Written by Russ Dobler
“Not as bad as Bush v. Gore, but close.”
That quip alone, from J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader, could have ended it all before it started. Of course he’s referring to the bent tent-pole that is Warner Brothers’ Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, a film that was released in North America on March 25. Jones’ review is from March 23, one of a slew of barbs hurled at the would-be titan before it even arrived on the scene.
But just as a simple conversation between man and god could have averted all that senseless destruction in the movie itself, the perfect jab couldn’t prevent the deluge of bad Batman v. Superman reviews, each, in classic superhero film form, becoming more bombastic and over-the-top as they progressed.
“The most expensive prank ever committed to film.” – David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org, April 6
“A momentum-less ode to uncreative people everywhere that torches two of pop culture’s greatest characters and uses their ashes as its own personal urinal cake.” – J. Olson, Cinemixtape, April 7
“If a filmmaker attempted to combine everything casual moviegoers don’t like about superhero franchises, they couldn’t come up with a picture as execrable as this one.” – Jason Bailey, Flavorwire, April 9
“Unfortunately, director Zach Snyder’s scattershot, overly complicated and hugely drawn-out exposition depletes the story of all its fun and power, reducing his leads to impotent cranks.” – Roe McDermott, Hot Press, April 1
Look, when even the people who like it have to struggle for compliments, it’s clear that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice is simply not a good film. But is director Zach Snyder really the Krytptonian Michael Bay/Adolf Hitler hybrid he’s made out to be?
“I was at least hoping for a grand, jaw-dropping folly (like Snyder’s 2011 Sucker Punch), but got something far more ordinary.” – Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress, March 29
“The film is not the mess like some have led us to believe, but it’s also not as good as it could’ve been.” – Sebastian Zavala Kahn, Cinencuentro, March 30
Kudos to the brave few who could peer through the doom and gloom of Batman v Superman and the reviewers who dogpiled it. It’s hard not falling prey to something Commissioner Gordon warned of in an almost universally-praised DC Universe movie, Batman Begins – escalation – especially when clicks and ad rates are on the line. “We start carrying semi-automatics, they buy automatics.” They say “baffling,” we damn well better lead with “incoherent”!
Actions have consequences, though. Or do they? Does the critics’ mad scramble to outsnark each other affect box office receipts, or is it just yelling in an echo chamber?
The latest of Michael Bay’s Transformers flicks, 2014’s Age of Extinction, was hobbled by the franchise’s worst ever critical reception (recording a dismal 18 per cent Fresh on the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes), and subsequently limped to its lowest American ticket sales, pulling in almost 25 per cent less than the previous bottom rung, the 2007 movie that kicked the series off. Praise be to China and the rest of the world, though, who ate that shit up with greater zeal than any of the previous Transformers films, ensuring we’ll be treated(?) to an extended cinematic universe, whether those of us at home are sick of it or not.
…poor word-of-mouth took its toll on Batman, but were viewers already primed to dislike it after the critical drubbing?
According to Box Office Mojo, Age of Extinction scored a worldwide total of $1.1 billion on a production budget of $210 million. Batman v. Superman just cracked global receipts of $800 million on a $250 million dollar budget. And almost half of its American tally came from its opening, as BvS tumbled 69 per cent on its second weekend, tying it with X-Men Origins: Wolverine for the steepest drop of a comic book movie in recent memory. A “B” Cinemascore shows that poor word-of-mouth took its toll on Batman, but were viewers already primed to dislike it after the critical drubbing? It’s a chicken-and-egg scenario that probably can’t be disentangled.
Still, Deadline’s sources claim that Warner Brothers is okay with $800 million, even if Batman v. Superman won’t be “theatrically” profitable until it reaches $925 million, a goal that looks unlikelier every day. It’ll climb out of the red, but it might take Blu-ray sales and pay-per-view buys to get there. Maybe even an R-rated rerelease of the movie, for those who thought murderous Bruce Wayne was just too joyful.
Content or not, Batman v Superman is certainly not the salvo for an interconnected filmscape, featuring arguably the two biggest names in comic’s history on screen together for the first time, that any studio would have wanted. Surely at least some of that underperformance is due to the venom spilled in the sheets, but it’s still full speed ahead for the DC Cinematic Universe, with Justice League Part One filming right now and Wonder Woman actually being released two weeks earlier in 2017 than originally announced. If anything, reviewer one-upmanship may have instead doomed just the kind of films they usually like, with rumors swirling that smaller sales will force Warner Brothers to forego more untested projects and concentrate on proven commodities, like superheroes and Harry Potter.
So maybe critics should consider the ultimate outcomes of their vitriol before releasing it to the world. Of course I say this as someone who himself couldn’t resist piling on, as part of a group review, but I hope my take was nuanced enough to add to the tapestry and not just kick a thing when it’s down.
“Ironically, given the ownership, the whole thing was like being rushed through one of those Disney World animatronic rides, but, like, while it’s being maintenanced? Bunch of robotic one-liners and signs hanging off the incomplete bits reading, ‘Under repair — content to be added later.’” – Russ Dobler, AiPT! April 11
Ah, who am I kidding?
**Please note that the review written by Roe McDermott was incorrectly flagged as positive by Rotten Tomatoes at the time and has since been changed from positive to negative. If you’re able to find a positive review of this film from a legitimate source, we’d love to see it.