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Batman vs. Superman, AKA Critics vs. Audiences

So much e-ink has been spilled about Batman v. Superman, I don’t have much that I can add at this point.  I have found it interesting  how much heat the divide between critics’ response to the movie and audience response to it has been.  It currently has a “44” on, which honestly, is higher than I think it deserves.  At the same time, its opening weekend was the fourth-largest of all time, meaning a lot of people are shelling out their hard-earned cash to go see it.  (Interesting side note: it fell off sharply after its opening weekend, and is still in danger of not make its (ridiculous) $800 million budget back.)

This has raised questions about whether critics are relevant, if anyone pays attention to them, and if “real people” are just looking for different things than movie critics are. I think the answer is “yes” to all three of those questions.  Let me address them in reverse order.

Are “normal people” looking for something different than critics when they watch movies? I think yes. Critics make their living writing about movies.  I don’t consider myself a critic, just a movie lover who likes to write.  I occasionally get paid to write about movies, but I don’t think even a widow in Africa could live on the money I make from movies each year.

I would guess that most paid critics watch more movies in a week than most people watch in a month, and more than some watch in a year. I think what when most people go to the movie theater, they are looking for an entertaining escape from reality, a diversion, an entertainment that distracts them from quotidian worries about rent and kids and bosses and co-workers. If a movie isn’t actively, aggressively stupid, annoying or offensive, it’s probably going to do the trick, and most audiences will feel like they got what they were looking for.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this.

Critics watch movies differently.  Movies are their job. Knowing that you’re going to be required to write 1,000 words about a movie in order to pay your rent and put food on the table automatically changes the way you watch a movie. In addition, watching movie after movie after movie ends up being kind of boring, even if you’re a hardcore devoted cinephile.  You start to gravitate towards the ones that are unique, that do something differently, that stand out from the pile.  I see this especially reading reports from festivals, where a critic will watch 20-30 movies in a weekend.  They praise the ones that are different, even if different doesn’t mean good.

As an avid movie lover, I’m somewhere in between. I watch movies every chance I get, but I very rarely watch them back to back. Movies still serve as an escape and release from the stress and frustration of everyday life for me, but I see enough to see patterns and even feel bored by movies that play it safe from beginning to end. I watch movies differently than my wife does, but not quite the same as the critics I read.

So if critics watch movies differently from “normal” people, what good are they? 

So here’s the thing about a movie like Batman vs. Superman: I went to see it knowing that it was probably going to be bad. I don’t like Zack Snyder’s movies.  The trailers looked bad.  But I went to see it anyway, because, hey, it’s Batman and Superman. It’s an event.  This isn’t Fantastic Four, after all.  We say audiences loved this movie because it had a big opening weekend, but I imagine there are a lot of people like me.  What’s more telling, I think, is the steep dropoff between week 1 and week 2.  Nobody who saw it on the night it opened went back to see it again. Nobody told their non-comic book fan friends, “you should see it. It’s really good.”  We saw it, and moved on.

But let’s look at another movie that opened just a week later: “Midnight Special,” Jeff Nichols’ supernatural thriller. Haven’t heard of it? I’m not surprised. It opened on just 5 screens, making $190,000 its first weekend.  Who went and saw it?  Critics, and cinephiles (like me) who know who Jeff Nichols is, and have been excited about this film for months.  It got positive reviews, it generated buzz, and its 3rd week, it showed on 58 screens, and made $550,000.  Last week, it jumped to almost 500 screens, and made $1.1 million.  That’s because of critics. I think it’s fair to say that if this movie had been panned by critics, it would never have made it past 58 screens.

The point being that critics are most relevant and helpful to the rest of us because they see so many more movies than the average movie-goer, which is exactly the same reason why they watch movies differently.  It’s two sides of the same coin.

One of the main reasons I write this blog is to be able to share movies that I love with people who many never hear of them otherwise. I’d much rather write a review of “It Follows” or “Ex Machina”  and help somebody discover something they might love than add to the cacophany of voices talking about Batman vs. Superman.

But – since you asked.  Yeah, I thought it was bad.  I thought it was visually a mess. I thought somebody needed to reign Jesse Eisenberg in before he started literally chewing the scenery.  I thought it was both overwritten and underwritten – the courtroom scene and the Middle East rescue serve the same purpose, as far as I could tell.  I don’t know why Batman hates Superman, and I don’t know why Superman can’t just use his super hearing and X-ray vision to rescue his kidnapped mother.  I don’t know why his mother’s name matters so much.  I don’t have anything new to say; all my problems with the movie are the same as everyone else’s.  It’s a mess of a movie, but it was kind of fun to watch, in the same way watching a building be demolished is kind of fun to watch.  So let me leave you with this:

I mean, that’s pretty entertaining, right?



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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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