So “Justice League” is apparently a lackluster film. I haven’t specifically seen it but I do trust the opinions of friends and fellow reviewers who have seen it enough to where I’ve gotten the general idea and feel confidant about where my opinion would fall. Most of them (even those who enjoyed it) say that it has major flaws and issues that technically put it just barely above “Suicide Squad” level in terms of quality. That’s pretty impressive but not really at all surprising considering all of the backstage problems it had, the split between two competing directors, the art and visual aesthetic changing halfway through filming, etc. etc.
However what very much surprised me is how much this film has not only split audiences and critics more in to two separate camps but how especially it has brought many of them into conflict. Recently I was watching a comment thread on social media and one person specifically called out another because he specifically thought that quote “critics are all conspiring to give all DC films bad reviews.” It seems that this kind of opinion is spreading everywhere and making this issue and opinion more pronounced to the point where some have even speculated that whether Rotten Tomatoes is grading DC films on a steeper curve or even manipulating the data behind the scenes. It’s gotten so bad that there is even a petition going around on change.org called “Don’t listen to film criticism” that encourages people to ask disregard critics completely and pushes sites like Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic to shut down. The fact that it and a sister petition calling for those sites to come down has well over 50,000 signatures makes it obvious that this conflict is getting bigger and bigger.
There are a ton of reasons behind the emergence and strength of this viewpoint in recent years. Some of it is on the DC fans themselves of course. There is obviously little motive behind Rotten Tomatoes and MetaCritic to do something like manipulate data for a film for one thing even for financial gain and so most of their conspiracy theories are outright ridiculous. There is also probably a little bit of a complex brewing there with fans (especially hardcore ones) in the way of Marvel’s films being so widely accepted and DC’s being so….widely pronounced let’s say. The DC Extended Universe is, even its best moments, a problematic series of films trying to replicate a formula that Marvel has already perfected and while I personally feel like the critics have responded appropriately from what I’ve seen, I can understand why DC films would feel like they are under attack. If my favorite heroes and films were being criticized this harshly and this consistently and not someone else’s especially when most of that comes directly from other people, I would probably feel the same to a degree. But the problem creating the conflict here between critics and audiences isn’t the critics themselves, the audiences themselves, the films, or even the sites with their rating systems. The problem here is a growing disconnect between audiences and critics and in the way they view films as a whole which is growing day by day and becoming more pronounced as the climate grows harsher and more negative on social media. People are misunderstanding (or refusing to understand) each other on each side and this is where the conflict arises.
Now first off, let me just say that everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion and that includes for both critics and audiences. That will never change and there will always be cases outside of the norm on both sides. These two sides are also becoming widely blurred as well in that everyone can be a critic and vice versa. However there is usually a big difference between the two groups on opinions for certain pieces of media and that especially includes film. Sometimes these two opinions align and all is happy and great. But other times there is such a massive gap in opinion that one might wonder if the audience and the critics watched two completely separate films altogether.
Think of it this way: In a very basic sense, film audiences are the general public that includes the majority of most people. They look to film for entertainment, fun, something to pass the time, and worth for the money they have spent on viewing. They usually don’t care about technical details, plot flow, mise en scene, and other things like that. A movie audience usually just wants engaging cinema and it really doesn’t matter to them quite as much as to how well the movie is technically or in any other way.
Film critics are (or are supposed) to be like professors, teachers and PhDs. They are usually trained or are obsessed with film and analyze all the aspects of film making that most people don’t know or even think about. They judge the movie in a more technical way and look at aspects deeper than most audiences engage in and that’s how they rate things. Critics also tend to watch far more movies than a typical audience member and so there is a tendency for them to get bored with the typical film that most audiences might like. You could very much make the argument that it makes them jaded in a way but on the other side it makes the films that stand out in some way or are that good much more powerful and more interesting to them too. Coming from my angle as a critic, I know that I get such a thrill when I see a truly good movie or at least one that does something different. It’s then no surprise then that when a film takes that extra step and does something out of the ordinary (no matter if it’s good or bad), it usually gets attention from critics almost excessively.
