Why do professional film critics continually hate on the films that fans love so much?
Ever since its release, DC’s Suicide Squad has been receiving less than favorable critics’ reviews. Peter Debruge (Variety) has said that the movie “ends up feeling more like the exec producer’s gonzo effects-saturated Sucker Punch”, Joshua Yehl (IGN) describes it as “familiar, unexciting, and, worst of all, predictable”, and Richard Lawson (Vanity Fair) simply said that the movie is “bad. Not fun bad. Not redeemable bad. Not the kind of bad that is the unfortunate result of artists honorably striving for something ambitious and falling short. Suicide Squad is just bad.” The fans, in the meantime, have loved the movie for the most part, praising its characters, storyline and directing, and the general opinion has differed greatly from the one of the critics.
Suicide Squad is not the only example of the great disparity between critics’ and fans’ opinions, with the recently released films such as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Warcraft also suffering from the merciless lash of the critics, while enjoying great success among fans at the same time. The former stands at the score of 44 based on critics reviews, but the fans have given it a 6.9, and the latter’s scores stand even further apart, with 32 critics’ and 8.4 fans’ score.
One has to ask how it is that movies like these have such mixed reactions between the fans and the critics, and just what exactly influences the opinions of each party. In this article we try to look at this phenomenon and to put more insight on what can make the experiences of watching the same movie so vastly different.
In order to try unraveling this mystery we have to consider the way critics and casual viewers see a movie in the first place. For movie critics, going to the cinema to see a newly released film is part of the job. From the very first minutes the critic’s eyes and ears are alert, scouring the movie for any elements that could be scrupulously analysed, be it technical elements, acting, directing, editing or anything in between. A lot of times, the enjoyment of a movie for a critic depends on how little they can nitpick and how many good points they can put down in their notes. Looking at the reviews of Suicide Squad it can be seen that most of the criticism towards the film is based on the plot decisions (many say the film was predictable), failure to carry out the potential (for a lot of critics Jared Leto’s Joker was wasted in the film) and unfulfilled grittiness (“the film’s highly fetishized violence doesn’t even have the exciting tingle of the wicked or the taboo” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair).
All of the above are surely fair points to make about the film, but what is happening on the other side of the coin then? Most fans coming out of the film seem to have smiles on their faces and express their utmost satisfaction. Contrastingly to the reviewers’ criticism of Leto’s Joker, many of the fans seemed to praise Leto’s performance and wish there had been more of him. Similarly, fans on Twitter, Tumblr and other sites praised the characters of Harley Quinn and Deadshot, mentioning them as the strong points of the film, as well as Viola Davis’ performance as Amanda Waller. The characterization of the anti-heroes, the soundtrack, the faithfulness and David Ayer’s directing were highly lauded as well. Our review of Suicide Squad by Christopher names the film as a new step for the DCEU and comic book films, praising the film as something the fans would love. David Ayers himself has staunchly defended his work, saying that he loves the movie and believes in it, and that he made it for the fans. And the fans love it.
This also brings up the issue of what the director’s intention while making a movie is – to make a great product for the fans, or to try to appeal to the critic’s eye? Basically, when the fans come to see a film, they come with their guard down, ready to enjoy and be entertained by it. In the case of Suicide Squad, we had passionate fans walking into the theater in order to see their favourite comic characters such as Harley Quinn and the Joker being brought to life once again, and that was precisely Ayer’s intention. The supportive reaction shows that the movie was crafted with utter love for the material and for the many fans that have been anticipating the film. The reviewers, meanwhile, watched it with a different eye and judged it as a film rather than an adaptation or a testament of love for the fans. It was not in their interest whether the director made it with love or not. They have done their respective job as reviewers to bring up what, in their opinion, was the bad and the good of the film, and it’s hard to prove them wrong.
