It’s been a Batman week for me.
For my birthday, my wife (and kid) decorated the dining room in a Batman theme and gave me a Batman cake like I was turning 12 and not 36.
I also wrote a long piece on how Tim Burton’s Batman films are better in memory than in reality.
Finally, today is the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The film has gotten awful reviews, but so did Man of Steel, this film’s predecessor with the same cast and director, so what did you expect? Even Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises received some mixed-to-negative reviews while many of those same critics loved the atrocious Batman Returns. So do with that what you will.
It just feels like this is one of those movies that critics are excited to take down as a group, like Gigli or The Lone Ranger or Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever or take your pick.
For all of the talk and think-pieces about social media and the online mob mentality, trigger warnings, “problematic” problems and everything else, one thing that is often forgotten or ignored is the fact that we are now exposed to far more critical reviews than ever. I don’t just mean bloggers or wanna-bes, I mean professional I-get-paid-to-watch-films-for-free-and-then-write-about-them critics.
In the past, each major metropolitan newspaper had a critic. In later years, these same critics would often appear on one of the local TV news stations to give their reviews. (In Philly, this was Bill Wine, a professor of mine at La Salle, whose written reviews appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer and who also appeared on the news of the local Fox affiliate, Fox 29).
A very, very select few were syndicated in columns across the country. And Siskel & Ebert were the first ones to really be on TV, so you had the reviews from three or four critics, at most.
Today, like with everything else, we have an overload.
All those newspapers still have critics, but now all of those reviews are not only available to all of us, they are collected and categorized on Rotten Tomatoes. Furthermore, there are so many more critics with so many more outlets. In addition to The New York Times and Rolling Stone, I’ve seen reviews by Deadspin, The A.V. Club, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and countless more. Instead of seeing one or two reviews, you see 15 or 20 or more. If you read a bad review, you think, “Huh, that person didn’t like the film.” If you read 18 bad reviews, you think, “Jesus, that must be a piece of shit.”
That could be true or it could be that, in general, critics gravitate towards and praise certain types of films. Critics adored Life Is Beautiful and it won 3 Oscars, including Best Actor for this maniac, but how many people do you know have seen it, let alone loved it? Critics loved The Shawshank Redemption yet it failed at the box office. Meanwhile, Michael Bay is despised by critics, yet his movies still make mountains of cash. Sometimes critical and commercial praise dovetail, like with Titanic, but more often it’s a movie like The King’s Speech somehow winning over The Social Network.
It’s that way with all pop art. Many Pulitzer Prize winners would love to have James Patterson’s sales. The Bodyguard soundtrack received mediocre reviews at best, yet it is the fourth-highest selling album in history. Are the critics wrong? Is the public? Does it matter?
I used to put a ton of stock into what the critics said, almost to the point where I began to let it influence my taste. Young Guns II is far from a critical darling, but I love, love, love it. Yet, when I would look up the reviews, it would begin to change my feelings on the movie. That’s not the point. Art, in all its forms, is supposed to do many things – make you think, make you feel, even make you question – but it isn’t meant to make you change your ideas about what you like or don’t like.
So while I’ll still read critics, I won’t take their word as gospel. Because critics have been wrong on numerous occasions. This was actually the impetus for In Defense Of…, my most recent book. It was my counteroffensive, a rallying cry for albums, films, TV shows, athletes, and actors that I felt were unfairly criticized or overlooked. Critics didn’t like The Incredible Hulk starring Ed Norton and laid out their reasons why? I’ll lay out my (even better?) reasons why I liked it.
But that was just a personal vendetta because while art can be both subjective and objective, taste is strictly subjective. You can realize that something is not the most artistic thing in the world, yet still love it. If that weren’t the case, romantic comedies would have been extinct thirty years ago and we’d all like and dislike the same thing. How boring. Then we’d be like Drake fans. Horrifying thought.
My father and my wife helped me in this regard. My dad often would often say, “That’s why they have 31 flavors at Baskin Robbins. Something for everyone.” My wife would be a little more direct: “I don’t care that critics don’t like it. I like it and that’s all that matters to me.”
Regarding Batman v Superman, I’ve tried to avoid reviews and spoilers, but a few have seeped in. From the trailers and what I know of the story, I have a feeling that I’ll enjoy this film, but will find flaws with it. I just know that whether I hate it or love it or feel something in between, my opinion will be solely my own, and not one that I borrowed from a critic.
Here’s what I wrote this week:
- Athletes Are More Than Mere Students [Medium]
“I’ve known Bruce for years. I can’t decide if it’s the hero in him that drives him – which I respect… or the dark side that puts him in harm’s way – trying desperately to make up for the murder of his parents. That I don’t respect.”
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.