On March 22nd at 6:00 PM, the embargo on Batman v Superman reviews was set to lift, and DC fanatics were about to find out what critics had to say about their most anticipated film of the year. They had a brutal night; imagine “The Rains of Castamare” beginning to play as Batman and Superman devotees on Reddit frantically refreshed Rotten Tomatoes, heartbroken by what they were witnessing. It was a god damn massacre.
Reddit users all dealt with the bad news differently, with many going through all five stages of grief within the span of a few hours. But what was insane about the spectacle, and about reacting to early reviews in general, was the sheer number of excuses instantly conjured up by fans in a state of denial. Clearly they, the people who have not seen the movie, were on equal grounds to make conclusions as the critics, who have seen the movie. Makes perfect sense.
It was especially rough because early buzz from screenings generally seemed positive, and therefore going in, the conventional wisdom was that there was no way Batman v Superman would end up with a Rotten Tomatoes score higher than Man of Steel (56%).
Look at this guy who, minutes before the reviews went up, was downvoted for daring to suggest the film could receive a score below than 70% (the score began at 0%, stayed around 13% for a while, and is now at 38%).
Amidst the ensuing clusterfuck, so many nonsensical rationalizations were thrown around in an attempt to wrap the collective brain around this awful press. Let’s break down just a few of the most deluded.
Attacking and discrediting each individual critic
As soon as unfavorable impressions began to trickle in, the response was to dismiss them based on the author at hand. Obviously this person is an idiot, they don’t “get” comic books, they’ve been paid off by Marvel, or…surely there’s some explanation, right? It’s like the online film community suddenly becomes the opposition research team in a presidential election.
Yes, this critic has his own unique opinions about several unrelated films, so naturally his Batman v Superman review is worthless. They’re talking about a 6/10 review in the screenshots above, by the way. But sure, attack the shit out of him! Find any reason to discount his entire body of work! He has only been reviewing films for a year! He likes Marvel movies! He disagrees with me! SCREW. THIS. DUDE.
If not the individual critic, you can still tell yourself the entire website is not trustworthy. IGN gave it a 6.8, but they also gave [film I personally didn’t like] a [higher score]! Even though two entirely separate journalists wrote those reviews, let’s act as if IGN is one person.
The first reviews are always bad!
Right away, a narrative emerged that the initial reviews tend to be the harshest, as critics who hated the movie want to get their voice out there for attention. This anecdote sounds like something that could be true, and it provides a glimmer of hope. But, alas, it’s complete bullshit. In fact, the opposite is the case; with Rotten Tomatoes, a film virtually always starts with a high number and then goes down as more ratings arrive. Take a look at this post that made it to the front page of the DC Cinematic Universe subreddit, though:
I don’t know if this person is flat out lying or if they are misremembering, but what they wrote about The Dark Knight is objectively false. Nolan’s film originally score an 88%, fluctuated a bit, and eventually settled in at a 94%. Never was it anywhere close to 53%. This premise that, after a fair amount of reviews are in, a movie can somehow jump up by 40 freaking points is a fantasy and it has literally never happened. Yet the post ended up on the front page because everyone so desperately wanted to believe.
The criticisms aren’t valid!
The next step is to pick apart every single line of every negative article and determine that we, the people who have not seen the film, are more knowledgeable about the movie than the people who did see it.
The Internet immediately decided that critics expected a lighthearted Marvel film and blindly hated Batman v. Superman because it was dark. First of all, that makes zero sense on a very basic level because critics adored The Dark Knight, which has a tone roughly on par with these new DC films. But besides, most reviews were not even making that point at all. See that post above from the guy criticizing Joshua Rothkopf’s Time Out review? The Reddit user took his quote completely out of context. Here’s the full sentence from the article:
“There’s zero humor or self-deprecation, as there was in Joss Whedon’s pitch-perfect The Avengers; no performance of unlikely depth, like the one Heath Ledger pulled off in The Dark Knight; and no animating spirit of decency, a trait Christopher Reeve’s Superman had in spades.”
See, the Reddit post makes it appear that Time Out’s critique of Dawn of Justice was that it didn’t have self-depreciating humor, but the author also says the movie features no interesting performances and that Superman is not heroic like he is supposed to be. But yeah, sure, let’s keep pretending no criticism exists other than “it’s not Marvel!” Strawmen sure are easier to debate!
Here’s another one where a quote was lifted out of context in order to make the critic look like some idiot who panned Batman v. Superman simply because it was a drama. What was not posted was the section of the review where it’s explained that it’s difficult to become invested in this particular drama because we have no emotional connection to the characters. The IGN writer even directly addresses the idea that the movie does not have to be like a Marvel film.
“Not every superhero movie should be like a Marvel one (because every hero and piece of material is different), but even the melodramatic X-Men movies never lost sight of pure entertainment value while also exploring heady and heavy topics.”
Naturally, nobody quoted him on that part.
Who even cares about reviews, man?
These posts are all from a thread where the entire purpose is to react to reviews coming in, but the second the outcome isn’t what people were hoping for, the spin turns to, “reviews don’t even matter!” Funny how nobody ever says that when the reviews are good.
It’s true that everyone should make up their own mind about a movie and not have word of mouth affect their own reaction. But let’s turn back time two days, shall we? Positive buzz about Batman v. Superman popped up on Reddit, with many outlets reporting that fans adored the movie. In fact, it had a 9.5/10 rating on IMDB. Some rightly pointed out that every film in existence receives positive buzz early on, including 2015’s Fantastic Four, but anyone who posted this was mostly told to shut the hell up. Considering users of this subreddit responded to negative opinions with “other people’s takes don’t matter,” how did they respond to positive opinions?
Take a wild guess.
Yup, the reaction to the positive buzz was that it was a sign that the film will for sure receive a score of about 70%, and proof that the Internet has a deep-seated bias against DC. Not a single person saying “come on, let’s judge this film on our own and not pay attention to the good reviews” could be found anywhere in sight.
Latch on to literally any positive review
As it become evident that the vast majority of reviews were negative, any remotely positive take on the film was upvoted to the top of the page, even if it was from some random outlet or, in one case, literally from a random guy’s high school teacher. Come on, we have to find some way to collectively deny what’s happening! Look, my best friend’s hairdresser said it was good! And although holes were endlessly poked in bad reviews, these ones are latched on to without any thought whatsoever.
Blame Rotten Tomatoes Itself
How many times must it be pointed out that Rotten Tomatoes is an aggregate, not a singular outlet? Guys, it is literally not possible for Rotten Tomatoes to be biased. All it is a collection of commentary from other places. That would be like blaming Twitter for things Twitter users are writing.
Well, the real fans are going to like it
And finally, there’s the shitty, pervasive notion that critics are not “real fans.”
Do these people think critics just sit in an empty room their entire life and aren’t passionate about anything? It’s impossible to be both a comic book fan and a film critic? Sure, maybe there will be one or two journalists who already don’t like Batman and Superman, but the vast majority are into this shit! That’s why they became critics in the first place!
At the moment, Batman v. Superman’s score is sitting at a 38%, which is dismal news to say the least. I write that with no glee, and I was sincerely hoping the film would be good. I still am hoping, because a Rotten Tomatoes score is nowhere near close to an objective measure of a pic’s quality. Maybe I, and many of the people above, will wind up satisfied with the final product.
But this whole backlash to what any critic had to say was just the latest, most devastating example of a trend that’s been around since Rotten Tomatoes launched. Is the movie community as a whole destined to a future in which fans react to reviews, positive or negative, as if they have already seen the film, using whatever bizarre justifications they can so as to not change their pre-existing opinion?