Let's face it, there's no avoiding the fact that the internet is currently in meltdown over Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice! Critics savaged the film, while fan reaction has been mixed; some furiously arguing its the best superhero movie to date, others insisting it's good but deeply flawed. I'm a member of several superhero and film Facebook groups; every single one is currently overflowing with heated debate, sometimes getting quite nasty.
Why is Batman v Superman causing so much controversy?
1. The system has been unfair to Batman v Superman
This is the current rating for Batman V Superman on Rotten Tomatoes. Let's face it, the critic score is absolutely atrocious, but what's visible at first glance is that there seems to be a massive difference between the critic score and the audience score. Such a gulf is pretty unusual.
Warner Bros. have basically shrugged off the critic score, pointing instead to the successful opening weekend. In interviews, representatives have argued:
Let's be honest; that's pretty self-evident. So what's going on?
Well, part of the issue is the way sites such as Rotten Tomatoes calculate their aggregate scores. Forgive me for getting technical, but they basically turn each review into a binary system - 'fresh' (good) or 'rotten' (bad). From here, they divide the number of positive reviews by the total number of reviews counted, generating that appalling 29%.
In the case of Batman v Superman, that's kind of gone wrong. Alan Nicholas did some analysis, and noted that the average critic score was actually 5.1 out of 10 - 51%. The actual average critic rating is (just) above average, and only 10% below my own rating of the film.
Right now, many fans are arguing that Rotten Tomatoes is broken. In truth, as far as Batman V Superman is concerned, I think they're right.
2. Warner Bros. has a lot riding on this film
Let's face it, this is where DC films have gotten seriously important! Go back just 20 years, and Warner Bros. were the only game in town in regards to superhero movies; Marvel had attempted to get studios to make their films, and had been roundly rebuffed. That all changed quite quickly, though; on the one hand, 1997's Batman and Robin basically killed off DC's last viable franchise, Batman, for quite a while. On the other, New Line Cinemas and Fox launched the Blade and X-Men series, taking the world by surprise. In 2008, with film rights finally reverting back to Marvel Studios, Marvel took the gamble of creating the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man.
Whether we like it or not, Warner Bros. are now playing catch-up and this is the film where they really make their attempt. At the same time as being a sequel to the controversial Man of Steel, it needs to create the basics of the DC Cinematic Universe, establishing the roles of Ben Affleck's Batman and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman. There's a sense that this strategy is disturbingly high-risk; if Batman V Superman goes wrong (as, critically at least, it has), then the whole project risks being damaged.
What's impressive is that Warner Bros. could easily have made a low-risk crowd-pleaser with this film, something relatively tame but effective. Instead, they've chosen to allow Zack Snyder to create a deep, complex film that's truly remarkable with its depth of imagery, even if it does sometimes get confused under the imagery's weight!
3. The fans have a massive emotional investment in this film
The fans know what the risks are. This is their big chance to see the Justice League hit the big screens. Comic book fans who've watched the success of larger rival Marvel now have a chance to see their childhood take cinematic flight, and they couldn't be more excited.
I've talked with a lot of friends who said that they knew the film had flaws, but they were simply delighted to have an opportunity to see the DC Trinity (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman) work together in a film. That excitement superseded their care for criticism and analysis.
It's tempting to criticise DC fans for this, but in truth their reaction is completely understandable. This film is a childhood dream come true! Which has made the critical reception all the more painful for the fans.
4. DC fans were already in defensive mode
Another sad fact about Batman v Superman: there's a sense that Warner Bros. could never win with this project. Every decision they made was heavily criticised - from casting (Ben Affleck's Batman, Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman) to the trailers (notably the inclusion of Doomsday). With a relentless tide of awkward news, DC fans have slipped into a very defensive state.
With the cast now doing the interview rounds, they're making really interesting statements. Henry Cavill, for example, has admitted to anonymously reading posts in fan forums, and has openly declared that the film is for the fans, not for the critics.
There's a danger in playing the 'fan card' - fandom can be a very toxic, insular thing, and can actually damage the long-term accessibility of a franchise. Worse still, because the DC fandom has already become quite introverted some fans even speculated Disney were paying critics to write bad reviews! - this particular fan-group is almost there.
5. The film was perhaps over-edited
A common criticism of the film is that its choppy narrative doesn't always make sense. For example, there's a scene near the beginning where Superman attacks a terrorist cell who are about to execute Lois Lane (of course). It all goes wrong, with Lex Luthor's men shooting the terrorists and blaming Superman for the deaths.
Let's be honest; as a plot point, that just looks weird. Why would anyone believe Superman was responsible for people being shot? It's not as though he needs to use guns to go on a rampage.
Here's the catch: Zack Snyder has a habit of producing epics that are insanely long, and so get ruthlessly edited. Successive DVD releases of Watchmen, for example, dramatically improved the film's plot. Batman V Superman is no exception; there's a so-called 'Ultimate Edition' coming out in June that will include a lot of cut scenes. One of those fleshed-out scenes is the battle between Superman and the terrorists, possibly making that plot more understandable.
All of this means that the theatrical release almost isn't the final version of the film; to enjoy this film, to make sense of all its plots, it's entirely possible that we need to get hold of the 'Ultimate Edition'. Understandably, critics, who judge the theatrical release on its own merits, aren't impressed.
So there you have it; five reasons Batman V Superman has caused so much controversy. I suspect the fan reaction has been positive enough to ensure the DC Cinematic Universe stays on track, but the reality is that, with Zack Snyder remaining involved in the two Justice League films, the controversy is likely to stick around.