Unless you’ve been living under a rock, I am sure you know that the highly anticipated Dawn of Justice movie came out. I am also sure you know that it was brutalized by most critics: It currently has a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, among the general audience, it’s rating is 70%, and it has a 7.5 rating on IMBD. I myself watched it at 1 a.m. on the first Saturday morning, and I will readily say that the movie is not nearly as bad as the critics are making it out to be. In fact, I would say that the movie was mostly entertaining, though flawed in many important respects. So the question is: What gives? Why is there such a massive distance between critics and the general audience (to be fair, the way RT aggregates scores isn’t very nuanced)?
I’ll eventually review the movie itself, but I want to address this question first because I found many critical reviews frankly to be a bit off the mark. It gets even worse that Iron Man 2 and 3, objectively mediocre to terrible movies, astonishingly have a 72% and 79% rating on RT, respectively. In fact, I would have no problem saying that BvS is a better movie than those as well as other Marvel movies such as Thor 2 (66% on RT), and it’s not any worse than Age of Ultron (75% RT). I think there are a few illegitimate reasons why critical reviews were so incredibly negative:
- Conditioning by Marvel movies. In multiple reviews, critics complained that BvS was bleak, depressing, and overly dark. “Shouldn’t superhero films be fun?” they asked. “Will it kill you to have some upbeat tones and jokes? This is just Superman and Batman being mad at each other.” Since the Dark Knight trilogy, Marvel movies have taken off and have set the tone for superhero movies, and they are known for lightheartedness, incessant jokes, and bright colors. It really does seem like critics were looking for something that simply was not going to be there: This was not going to be a Disney Marvel flick, even if Snyder had ironed all of the film’s real flaws.
- Conditioning by old Superman films. Another source for critical expectation of positive feelings seems to be the old Superman films with Christopher Reeves, particularly Superman I & II. Fans of those movies are going to get mad at me for saying this, but it’s true: Those movies have not aged well, and I am not talking about the understandable limitations of special effects of that time. I’m talking about an overall cheesiness and campiness to them that will make a modern audience cringe. Man of Steel didn’t have that same tone and critics and some fans weren’t happy, and BvS simply wasn’t going to be that either. Critical expectation of cheese and feel-good nonsense became even clearer to me when multiple reviewers stated how delighted they were with the Flash and Supergirl crossover last Monday and how they wished BvS copied that tone. That episode featured horrific writing that sounded like it was written by emotional teenaged girls, corny acting, and a stupid climax. Yet we have people who get paid to write about entertainment actually say that they preferred that?
- Inconsistent standards. This is related to #1: Because the MCU has now built a brand, it seems like reviewers give those films a free pass even though there are some truly curious decisions when it comes to writing. Give Marvel credit for building that brand, but critics who are using their brains should resist passing out good grades to Marvel films simply because they have built a reputation. There are some legitimate criticisms of BvS, but some of those same criticisms can easily be applied to other Marvel movies, such as trying to cram too much into one movie while setting up other movies later (cough, Age of Ultron).
That said, as I have hinted, this does not mean that BvS did not have real problems, problems with choppy editing, incomplete storylines that were haphazardly “resolved” without real thematic unity, and one particularly bad casting. Still, the film has much to commend to it, such as amazing visuals, some good casting choices, and introduction to some surprisingly mature concepts (that they again dropped halfway through the movie, unfortunately).