Fans really have taken to hating critics these days.
It’s been weeks now since the theatrical release of SUICIDE SQUAD, and, while the dust would appear to have settled as we move forward out of the summer blockbuster season, the supposed divide that exists between fans and critics continues to linger, ready to rear its ugly head again in the future the next time there’s a difference of opinion on a franchise or notable series.
But why does that opinionated gap even exist in the first place? Whatever happened to people just agreeing to disagree? Why is the “us versus them” alignment that some have created between the two parties widening with each new brand-name motion picture?
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this fracture that sits between two groups of people that share more commonality than some will admit to in the hopes of cracking how this extreme polarity came to be. I may have tracked down a few answers in the hopes of making sense of the nonsensical.
Let’s start with our common ground. What is it that we all want when we sit down to watch a movie?
For it to be good, right? See… That wasn’t so hard.
We all want to know that neither our time nor our money were wasted on something that didn’t bring some sort of fulfillment to us by the time the end credits start rolling. That fulfillment can come in a variety of ways – laughs, scares, thrills, chills, adrenaline rushes, tears or even just something of substance that provokes deeper thought in our minds. We want to walk away feeling satisfied that a movie did something for us on a personal level. We hope something about the film resonated with us that we can then chalk it up as a good experience.
Ah, there’s that word again – “good.”
The definition of the word is simply “agreeable, pleasant,” but there is no universal distinction for what that even is. It means something different to everyone. Everyone has their own standard, their own sliding scale on “good,” and when it comes to art (in this case, film), that very principle applies.
Plus, let’s face it… We all watch movies differently in order to inform our feelings on what “good” is to us. There is no such thing as an objective viewing of a film. As much as some would like to believe there is, it’s a fantasy. You have a better chance of locating a unicorn during a routine day of yours than you do of coming across an objective reaction to a film. Movies are meant to make us feel something, and everyone’s feelings are going to be unique, because we all bring our own baggage into a motion picture with us. Those feelings are completely subjective – based on my tastes, my experiences, everything about me that makes me me or you you or whomever whomever.
How can anyone remove any of that and view a film solely based on the facts which comprise it? Yes, it was about this, that and the other thing. Yes, it starred Persons X, Y and Z. Yes, this filmmaker directed it. Those are the concrete and impartial elements of a movie, but that’s not a review. That’s a robotic regurgitation of stuff that doesn’t relay human emotion of any kind as to how a film played for someone on a personal level – which is a big part of the divide.
Fans who take issue with critics don’t see them as human beings who think and feel and emote. They have dehumanized them into these lifeless entities that should just talk about a movie in the most surface level way possible, wanting them to remove the personal elements that make a film “good” or “bad” or somewhere in between for them… something that will never happen unless T-800s are sent back in time to start reviewing motion pictures, and I’m certain the Terminators are a bit busy with more important missions dedicated to either Skynet or the Resistance to convey an unbiased take on the latest Jason Statham action flick to the masses.
However, building on the idea that we watch movies differently, do you have any idea how many movies the average person goes to see on an annual basis? A 2014 Harris poll said it was five. Of course, for some it’ll be more; for others, less. But the median number of movies seen per year can actually be counted on one hand.
On the flip side, do you know how many movies the average critic goes to see in a calendar year? Dozens. For some, hundreds. They can see several movies a week. There are many who can see quite a few in a given day. It is a steady diet of films from the beginning of January to the end of December, and the numbers add up. And with every film we watch – at a higher rate and an accelerated overall pace than the average viewer – we hone our critical skills in terms of what works for us and what doesn’t.
Character development, story, acting, dialogue, cinematography, editing, music – everything that goes into making a film as quality as can be sticks out to us. We notice it all. Some things matter more in a specific movie than they might in others. Some things are easier to overlook in a movie that is connecting with us than they might be in a film that is not. There is no exact science to it, only the self-determination of how a movie is playing for us, based on how we’re personally responding to what we see on screen. In that way, critics are no different than fans… but in my experience and from conversations with fans, more is being considered in making our critical assessments.
From the fan side, how often have you heard someone tell you that they just know they’re going to love a movie they’re going to see… before they’ve actually seen it? Too often, I imagine. Yes, in many cases, people have already made up their minds that they will get something out of a film before they’ve ever laid eyes on it, usually based on the trailer they’ve seen (which, for the record, is cut in a particular fashion to lure you into buying a ticket and putting your ass in a seat – Marketing 1, patron 0). The fact that this movie exists at all is good enough for them. They’re dropping some cash on it already, so they’re going to make the most of it.
And good for you. If you found something you dug in SUICIDE SQUAD where I did not, that’s awesome. I don’t begrudge you your good time and am happy for you that the film connected with you in some way. But why did it? Ah, let’s circle back to how we watch movies in different ways, shall we, because I think this is really important as we move forward to reconciling this opinionated divide in our relationship?
Right now we are in a situation where people have become too devoted to the brands. After all, “fan” is really short for “fanatic,” and movie studios are taking advantage of that excessive and rabid enthusiasm for a property to serve you up something that might have you feeling good in the short-term but that holds no real long-term value. Remember… We’re using SUICIDE SQUAD as a example here, so let’s consider what it is that fans liked about David Ayer’s super-villain team-up movie so much that they’re really not talking about it too frequently all these weeks later.
Have you asked yourself or others what they enjoyed most? Because I have. Lots of people actually, and the most consistent answer I got was that they really liked the characters. Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Captain Boomerang, El Diablo… you name ’em, they were fond of them. But after probing a little deeper about what exactly they liked about those characters, it mostly came down to their interactions with each other. Once again, it was those characters simply being those characters. It wasn’t what they did or the mission they were thrown into. It was the fact that those characters were being brought to life on the screen in front of fans who desperately had wanted to see that for so long… and that was enough. The rest of the film was secondary and easily discarded.
To reference another blockbuster franchise that keeps raking in big amounts of money at the box office – as long as there were Transformers on-screen doing Transformer-y things in a movie called TRANSFORMERS, that bar had been reached. And if that’s it for you… if that’s all you want out of a movie… then so be it. I can’t control your standards for “good.” But then you can’t control mine or those of any of my colleagues when we desire a film to be a bit more than that.
Both sides of this equation want to find similar results, but understanding how we get to that end by very different means is important. We’re not always going to see eye to eye on everything, and that’s normal. That’s okay. We shouldn’t want that to begin with. So the next time you see that someone has a dissenting opinion on something, particularly film, don’t start drawing the line in the sand against them, setting up you versus them. Remember that we’re all fans and we’re all critics and we all start out wanting the same thing. It just doesn’t always work out that we all find it together.