Avengers: Age of Ultron, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Movie fans and critics alike are now living in an age dominated by the hundred million dollar blockbuster, with big stars and even bigger explosions and fight sequences. Marketing for these films can start years in advance, beginning with just the mere announcement of the film. Batman vs. Superman is a prime example of this, and actually the inspiration for this opinion piece.
In July 2013, when the film was announced, the internet almost literally exploded. The sequel to the incredibly, even annoyingly divisive Man of Steel was now going to feature a Frank Miller inspired Batman and the long awaited formation of the Justice League. Fans of Man of Steel instantly took to the idea, calling it the best comic book movie ever, even before it came out, whereas people who didn’t enjoy Man of Steel instantly hated the idea. Sadly, the internet and massive pop culture blockbuster age are starting to hurt the film industry and the film fan industry. Kneejerk reactions and social media, sometimes the combination of both, have ruined the spectacle of the blockbuster that Jaws started 40 years ago. From the marketing of these films, to the reception and to a lesser extent the production, overhype, over-expectations and overreactions are really starting to take their toll.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the third highest grossing film of all time and at the time was by far the most anticipated movie ever. A normal film will usually start its marketing campaign about six months out from its release and really rev it up a month or two before. However, being the huge pop culture phenomenon Star Wars is, it released its first trailer a year in advance. When a movie so large and so anticipated announces itself an entire year in advance you can’t help but develop your own expectations for the movie, ultimately leading to either disappointment or a false sense of love for a film.
I admit even I had an idea of what I thought the movie should be. Now, I loved The Force Awakens, but I think this is where a lot of the problems with the film community lie. Having an opinion on what you think a movie will be like is fine, but going into a movie with that opinion skewing your actual experience (whether you think it will be good or bad is irrelevant) is something that needs to stop. The extra long marketing campaign such as the one seen on TFA ultimately ends up hurting the film reception-wise, because people already have an idea of what the film will be like and when they see the actual movie they’re either extremely disappointed or extremely happy. Bottom line is before going into a film check your expectations people. Leave ‘em at the door. They have no business being in the theatre with you.
As I sit here right writing this piece, Batman vs. Superman stands at a 41% on Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregate site that many consider the best way to judge a film. As many of you already know, in my opinion Man of Steel is the most divisive movie of all time, standing at 55% on Rotten Tomatoes. This means that almost exactly half of certified critics enjoyed the film and half didn’t. Even within our own team here at SHIFTER we’re split on whether we like the film or despise it. In film fan groups and forums, intense debates over the film are a common occurrence even three years later. The mere mention of the Superman film will start a huge argument on whether or not it’s a masterpiece.
Naturally, the sequel to Man of Steel is a film eagerly anticipated for all and for the most part, trailers and marketing has looked good. But again, because it’s a $100 million film in the age of the blockbuster, the marketing started about a year in advance. Similar to what happened with TFA, this resulted in high expectations as people were already judging a film before it even came out. What’s worse is because Man of Steel was so utterly disappointing to some and a masterpiece to others, the two camps became even more extreme with some people refusing to even entertain the idea that the film could be good.
Fast forward to the present and early reviews for the film began to come in and they were overwhelmingly positive. Fans and a select amount of critics alike said that it was a huge step up from the previous film and one of the best comic book movies ever made. So imagine my surprise when earlier today the Rotten Tomatoes score for Batman vs. Superman stood at a mere 8%. The internet exploded and from it three general camps emerged.
The first camp are the “fanboys”, who mind you have yet to see the film. These fanboys are people who are fans of a property (such as, but not limited to DC) that will praise and sanctify anything released from that property simply because they’re fans of it. These are the people that will blindly praise critics when they agree with the fans, but suddenly attack and disregard the opinions of critics that they don’t agree with. This double standard is becoming all too common in the film sphere and is not only hurting critics but general fans of movies as well. It’s great to be a fan of something, but blindly praising a property simply because you’re a fan of it needs to stop.
The second camp are those who play the I-told-you-so game, stating that they saw this coming from the moment the film was announced. The exact polar opposite of fanboys, these “haters” are the type of people that took one glance at the film and judged it right away. In this instance, because the initial critic reaction is negative, they use this momentum to attempt to start a smear campaign over something they irrationally hate. Having concerns over a film is completely okay, but when those concerns turn into an automatic hate for the film no matter what the outcome, then that’s just well, concerning.
The third camp is the one that I find the most annoying. These are the people that looked at the score and said, “I don’t think I’m going to see the film anymore”, when previously they had already expressed an interest in seeing the film. I find these kneejerk reactions both infuriating and tragically hilarious at the same time, whether the reaction be positive or negative. It’s becoming more and more common now for people to take one look at an aggregate score and judge the film automatically before it even comes out. It’s absolutely ridiculous to change your opinion on a film you haven’t even seen yet and were previously excited about, simply because some person on the internet said that they didn’t like it. All film is subjective. Whether you like a film should be solely determined by you. As I have stressed previously, decide whether you like a film after you’ve seen it. You have to watch it before you have a valid opinion on the film’s quality or lack thereof.
The funniest and saddest part about this is Rotten Tomatoes counts scores and updates them in real time. When it stood at 8-9% there were only nine reviews out of a usual 300 for a blockbuster of this size. Talk about a kneejerk overreaction. Again, I’m generalizing here. There are a lot of great film fans that don’t fall into any of these camps and are being completely rational about it. It’s the blind fanboys and haters, and the people whose opinion turns on a dime, that are starting to ruin the fun of the build up to a film.
The fanboys and haters aren’t the only ones to blame; the critics aren’t without their faults as well. With both positively reviewed blockbusters such as The Force Awaknes and, so far, negatively reviewed blockbusters like Batman vs. Superman, many critics are falling victim to the same problems that fans are having. I’ve seen at least three negative reviews for Batman vs. Superman stating that it lacks the “fun” or “humour” that exists in the Marvel superhero movies. If you go into a film that’s most definitely not a Marvel film, then don’t expect one. Existing in the same genre, doesn’t mean that they have to follow the same structure, style or tone. As critics we need to realize that whether we like it or not, our opinion influences others, therefore we need to stay unbiased when giving a review. Now, I’m not certified on Rotten Tomatoes, but I believe myself to be somewhat reasonable and attempt to be impartial before I watch a movie. That way when I watch the film and ultimately write a review for it, I’m not left disappointed because the film was something I didn’t expect or want it to be. So once again I leave the advice of checking your expectations at the door.
If I could leave you with three pieces of advice in a film landscape that is filled with more and more gigantic blockbusters in the vain of Star Wars, The Avengers, and Batman vs. Superman it would be:
Check your expectations at the door.
Don’t ever blindly praise or blindly hate a movie before you’ve seen it.
Nobody else can decide if you like a film but you. Other reviews are great, but bottom line, it’s you. So go see the movie and judge it for yourself.
Now I realize that a lot of what I’m suggesting is somewhat utopian. The reality is that these films are so anticipated and high profile it’s nearly impossible to go into the film without some sort of expectation. However, if we could all take those three ideas into account, I truly believe that we as film fans and as film critics can adjust to the ever evolving film industry.