Another side of this issue is the question whether the filmmaker is trying to appeal to the fans. Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman is another film that received massive backlash from the critics, mostly for its lack of engaging story, lack of focus in the plotline and an annoying villain. Fionnuala Halligan from Screen International says “while Hollywood never went broke by appealing to viewers who haven’t grown up, any who didn’t keep up with Batman or Superman’s recent iterations may find themselves fatally disorientated here”. An issue is being brought up here about the director appealing to the long-time fans of Batman and Superman. I have talked about the issue of Hollywood using nostalgia to make more money before, and that can be traced to here as well. In the film, all indications of that are indeed there – it contains tons of subtly and not-so-subtly hidden references to both the Superman and Batman comic franchises as well as other works that not everyone will be able to pick up on, but the truest, most hardcore fans will have a blast trying to catch them all.
Fans like these will definitely enjoy the movie, but what about the rest of the audience? Not everyone is as acquainted with the DC universe, and more casual viewers that do not have extended knowledge or extraordinary love for Batman and Superman might, in fact, leave the movie quite confused. Things such as Lex Luthor’s character or the whole far-fetched resolution of the big fight that the movie is named after (if you have seen the film you know what I’m talking about) might leave a lot of viewers thoroughly underwhelmed. Therein lies the big, gaping abyss between the fans and the critics’ rating of the movie: where the former see a lovingly crafted piece full of hidden winks and references, the latter just see a lot of mistakes. (Sidenote: it can be contrasted with Deadpool that seemed to manage navigating both appealing to the fans and creating a film that can be enjoyed universally).
Earlier this year Blizzard Entertainment released Warcraft, a movie based on the long-running video game franchise and directed by Duncan Jones. It was also widely panned by the critics, but many of the fans of the games were very confused by this verdict and enjoyed the film themselves. Like BvS, Warcraft put huge amounts of hidden references and inside jokes into the script, and the viewers unfamiliar with the games would not be able to pick up on all the clues. One could say it was even more packed with that stuff than Batman vs Superman, as it mentioned many names of many different characters and places from the game lore, names that are simply quickly forgettable to a casual watcher. The Warcraft universe has a vast and rich lore, and the movie only showed a tiny fraction of it, therefore some names or places are only mentioned and never even shown. To a fan every such mention is like a dose of the world they have spent so many hours in, but to everyone else it means nothing. Khadgar turning a prison guard into a sheep and saying that the spell “lasts about a minute” is like a stand-up comedian telling the audience inside jokes about his family.
And yet another issue in the question of fans vs. critics is whether some reviews are purposely written provocatively for controversy. Surely, it is not always (rarely, even) the case, but films such as Warcraft might seem like an easy target to some critics given a poor history of movies based on video games. In the past we have seen works such as Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Max Payne, Hitman and others flop miserably both in the box office and review websites. And then there was Uwe Boll, which is a whole other story entirely, a man that is pretty much single-handedly responsible for poor reputation of video game movies. Given all this, some critics might have entered a screening of Warcraft with an already-prejudiced mindset.
In the now-famous interview with Duncan Jones by Adam Rosser, the critic attempts to attack Jones with seemingly provocative questions and the director manages to defend his movie with apparent ease, saying how the fans will love the film and explaining in detail how he saw the idea of the film while making it. Rosser continues attacking and criticising the film, but as Jones answers and defends every question appropriately and in detail, the critic gets up and storms out of the room, leaving confused Jones in the chair. While that is definitely an extreme case, it can shine some light on the mindset of some critics that think the easy way to go about some movies is to shamelessly criticise them despite evidence pointing to the contrary.
The fans and the critics don’t always see eye to eye, and there are many reasons for that. Sometimes it is a case of seeing the movie differently, other times it is a matter of expectations, and even other times it can be something else entirely. We cannot say which side here is right; it is a timeless conflict of passion versus logic, of heart versus brain. After all, the line between a fan and a critic is rather blurry. As Owen Gleiberman (Variety) puts it, “1) Critics are fans. 2) Fans are critics”. In the end, all that matters is our own opinions and our own enjoyment of a movie or otherwise.
Image credits: DC, Universal Pictures