Not entirely unlike the Trump supporters who support him despite people pointing out his many lies, hypocrisies and prejudices, bad reviews couldn’t stop a movie with a deep fanbase from making money. That movie was “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.” This weekend, the super-belated sequel fought against its 23 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes to make an entirely respectable $18.1 million. That’s low considering the first is the highest grossing rom-com of all time. Still, the A- Cinemascore suggests it might have legs, if not the type that keeps it in theaters for half a year.
Then there was “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
With a comparatively almost respectable 29 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, the superhero fight night pic accrued harsh reviews, which beckoned people to revolt against a movie that a) turned its two good guy vigilantes into psychotic creeps and b) was generally confusing and unpleasant. One review/rant, by Film Freak Central’s Walter Chaw, argued that it was the movie our wretched times deserve, which is to say miserable and filled with a trampling of what “justice” even means in an era of regular terrorism, re-activated bigotry and torture-supporting presidential frontrunners.
But people went en masse anyway. Despite recent fears that Warner Bros. might have a massive Batflop on its hands, “Batman v Superman” did a Wonder Woman lasso around $170 million domestic, with $424 total worldwide. Even better, the only new films it’s competing with next weekend are the evangelical “God’s Not Dead 2” and the Mike Epps vehicle “Meet the Blacks.” Slightly less encouraging for Warner and those who want to see the superhero business stay on top is that its Cinemascore rating was only a B — on par with such notable entries as “Green Lantern” and “Catwoman.” (Wait, “Catwoman” got a B?)
The lessons learned here are, alas, nothing new. Audiences ignore critics when they want to, projecting their own beliefs onto icons that may not deserve the genuflection. Superhero movies are here to stay. No one minds that these films often turn into jumbled, incoherent advertisements for future comic book movies. Zack Snyder knows what America and America-gobbling moviegoers overseas want, so long as he’s not making movies about talking owls or jaw-droppingly weird thingamajigs that are not-so-secretly about the patriarchal oppression of women.
The third point may be the newest and most depressing. What attracted moviegoers to superhero movies in the first place — hopefully — was the stories, the actors and each film’s unique personality. “Iron Man” succeeded not because it was just a brand but because it was a Robert Downey Jr. showcase. The Christopher Nolan “Batman” entries were huge because they betrayed the obsessions and ambitions of Christopher Nolan.
The films that followed have piggybacked on that early goodwill, to the point where they are just brands. Even an eccentric number like “Ant-Man,” with its obscure hero and silly premise, can score big dough because it’s a Marvel film. There will be the occasional outlier. “Deadpool” could become 2016’s first mega-blockbuster because it’s making fun of the genre, even as it still carries on most of its traditions.
But most of the time they may now be like “Batman v Superman,” which honestly only made money because it was about Batman and Superman fighting each other. The so-so Cinemascore and a slight dip from Friday to Saturday suggest that people aren’t going because they love it but because they have a sense of obligation. Despite critics warnings, they perhaps weren’t fully aware of Snyder’s singularly sickly worldview, in which even the good guys are fascist brooders who resemble little of what made them unkillable cultural icons.
They might even convince themselves that they had a fun night out, despite it featuring women locked up in cages, a Batman who tattoos criminals so they can get raped and/or killed in prison, poor Daily News photographer Jimmy Olsen getting shot in the head in the first 10 minutes and that completely impenetrable-to-non-comics-heads dream sequence about moth-men or something. And that twist that brings Bat and Supe together? Pshaw.
In other words, it reminds us that comic book movies are here to stay, again, only now it doesn’t matter when they only succeed in accidentally revealing how terrible the world is right now. If the brand is strong enough, the actual content is beside the point.
Oh, and Disney’s anti-bigotry parable-thing “Zootopia” still did well in its fourth weekend, adding $23.1 million to its $240.5 million cume.