Batman Vs. Superman Vs. The Box Office

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 10.854% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I chose not to see Batman vs. Superman when I heard that a) Jimmy Olsen gets shot in the face, and b) Batman brands criminals to let other criminals know it’s okay to shank them in prison.
That did not sound like a Batman I would be happy seeing, no matter how awesome the spectacle was.
So I stayed out.  Yet I’ve been fascinated watching how BvS went from DC boldly claiming “This one might be Oscar material!” to 28% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Charting its box-office performance drop from “We’re going to beat Avengers with $1.5 billion” to “We’re still making a billion” to “We’re going to release the R-rated version in the hopes that we’ll crest $900 million” has been a guilty pleasure of mine.
Which, don’t get me wrong, if any of you would care to gift me with $900 million, my PayPal is open to you.  But if Avengers had made only $900 million, we might not have seen the Marvel Universe Stage 2.  Adjusted for movie and marketing expenditures, Batman with Superman made less profit than Superman alone.
And it’s a weird thing to watch, because:
On one level, this is a tremendous success.  Millions of people paid money to see it.  Marketing did their job supremely well getting asses into the theaters.
Yet asses did not stay in the theaters, witnessing from the steep week-over-week drop.  People went in, and did not recommend.  The folks stayed home.
Friends of mine have told me that Batman vs. Superman is not nearly as bad as it’s made out to be – and some have been mad that the media narrative became “It’s terrible,” which drove fans away from a good movie.  But that didn’t happen.  Literally millions of people went to go see it.  If they had all thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, then it would have kept going.
Instead, what I generally hear is “It’s not as bad as they say!” – and when you’re looking at an expensive movie ticket, “It’s servicable” is not what gets people’s asses to the theater.
I think what we’re seeing right now is a rejection of grimdark, which I find to be secretly beautiful.  People aren’t particularly inspired by a Superman who is trapped in a world that punishes heroism, nor a Batman who is murderously angry.  I don’t doubt that some people really get off on this idea, because they like the change of pace –
– and maybe in time, Batman vs. Superman will be hailed as a masterpiece.  That happens to a lot of movies that flop.  Expectations play a critical part in how audiences initially react to movies.  The reason some films perform terribly initially is that people wanted Harrison Ford to play Han Solo and he gave them Deckard from Blade Runner.  They thought Brad Pitt was a boxer, and instead they got Fight Club.
And what I suspect happened is that people went in hoping for fun heroism and got a faceful of gritty anger.  And they went, “Nah, not what I wanna see.”  And maybe in time, we’ll warm up to this newer, more murder-happy Batman, and this Superman who can fly halfway around the world to save Lois but can’t save Congress from a bomb in the same room, and the doubtlessly dark-and-gritty Wonder Woman.  Maybe in time, we’ll come to appreciate this movie for what it is, not what we thought it was.
Or maybe it’s an overambitious film that reached for greater heights than it could actually climb to, and the notion of heroism it peddles to people is as repellent as I find it, and the truth is it’s not very good.
Which is not to say someone won’t love it.  Once enough people see a movie, it will always acquire fans who adore it.  M. Night’s The Last Airbender has some rabid admirers.  Whether a movie is “good” for somebody inevitably comes down to “Does this movie hit my personal movie-kinks?” (note that I will personally adore any movie that has logically consistent time travel, which is why I’ll stand by both Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Primer) – and “Are the flaws of this movie ones that don’t bother me?” (maybe Charlton Heston’s overacting seems overblown to you, but by God I love him, so when Leo and Kate went the full Heston in Titanic, I said, “LET MY PEOPLE GO.”)
Batman vs. Superman has the advantage of “It’s a really unusual take on the characters” and “It’s really pretty,” which will attract some people, and lots of people don’t care about plot holes or pacing or the murderverse or any of the things that personally bother me.
And Batman vs. Superman opened up so big that the question is not, “Did anyone like it?” – because if you suckered a Batman vs. Superman-sized audience into seeing “Catwoman,” I guarantee you there would be a thousand folks touting the genius of Halle Berry – but “What percentage of people liked it?” and “Will that percentage grow, or shrink, over time?”
At this point, nobody knows.
I suspect BvS’s future looks a lot like Man of Steel’s past: People saw it.  Some people liked it because it was pretty and things went boom.  Some people really found the themes compelling and now it’s their favorite version of these heroes.
Most people watched the pretty go by, and forgot about it in a year, and maybe they’ll pick it up in the $5 DVD bin because hey, it was easy on the eyes.
But come the day they want comfort watching, most people are gonna choose the Avengers.
See ya, Supes.


  1. FP
    Apr 14, 2016

    I…I don’t see the problem. I mean, yes, this isn’t the usual Batman; for one, this is Batman-coming-out-of-retirement. He’s older, and it’s a lot easier in his line of work to kill someone than to leave them merely injured. Maybe he’s just not as good at not killing as before. Maybe he’s more cynical. (Also, that wasn’t the intended purpose of the brands – when he finds out that’s what’s happening, he stops doing it.)
    So far as a world that punishes heroism on Superman’s scale, well, that’s just realistic. Dude causes all kinds of property damage and as you point out, next to zero loss of life should happen anywhere near him. But it does anyhow. Guy gets built up as a messiah figure, people are going to expect him to live up to it.
    It’s more realistic than some other hero films, and the ending isn’t entirely happy. I’m okay with this. I was happy to watch a film where, despite having read most of the source material, I still couldn’t predict everything. There’s great dialogue, the acting is superb, the special effects do well, the plot was easy for my wife who has no experience with non-Batman source material to follow…I can’t find a way to complain. Others can, I guess.

  2. BJ
    Apr 14, 2016

    I’m with you, Ferrett. I’m tired of the “Tyranny of Dark.”
    That ain’t Superman.
    I don’t know what the hell Man of Steel was, but it wasn’t Superman.

  3. beguine
    Apr 17, 2016

    Have you been watching Supergirl, Ferrett? The pilot is a little clunky, but then it smooths out and they manage to get the house of El right. The Flash is pretty good, too. The TV DC Universe seems to get that you can add moral complexity without bathing EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER, even the ones that are defined by kindness and faith in humanity, in TEH GRIMDARK .

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