This year’s been pretty brutal so far, hasn’t it?
Anytime we approach the blockbuster film season, we have to recognize that a lot of the highest-grossing movies just simply will not be well-received by the critical community as a whole. The whole point of film criticism is to look at media in a unbiased way in order to objectively analyze it’s merits and flaws. Unfortunately, it’s not often as simple as it sounds. Subjectivity and personal feelings feature much more prominently in criticism than they really should (and I’m talking absolutely as much about myself as I am others), and these aspects can turn a review into a much more personal experience and inner monologue than it should really ever be.
The blockbuster film season began earlier than ever in 2016, kicking off with the very well-received Deadpool. The warm reception that the Merc with a Mouth found may have lulled it into a false sense of security, and the illusion was shattered a month later with the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. One of the most highly anticipated superhero movies ever, Batman v Superman was absolutely destroyed by critics after its release, and the critical backlash most definitely had an impact on the number of people that got the chance to view the film on their own. Nearly overnight, EVERYONE had an opinion on the movie, and most of these people hadn’t even seen it yet. An unusual amount of preconceptions followed every moviegoer that did see the film, and it’s incredibly unrealistic to believe that preconceived notions, whether good or bad, won’t have a drastic effect on perception. Factor in just how many opinions were flying about this film, and it’s interesting to wonder what kind of change in public opinion there may have been of everyone had been able to go in as cold as the critics themselves. I’m not saying whether or not Batman v Superman is a good or bad film, and every single person on this big blue ball is absolutely entitled to his or her own opinion. The question, though, is over how drastically opinions were affected by the pre-release reviews.
Another example of this from 2016 is X-Men: Apocalypse. The conclusion of the latest trilogy of X-Men films, Apocalypse, which I personally thought was an incredibly fun romp from its first frame until its last, was lambasted by critics. There were valid points in the criticism to be sure, but the biggest reason for the negativity seemed to be the the film didn’t perfectly match the storytelling heights of its predecessor, Days of Future Past. That in and of itself is another inherent flaw in modern criticism: comparison. Even when you’re talking about films in the same franchise, comparison is such a slippery slope. Whether an original film or a sequel to something that came before, every film is its own creature, its own story, its own piece of art. No matter what you think about something that came before, holding another film up to that standard (and I mean that in both good and bad ways) does a disservice to the film you’re actually discussing and analyzing. There’s a place for comparison and contrast in film criticism (and it’s a very important place at that), but making it the most important thing, even if you don’t realize it, slowly chips away at what makes a movie unique.
Both of the films that I discussed above were superhero movies, but the same arguments are true for every single genre of every single medium. The reason I talked about comic book movies, though, is because we’re about to go through this process all over again.
This weekend, Suicide Squad finally releases in theaters. Audiences around the world have been utterly captivated by the film’s promotion, and it’s currently tracking for an opening weekend of around $140 million (it’s also the new record-holder on Fandango for the most August pre-sales in company history). The review embargo lifted earlier in the week, and, as you might can guess, the film is being decimated by critics. There are valid points in the criticism for sure, but what’s one of the biggest reoccurring themes among the reviews? Comparison. Whether the film is being compared to Batman v Superman or Guardians of the Galaxy or Batman: The Animated Series or any other piece of media, so much focused is being placed on how the film works in relation to something else instead of simply how it functions as its own movie. We don’t yet know how the critical backlash will affect the film’s box office total (i.e. its total audience number), but it’s pretty easy to imagine history repeating itself.
Look, I enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse. I loved Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. That’s the great thing about art, though. It’s subjective. Just because one person likes or dislikes a movie or a TV series or a video game or whatever doesn’t mean another person will feel the exact same way. And why should it? We’re on this planet for an incredibly brief moment, so who are we to say whether or not something is worth experiencing to anyone other than yourself?
I’m a writer and a critic, and I often review movies and television here at TVOvermind, but I attempt to do so in a way that makes it clear that my reviews are my own opinion and no one else’s. I encourage readers to check out things I talk about themselves in order to form their own judgement, and I firmly believe that a review works best in conjunction with one’s own thoughts rather than as a deciding factor. If I had simply listened to reviews and allowed that to determine my actions, I would have never gotten to see the perfect debut of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman in live-action. I never would have witnessed what I think was the best comic book movie performance since Heath Ledger’s Joker in Michael Fassbender’s turn as Magneto in X-Men: Apocalypse.
It’s time that we stop putting so much weight in what other people think and start experiencing art for ourselves once again. Like what you like. Hate what you hate. Feel how you feel. But figure that out on your own.
You’ll be happier if you do.
Suicide Squad opens in theaters on August 5. Check out the film, and then take a look at TVOvermind in a few days to see my thoughts in my upcoming review. In the meantime, check out these five things that I think Suicide Squad needs to do in order to succeed!