As you can tell then, there’s a huge and obvious difference between audience and critics in terms of how they see film and I think that’s where the disconnect is that people need to to better at understanding and remembering. Some people care and some people don’t and no view is inherently right or wrong. It’s also important to remember that no film is perfect. There will never be a perfect film except in the eye of the beholder. But usually if a film is rated badly on Rotten Tomatoes or critic sites that aggregate reviews of multiple sources, there is a good reason for it in the eye of the critics. Now that doesn’t mean that audiences can’t lean in to criticism as well. We as people have an individual limit to flaws that we can ignore in something, some of which we can and some that we can’t.
For a great example, let’s take a brief look at two recent DC films as examples: DC’s summer smash hit from this year “Wonder Woman” and DC’s disaster from last year “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice”.
Both are from the same franchise and yet are beautiful polar opposites of each other in terms of quality and what you would call flaws. “Wonder Woman” isn’t a 100% flawless film at all but it’s still a damn good one and it works well enough that the flaws it has (slow parts, not great villain, etc.) can be ignored by most. It was a great hit in spite of those flaws and it resonated well enough with both audiences and critics that it deserved to be the hit that it was. On the opposite side of the spectrum,”Batman vs. Superman” doesn’t have that luxury and the problems it has are so obvious that it broke the film for a lot of people and critics. It was a film that I would argue was all flaw with practically nothing of redeeming value to it. The few good things that it did have (some minor parts of the cast and occasional bit of dialogue) were completely weighed down by everything else done badly to the point where they sunk in to the black void of the rest of the film.
Now both of these films have their fans and detractors on both sides. I know a lot of people like me who loved “Wonder Woman” and detested “Batman v Superman” but yet I’m sure there are people who feel the opposite too. This lends to the other big point that I wanted to get across: film criticism and audience acceptance of a film is a complicated and opinionated issue. It’s a topic based on and around people’s preferences, opinions, passions, and what they can disregard / can’t in a film and it naturally differs from person to person. However to say that a series of films are being “conspired” against by critics for negative reviews is outright ridiculous. I’m sure it has the potential to happen but I’d like to think most critics and people are more honest than that. It’s obvious something is broken in the DC Cinematic Universe that most critics are seeing because that’s what they are trained to look for. But if those flaws don’t break your enjoyment of the movie as an audience member, cool and props to you. However I seriously doubt that there is any ‘conspiracy’ against certain studios or companies out there by critics.
In conclusion, I don’t think it’s best to disregard critic or audience viewpoints on either side. The discussion on cinema between critics and audiences is completely worth having and both opinions are certainly valid. But it’s foolish to disregard either side completely or think then unimportant. Here’s the thing: critics, film criticism, and their opinions do matter no matter what anyone says. Nothing that the viewing public says or does will ever change that and that’s something they can’t control. But in the end, how those critics and their opinions matter to you as an audience member or film goer directly is up to you. We are ultimately human beings with varied individual opinions, interests, and viewpoints and so you are free to choose and control how much these differing opinions matter to you. If you like a film that goes against critical opinions and can back it up with valid arguments as to why, awesome. That’s totally fine and acceptable and that’s something a lot of critics out there (including myself) need to do better about understanding. But audiences need to understand this in return: film criticism and movie critics are important and necessary and should not be disregarded completely. Critical opinion of films is necessary to help foster discussion, deepen our study and understanding of cinema, and ultimately come to see films in entirely different ways that we might not have otherwise before. It’s how we get the landmarks films of each generation that we all know and love. Ultimately though, it’s through both sets of eyes (audience and critic) that we can come together to understand what’s bad, praise what’s good, and see our cinematic landscape continue to grow.
Until next time, ~Geronimo!!