Saturday, 26 March 2016

Thoughts on Bats and Supes

Craig Neilson-Adams asked why the Batman versus Superman film has fared so badly in review - using the Rotten Tomatoes site as evidence. In contrast to comments by no-critics, he notes, the film has been consistently panned by 'professional' critics.

He suggests that this may be the result of a small sample group of critics - although a small group provides a reason to dismiss findings rather than accounting for its figures - or the 'burden of preconception' -  many of those who have been involved in film writing receive so much preview material that an unattainable expectation of quality emerges. He also considered, in a Facebook status, the problems of comparison between The Avengers franchise, which created a standard and style for films about superheroes.

I reject two of these ideas: the small sample is inevitable, since the parameters are 'professional critic' deliberately limit the number of eligible comments in order to privilege certain characteristics of form; the burden of preconception weighs on everybody. The comparison question, which I addressed in a response to his earlier thoughts does strike me as the post-persuasive, because the criticism-as-comparison has a long history of causing bias.

However, the statistics remain. Leaving aside the possibility that critics have better analytic skills for the moment, this disparity between popular and critical reception feels important.

For that matter, Neilson-Adams' article feels important, questioning the authority, and even the value, of 'professional criticism.

Fortunately, professional critics do not have to be 'right' to be 'useful'. As long as criticism is a guide to discussion, and not some kind of absolute judgement on art, it does not have to represent a 'right' answer (in this case, let's call 'right' a shared assessment with the populist opinion). It becomes a challenge, a specific position in a lattice of opinions: a provocation to dialectic.  

It's worth considering what shapes a critic's perspective though.

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