A great chasm has opened between critics and film fans. Upon the release of ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice’, critics gave the film a monumental kicking whereas fans seemed to be a lot more forgiving. With the release of ‘Suicide Squad’, audiences and critics were split once again. The cracks have re-emerged and the debate about the use of critics and fan-boy (and fan-girl) reactions is back at the forefront. Why is this? Why are there such differences of opinion when it comes to films? In particular, those films in which there is already a huge built-in fan base. From the outset, I want to make it clear that I have not seen ‘Suicide Squad’, so this article is not to pass judgement on the film, but to raise questions about the (almost) extreme reactions of those who are connected with it.
There have been many fans of ‘Suicide Squad’ before and after the film’s release and plenty of people felt there was more merit to the film than critics gave it credit for. So who is right? The obvious answer is no one. Your enjoyment of a film is entirely subjective; you take from the film what you bring to it (for the most part) and you may see something in the film that no one else does. For example, I am one of the few people who likes ‘Sphere’ (1998), helmed by Barry Levinson and starring Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L Jackson and Sharon Stone. It is a sci-fi movie that was panned upon release, and yet I think the film is a little gem. Granted, there are significant flaws in the film, but I felt that the film had so much atmosphere, tension and great performances. So much so, that I fail to understand why people actively hate this movie.
I know that many cinema goers feel the same about those who criticise ‘Suicide Squad’ and ‘Batman v Superman’. But to dismiss critics for giving the aforementioned films a good kicking is both short-sighted and, in all honesty, hypocritical. Critics are film fans too; they spend their life writing about them, criticising them and in some cases, promoting films that otherwise would not be seen. If anything, critics are the same as casual film fans; the difference being that they are paid to watch films. Critics also have the luxury of seeing everything; I will see one, maybe two newly released films a week, where as a paid critic will perhaps see fifteen. Seeing so many films allows one to witness the whole spectrum of cinema; the good and the bad.
So for me, film critics offer expert insight into why a film works and why it doesn’t. You may only pay attention to the star rating, but if you read the review, more often than not, you will find a constructive critique on a films flaws and successes. I am aware that some critics may slate (or praise) a film to be deliberately contrarian, but then I believe this behaviour can be levelled at film fans too. For example, recent headlines in the Twitter-verse highlighted a rather disturbing venture from some film fans; to demand the removal of the aggregate critic scores on Rotten Tomatoes. This was in reaction to the negative rating Suicide Squad had received on the website (it’s currently standing at a woeful 26%). This, in my opinion, is a hypocritical and fundamentally flawed demand. Simply removing the poor score from the site does not instantly mean the film becomes good, for the same reason why the poor score doesn’t mean the film is necessarily bad. But this petition, if you will, is a double standard. Bear in mind that this demand was made before the actual release of the film; these are people who had not even seen the film, and yet refused to accept the opinion of those who had. More worryingly, they actively wanted the negative reception to be silenced. By definition, this was an attempt at blocking our right to free speech; ironic considering some of those DCEU fans, or more appropriately, conspiracy theorists, thought people connected to Marvel had paid for critics to write negative reviews about the film.
Just because a critic hates a film, that does not mean they are “right”. I believe they may have more insight into why they think a film is poor, but I also think, fundamentally, that I should make my own mind up. I take a critic’s opinion in the same way I do a football pundit’s; with respect, but not as fact. If a film is panned, I may be more wary when seeing it, but I may see something they have not, or interpreted something differently. A good example of this is Peter Jackson’s ‘The Lovely Bones’. The film was slated, one particular review from legendary film critic Roger Ebert was particularly scathing, yet I completely disagree with his view of the film. So much so in fact, that I genuinely feel he saw a different movie than I did. While I can accept the film is flawed, it is Ebert’s reasoning as to why, which I disagree with. That said, the man has reviewed over ten thousand movies in his time, and probably watched a whole lot more. Perhaps I am the one who misunderstood the film; perhaps I was blinded in my loyalty to Peter Jackson. But what good does it do to hammer and ridicule those who have differing opinions. Accepting an opinion in art – even if you disagree – shows humility and understanding. Effectively it is what society is built on; tolerance and respect.
There are no definitive answers as to why there is a rift between film fans and critics; but what is for certain, is that there seems to be a building tribalism in some corners of cinema, only comparative with that seen in some sections of the sporting industry. I see the same level of loyalty for ‘Suicide Squad’ as I do for fans of their favourite football team. But unlike sport, I do not believe film as an art form should be treated so “religiously”. I will watch films religiously, but they are not my religion. I will not like every film purely out of loyalty to those who made it, or the source material that inspired it. Art is subjective. and I cannot love something solely on the basis that I have loved the artist’s previous work.
Having said that, maybe I am a hypocrite too. I find myself often defending the, sometimes, indefensible. I mentioned Peter Jackson earlier and, as a fan of his previous work, I was certainly more forgiving of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy’s shortcomings than those that are less attached to the franchise. Similarly, with the David Brent movie, ‘Life on the Road’, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when reading some four and five star reviews. But I also felt myself, internally and to friends, defending the movie from the poorer reviews, and I haven’t even seen it yet. I suppose I am a fan-boy at heart, too. I think “fanship” has to be respected. Franchises like ‘Twilight’, while critically not very well regarded, have a huge following. I believe that if something can engage that many people – even if I think it’s poor – there must be something within those stories that have struck a chord. The same can be applied to ‘Harry Potter’, ‘The Hunger Games’, and even ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’; what is interesting is that the critical reception for all these movies vary from the highest of praise to the lowest of criticisms. What remains consistent, is the respective loyalty of fans. Fanship, at least, shows that there is a huge passion for cinema; I may be sick to the back teeth of superhero movies, but at least people are still going to the cinema. But more than this, people are actually looking forward to going. A decade ago, event movies were like gold dust. Now, we get one every three months or so, and while I might be bored of it all, there is a huge sense of pleasure to be had in knowing that the future of cinema is, perhaps, not as dire as I once thought.
The DCEU will continue to expand, and I am sure the fans’ loyalty will grow even stronger; but this does not mean the quality of films will improve. In fact, the growing fanship of films that have been panned by critics raises another question; are cinema-goers content with watching trash? Have audiences been fed garbage for so long that they are not just used to, but expect the same standard of films? That is a question for another day, but for now, one thing is for sure; the divide between critics and fans will continue to grow. Interestingly, we here at JumpCut UK kinda blur the line between critics and fans – we critique films, sure, but we are primarily just a group of people who love film. We also like to think that we are quite rational, and we try to judge each film on its own merits. But hey, our reviews were favourable towards ‘Batman v Superman’ and ‘Suicide Squad’, so read into that what you will.