The lifting of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice‘s review embargo last week, followed a couple of days later by the film’s general release, has thrown the moviegoing world into turmoil. Zack Snyder’s two and a half hour long superhero epic currently holds a rating of just 29% on review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, but has seen serious success at the box office with a staggering $424 million opening weekend (thanks in part to the movie’s day-and-date global release). Moreover, as fans flocked to the theaters it soon emerged that this was not a clear-cut case of a bad movie being review-proof, as might be argued for the Transformers franchise. Batman V Superman has divided opinion like few other movies in recent memory, with those who loved it left wondering if perhaps they saw a completely different movie from those who hated it (and vice versa). Even some members of the Justice League have waded into the fray.
Perhaps it’s only appropriate for a movie about two good people going to war that a real-world battle has emerged between those who liked Batman V Superman and those who did not. This particular ideological conflict has widely been described as “fans vs. critics” – because if you’re going to have a war, then both factions need to have a label. But even as the nastiness has mounted up on both sides, it’s become all too clear that the situation is far from simple, and there’s no way to easily dismiss the voices on either side. The situation calls for an Alfred Pennyworth: someone to step into the middle – to point out that the so-called opposition are not really the enemy, and that this war is not worth it.
Since Alfred isn’t returning our calls, however, here are just a few things to keep in mind as the debate rages on.
It’s not fans vs. critics
Much as this divide has been characterized as a case of fans disagreeing with critics (even by Warner Bros.’ own Jeff Goldstein, who has described it as “a disconnect between critics and audiences“), the reality is that this is not true at all. For starters, “fan” and “critic” are far from mutually exclusive identifiers; particularly as comic book movies have come to dominate the landscape of cinema, the reviewer pool has come to include a significant percentage of critics who grew up reading comic books, and were therefore already fans of the characters when they went into Batman V Superman. For example, among the reviewers who gave the film generally negative reviews were Comic Book Resources‘ Kristy Putchko and The Guardian‘s self-confessed “longtime fan” Jordan Hoffman. And it’s not like love for Batman and Superman is confined solely to those who have read the source material; the duo have long been established in the mainstream consciousness thanks to their many previous outings in film and television.
It’s also worth noting that the more critical of the critics have been joined by a significant number of serious comic book fans, many of whom have said that they dislike the movie specifically because they feel it is a betrayal of the characters that they love. One point of contention has been Batman’s willingness to deal out excessive violence (including branding some of the criminals he captures, such as sex traffickers, which is explicitly described as a “death sentence” in prison), his use of guns, and his apparent disregard for human life. Conversely, Batman V Superman has also managed to win over a number of people who weren’t fans of Batman or Superman at all prior to watching the movie (this writer included). This is only a war of fans vs. critics if “fans” is taken to mean people who liked Batman V Superman, and “critics” to mean people who were critical of it.
One of the unfortunate responses that people seem to have in response to disagreements is the instinct to invalidate, dismiss, or question the motives of those with opposing opinions. In an attempt to wipe clean the criticisms raised in less favorable reviews, people have come up with all sorts of reasons to avoid addressing those criticisms altogether, including but certainly not limited to: accusations of bribery; claims that critics just want every superhero movie to be a Marvel movie, or that they expect every popcorn flick to be an art house film; general suggestions of snobbery or of critics being out of touch; and the insistence that thinking a superhero movie wasn’t very fun is not a “valid” criticism. On the other side, people who liked the movie have been accused of being blinded by brand loyalty, of being desperately defensive of the burgeoning DC Extended Universe, or of simply not knowing what a good movie looks like.
Slinging insults and snarl words, especially in a detached discussion environment like the Internet, takes very little effort, and it’s all too easy for people to end up talking past one another. But while sticking to one’s own “camp” and second-guessing the opinions of those in the other might be comfortable, it’s ultimately a lost opportunity for dialogue. Those who really hated Batman V Superman might end up finding something to like about it by listening to those who loved it, and those who loved the movie might gain a new perspective on it by facing the actual criticisms head-on.
We’re not so different, you and I
Looking at both positive and negative takes on Batman V Superman, it seems as though there’s a lot of fundamental agreement on what the highs and lows of the movie were. For example, many of those who enjoyed it were willing to acknowledge that the film’s editing could have been better, or that a subplot involving Lois Lane investigating a mysterious bullet was ill thought-out. Meanwhile, even some of the harshest critics have described Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Godot’s Wonder Woman as highlights, and said that they were looking forward to solo outings with those characters. The extremity of opinion seems to rest on how willing people were to overlook Batman V Superman‘s lows, how strongly they responded to its highs, and how easily they were able to get onboard for everything in the middle.
Even for those who really, really hated Batman V Superman, its early box office success should by no means be taken as bad news. For starters, every time a superhero movie succeeds it is a boon to the genre as a whole, so even Marvel Studios will feel the benefit of the public’s continued interest in superpowered heroes (not to mention the excitement that comes from serious competition). It’s also worth remembering that while Zack Snyder will go on to direct both Justice League movies, he is not the only filmmaker working on movies in the DC Extended Universe. The positive response to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman bodes very well for Patty Jenkins’ standalone Wonder Woman movie, set for release in 2017, and the audience interest in Batman V Superman is also a good omen for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad, the next entry in the DCEU.
This is a big, big world full of all sorts of opinions, and disagreement is always more fun when worked out through friendly discussion rather than insult-slinging. After all, if Batman and Superman can settle their differences and learn to get along, can’t we all?
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is now playing in U.S. theaters. Suicide Squad will arrive on August 5, 2016, followed by Wonder Woman on June 23, 2017; Justice League Part One on November 17, 2017; The Flash on March 16, 2018; Aquaman on July 27, 2018; Shazam on April 5, 2019; Justice League Part Two on June 14, 2019; Cyborg on April 3, 2020; and Green Lantern Corps. on June 19, 2020.