We recently crossed the halfway mark for September, which means that for many people, Suicide Squad is well and truly old news.
However, thanks to the IT issues that brought The Pop Culture Studio shuddering to halt for most of last month, I still haven’t had my say on that movie and the furore that surrounded it – and believe me, I have plenty to share.
Since it rolled into cinemas in early August, Suicide Squad has gone on to make over $700M at the box office. It’s also been widely panned by critics, resulting in an online uproar by fans and leading to writer-director David Ayer to declare that the film was made for “for the fans” and not for the critics.
This sort of sentiment is nothing new when it comes to genre fiction in pop culture – particularly the superhero subgenre.
After earlier DC Expanded Universe films Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice copped their own critical lashings, I recall director/DCEU mastermind Zack Snyder and his cast making similar comments.
And yet, remarks like these have always rankled me, if for no other reason than because I’m a fan – a huge fan – of these characters and I didn’t enjoy Man of Steel. Or Batman v Superman. Or Suicide Squad. At all.
A part of me therefore dislikes the notion that Snyder and Ayer are, in effect, drawing a line between fan and non-fan: if you like our movies, you’re a fan; if you don’t, well…I guess you aren’t.
But more than that, I think what bugs me most is that it’s such a weak crutch to lean on. It’s used almost like a magic wand, a way of dismissing criticism by saying:
“Rather than acknowledge our films may not be perfect, we’re just going to chalk up any unflattering opinions to people not ‘getting’ superheroes or disliking the genre.”
I get that the filmmakers have put a lot of time, effort and creative energy into making these projects and want to defend them, but just for once, I’d love to hear someone in this position say:
“Hey – we hear you. We made a movie; it’s not perfect but we’re proud of it. A lot of people (fans included) don’t like it, but just as many do, which we really appreciate.”
Even so, it’s fair to say that anyone who creates something has an audience in mind (even if it’s themselves), so I have to admit that it’s fair to say that in the case of the DCEU movies, they weren’t necessarily made for ALL fans, but they certainly appeal to SOME of them.
I guess in some ways this really gets to the heart of what I really want to talk about, and it’s an epiphany I had recently.
It’s something that sounds obvious but which seems to get overlooked more and more in today’s social media-driven world, and it’s something that fans who dislike any film should really try to take on board: step back and realise not every single film is made for you.
Yes, it’s perfectly acceptable to dislike the current crop of DC films – personally, I don’t care for their aesthetic style the films share, the characterisations used, the clunky plotting and the confusion of violence/superficially adult themes with mature and sophisticated storytelling.
Heck, it’s OK if you can’t stand any movie, from the latest DC or Marvel superhero flick screening on a gajillion screens worldwide to the most recent indie effort only showing at like…one arthouse theatre a few blocks from you.
What’s not OK is taking your views about a movie (or a book, comic, whatever) and cramming it down other fans’ throats at every available opportunity, and in the most vitriolic way possible.
Adhering to this ethos is why I don’t reply to social media posts where people gush about Suicide Squad or some other pop culture offering I can’t stand: because it’s neither constructive nor fair to blast people about something they have every right to enjoy, just to vent my own disappointment.
Because at the end of the day, that’s all I’d be doing: ranting from my own subjective point of view. For those people who don’t share my perspective, there’s nothing I can say that’s going to change their own, equally valid viewpoint.
Sure, it can be hard to bite your tongue. Even though we’re talking about fictional characters – guys and gals who wear spandex and beat up on each other, more to the point – we all care about these imaginary people, in many ways as if they were actual flesh and blood.
We desperately want to see them star in adventures we can personally enjoy, and it can be frustrating – even heartbreaking – when that doesn’t happen.
But part of life is learning to live with disappointment, and if that’s too big of a pill to swallow, bear in mind that these franchises are built around a cycle of regular rebirth (or should that be “reboot”?).
So even if you despise the current interpretation of your favourite characters with the same level of hatred reserved by Lex Luthor for Superman – stop, take a breath, and wait five years. You might get a new take on the material that you DO like by then.
So while I might make the odd tweet offering an opinion – not to mention write the odd Review – unless I’m asked, I keep my mouth shut about the pop culture stuff I don’t like and get on with my life.
I don’t waste my time creating petitions to have Zack Snyder fired from the upcoming Justice League movie (seriously, messing with a guy’s livelihood like that – even a guy who made a movie about hope that ended with Superman snapping General Zod’s neck – is NOT cool), and instead I enjoy what I do have (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, the Richard Donner Superman films, and so on) and look forward to what the future might hold in store as well.
That said, all this goes doubly for when you love something, too.
Say you go to see Suicide Squad and decide it’s the new Citizen Kane. That’s great – really, it is.
Now, I want you to brace yourself for the fact that other people – most notably, critics – aren’t necessarily going to share your glowing opinion of the movie.
Please, please understand me when I say that this doesn’t mean that critics are out to destroy this thing that you now hold dear, and that their critique should have absolutely no impact on your own enjoyment levels.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve written more than few pop culture reviews in my time, and I’ve read more than I could ever hope to count.
I can honestly say that in my experience of both penning and perusing these critiques, one thing I’ve learned is that pretty much every critic out there isn’t approaching the material determined to slag it off.
On the contrary; they want to be entertained, and – given their deep love for films, novels, comics and the like – quite possibly even more so than you do.
When something they watch or read doesn’t engage or move them on a personal level, it’s just that: something personal, and definitely not something malicious.
That this personal response to the material doesn’t align with your own shouldn’t matter, simply because a well-adjusted, secure person doesn’t rely on other people’s opinions and tastes to validate their own.
What this means is that we shouldn’t get to the point where people who clearly don’t understand how a review aggregation website works are calling for Rotten Tomatoes to be shut down for the temerity of collating reviews suggesting that Suicide Squad isn’t that great.
This sort of activity is the end result of the bizarre, defensive mindset pop culture fans tend to have about the things they cherish (the mentality behind which could fill at least one other post), and leads to people dreaming up vast conspiracy theories involving studios and the media colluding to somehow bring down the things they love.
Seriously, you guys: stop buying into this crap. Walt Disney Studios/Marvel Studios aren’t paying critics to praise their films and quash those released by Time Warner/DC Entertainment (or vice versa).
Seriously, this sort of theory has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese, but consider the following as the main red flags:
- any critic found to be taking part would completely trash their own career; and
- studios probably aren’t even as hung up on reviews as people think – sure, good write-ups help word of mouth, but plenty of blockbuster films have racked up big bank with barely a kind word.
No, I think the real reason that the DCEU movies aren’t getting much love from the critics compared to their Marvellous competition – and I say this as someone who skews towards being more of a “DC Guy”, although not by much – is that maybe, just maybe, Marvel’s films have on the whole been better made, pure and simple.
You might disagree; and you’re totally welcome to, provided you do so in a polite, grown-up way.
In the end, I think the best way to play it is to ask yourself: “What Would Superman Do?” Then act accordingly (unless you think the answer is “Snap a few necks”, of course…)
That’s a wrap for this edition of Soapbox – now it’s your chance to join in! Agree? Disagree?