The narrative in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might change course as quirkily as the East River, but at least it isn't lazy. The same cannot be said, however, for the simplistic narrative about critics-vs.-superhero films that again rears its head.
Batman v Superman grossed $424 million globally over the Easter weekend, making it the biggest superhero debut ever when not adjusted for inflation. And one popular takeaway from that haul has been that Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment's pricey Man of Steel sequel has somehow not only defied those critics who savaged the film, but also has rendered them irrelevant.
The trouble is, such tired thinking is as black and white as, well, the '90s comic title Batman Black and White. For a truer picture, we must pull back the shot, because the argument is framed in entirely the wrong way.
Yes, Batman v Superman has received poor-to-mixed reviews. And many on the Internet are citing the harshest excerpts from mainstream reviews. Yet BvS currently sits at a score of "44" on Metacritic.com, within the lower-middling range (and north of the site's damning "red zone").
Some in the media, and many on social media, cite Batman v Superman as if it were the pinnacle of superhero-film divergence between cold critical reaction and warm audience reception. Yet such an approach ignores decades of striking examples.
We can start with 2013's Man of Steel, which averaged a middling "55" on Metacritic - yet went on to gross more than two-thirds of a billion dollars worldwide.
Or consider 2007's Spider-Man 3, which averaged a "51" on Metacritic - yet grossed nearly $900 million worldwide. Or the Thor sequel The Dark World ("54? on Metacritic), which cracks the list of Top 100 global grossers ever, with $645 million.
Even a critical comic-book stinker like Ghost Rider ("35? on Metacritic) somehow summoned nearly $230 million in total box office.
And even attempting to hold up Batman v Superman as the people's box-office champion over negative criticism misses the larger point: The deepest reason for this commercial resilience isn't really about comic books. It's about branding.
Whatever the source material, be it book or play or video game or toy, Hollywood is supremely skilled at selling you a name you already recognise. Warm familiarity can render much criticism muted. Which is why, if you want to see real disparity between critical and commercial outcomes, just check out, say, the cinematic masterpiece that is Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. It's a case of an abysmal "24" on Metacritic vs. $343-million in global gross.
Or Transformers: Age of Extinction, from 2014, which gets a dismally low "32" on Metacritic, yet grossed $1.1 billion worldwide - good for No. 15 all-time.
That's right. Zack Snyder might be the blockbuster filmmaker who's taking the abuse now, but just know that in the world of Hollywood branding vs. creativity, he's still no Michael Bay.