Fandom should be fed.
It should also be celebrated.
Fandom has the capacity to bring people together through the mutual love of a fictional character or lore, and form bonds of friendship and camaraderie (it certainly has for us). Unfortunately, there’s another, more toxic side to fandom. I felt compelled to write this post when I saw this article on the Superman Homepage that suggested that some of the more problematic elements of fandom may be contributing to the relative box office failure of Justice League.
Let’s be clear… I love Justice League
Just in case it wasn’t clear in our podcast or our 4.5N review of the film, I absolutely loved the tits off of Justice League. It had its flaws and unfortunately it worse them very much on its sleeve but for me personally, the good vastly outweighed the bad.
That doesn’t appear to be me in a vacuum, either. Every screening I’ve attended has been well attended with audiences who seemed to respond positively to the film. There’s most certainly something of a disconnect between the critical reception of the film and the way audiences (generally) appear to be responding. Here, I want to look at how fandom (Zack Snyder fandom in particular) and the culture of obsessive over-analysis of every aspect of the film aside from the content of the film itself, may be an issue in the film’s relative under performance, and why it continues to hurt the film.
The Pre Mortem Post Mortem
If I were an ordinary member of the public (and not the drooling, obsessive fanboy that I am), and I wanted to see whether this new Batman and Wonder Woman movie (and that’s how the general public perceives it) was worth watching, a quick Google search would give me some compelling reasons not to bother.
The most prominent review sites (i.e. those who can afford the best Search Engine Optimisation) are generally negative, and while there are some positive reviews and a decent aggregate IMDB score of 7.3/10 the Rotten Tomatoes score presented on the Google search page features only the critical rating of 41% and not the more positive audience score of 83% (at the time of writing).
Moreover, a quick YouTube search reveals dozens and dozens of armchair film critics picking apart the still living carcass of the film, trying to ascertain where it all went wrong and the extent to which it torpedoes the future of the DC Films Universe.
As a fan of this cinematic universe, of Justice League and of Zack Snyder, the film’s director it’s upsetting to see, but I console myself with a little reality check. These op ed pieces and videos are created predominantly by self employed freelancers like myself whose income is mostly or entirely dependent on revenue generated by ad sales which are generated by clicks. Thus, content creators need to go with the tide of public opinion and it just so happens that prognostications of doom and gloom drive traffic. They have done ever since audiences were first divided on Man of Steel.
Whether it’s from concerned DC fans, the minority of hand rubbing Marvel fans or just curious cinephiles there’s no denying that this kind of content gets clicks.
Zaddy issues and conspiracy theory
I like Zack Snyder. I like Zack Snyder a lot. He’s an auteur filmmaker whose visual flair is virtually unmatched in contemporary cinema and while he comes under fire from those who think that narrative storytelling is, always has been and always should be the sole aim of film as a medium, he generally puts a damn fine film together.
With the exception of the scarily misogynistic Sucker Punch (a beautifully shot action adventure about rape), I’ve enjoyed every single film he’s made.
Snyder has attracted a sizeable loyal and devoted fan base. A fan base so loyal and devoted it’s… actually kind of creepy.
In the wake of Batman V Superman‘s critical mauling last year, a great many of Snyder’s fans have come out in force over the last 18 months savagely defending the film and Snyder on social media. In principle, that’s great, Moreover, the way the fan community rallied around the director upon the loss of his daughter was absolutely awe inspiring… But while some defenses of Snyder’s film’s prior to Justice League have been insightful and well articulated, other arguments have been far more… base. There are far too many examples to share here but if you must find them, it’s not easy to seek them out on Twitter or Vero (a social media platform that owed most of its success to Snyder himself).
Some of these devout fans have taken to the frankly creepy habit of referring to their favourite director as Daddy Snyder, Daddy or Zaddy. While I’m sure they’re certainly a well intentioned bunch (those I’ve observed on Twitter have mostly favoured peaceful and well articulated discourse), they may be a far bigger part of the problem than they realise.
As you may or may not be aware, a lot of these fans feel that the final cut of Justice League was bastardised by Joss Whedon and have petitioned in their droves (over 100,000 at the time of writing) for a restored version of Snyder’s original assembly cut to be released on home video so that the director’s vision for his Superman trilogy can be properly realised. Among their demands are that the film be retroactively colour graded to tonally fit better with Man of Steel and Batman V Superman, that Danny Elfman’s occasionally excellent but generally forgettable score be replaced with the work composed by Junkie XL and that the many scenes which were ruthlessly hacked out to get the film under two hours be reinstated while Joss Whedon’s contributions should be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this is a noble enough intention. I for one would love to see an alternate cut of the film. Alternate cuts of films are always interesting. I myself own every available cut of Blade Runner (there are 5). For my own part I’m far more interested in an extended cut than a complete re-do since there are several of Whedon’s contributions (including the superlative opening scene with Batman) that I really enjoyed.
However you feel about the studio cut of Justice League, it’s important for fans to realise how damaging their behaviour on social media can appear to non-fans. If even the people who are supposed to love this shit are publicly complaining about the film, one can’t expect it to incentivise people to get out to the cinema and watch it. If you hate the studio cut of the film it is absolutely your right to complain about it… But don’t throw your toys out of the pram when audiences don’t flock to see the film you’re publicly decrying.
How you can help
If you care about Justice League and the DC Films universe, do what you can to be part of the solution, even if you thought that the film could have been more than the final cut we got. By all means sign the petition for a “Snyder Cut” and encourage others to do so, but try and emphasise moments in the film where you thought that the director’s vision was particularly well serviced.
Please, don’t call conspiracy on the film’s under performance. It just makes you look like a tinfoil hat wearing crybaby. There are no bloggers and newspaper critics taking back handers from Disney in shady alleyways. This film was made by Warner Brothers. Fucking Warner Brothers. If anyone could throw money at stemming the tide of public opinion it’s the company that’s in the middle of a merger that’s been blocked by the US Justice Department because it would result in a mega-conglomerate that’s just too fucking big even by American standards.
Finally, whatever misgivings you may have about the film… Go out and support it. Watch it with friends, watch it with family. Watch it and try to appreciate it for what it is not for how it matches the preconceived cut of the film that you had in your head.