciate a film or book in a way I hadn’t previously. The best example that springs to mind is Hamish Calvert of HC Movie Reviews. He writes a blog I read regularly, but the key thing is – more than any other blogger I follow – he and I rarely agree on movies. In fact, more often than not we’ll each like or dislike a movie for the exact same aspects. It’s uncannily consistent and if I’m ever pressed for time and have to choose which movies to watch, a quick check of Hamish’s score can give me a pretty reliable guide as to whether or not I’ll like it. Regardless of whether we agree or not, though, it’s always interesting to read a different perspective and it’s why good writers (of reviews or stories or anything) read as much as they write, to broaden their perspectives.
This whole “Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice” opening weekend has brought out the worst fanboy tendencies, proving – if nothing else – that Snyder’s power to divide is undiminished. Your favourite movies are yours, forever, and nobody should be able to take that away from you. Look, I’m a huge fan of “Tomorrowland” and really loved “Jupiter Ascending”, so I know how it feels to adore something on the receiving end of a critical drubbing. But stop worrying about what other people think and love what you love. Have fun discussing and debating the films, the comics and the characters, enjoy the memes and photoshops and jokes but accept that not everyone will agree with you just like you aren’t compelled to agree with everyone. The ironic thing is, of course, that the more threatened and defensive you feel because somebody somewhere either disagrees with you, doesn’t like the thing you liked or perhaps is even remaking or reimagining something you love (*cough* “Ghostbusters” *cough*), the more that actually says about your own insecurities and fragility of belief than it says about the other person.
None of this should matter enough to get upset or angry about, and no movie is worth getting abusive or hostile over. Can’t we all just get along?