Tony Black on the conspiracy theory that Disney is paying critics to attack non-Marvel superhero movies…
In what could be the most ludicrous movie news this year, and possibly the most ridiculous Change.org petition yet, a group of frustrated fans appear to have fired the first salvo in a war against critics they believe Disney are paying to slam, specifically, superhero films not developed by the House of Mouse. Following the critical drubbing of the Warner Bros fronted Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and indeed the recent early reviews of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men: Apocalypse which have been lukewarm at best, this group of conspiracy theorists have decided enough is enough – especially after the near universal glowing praise for the Disney backed Captain America: Civil War, just one of a litany of Marvel Cinematic Universe films that have been critically applauded in recent years at the expense, it appears, of everything else. Here’s the full statement in full that appeared on Change.org today and, as of writing, has 95 signatures:
Disney has been continually paying critics to attack Non MCU movies. MCU movies are safe. They’re not challenging at all. Just like a comic book movie is “supposed to be”. They’re not divisive or thought provoking. First they bashed Batman V Superman.They cleared BvS out of the way, gave Civil War (which wasn’t a perfect film) an Oscar, now they’re going to work on moving Apocalypse out the way…then they get offended when they’re accused of accepting gifts. Deadpool would have also suffered the same fate however it was released in February and was not an immediate threat. We need to raise awareness of this global plan to keep our films creative or risk have everything fall under the Disney label. Each studio brings their own distinctive and creative work and Disney needs to stop being greedy and understand this.
Now this isn’t a new conspiracy theory, I must point out. This one has been rattling around for ages now, floated memorably in 2015 by none other than the contentious writer/director Max Landis, the recipient of more than a few negative reviews across his career. Interestingly enough, when critics in general denied his claims and probed him to name names, Landis retracted his claims on Twitter. This arguably only further stoked the ire of primarily DC Comics fans, frustrated at the bad press for Man of Steel in 2013, especially after the critical savaging Dawn of Justice received in March this year – and doubtless even schism Marvel fans who don’t love the MCU reacted in similar ways to the disastrous reviews for Fantastic Four last summer.
To them this is all the brand new Great American Conspiracy, that anything not from the movie megacorp that is Disney is being destroyed by critics, avoided by audiences, all so we can become mindless slaves to the power of the MCU, like we’re all under the control of Loki’s sceptre en masse. None of them listen to people like Screen Rant’s H. Shaw Williams who broke down in an article why it’s improbable and by now would have almost certainly been exposed. Heck even legendary film critic Roger Ebert debunked the idea of critics being paid off in a 1994 review, long before his death and long before the slow march of the superhero movie to cinematic dominance. And yet the rumours and theories and outright anger continue to circle on social media, building now to the point people are literally taking action.
Let’s stop for a moment and break this petition down though, shall we? Because the moment you do, it almost immediately falls apart. The group ‘Free Critics from Disney’ suggest:
the MCU movies are safe. They’re not challenging at all. Just like a comic book is supposed to be
Now I could list until the cows come home, as someone who enjoys the MCU, all the ways they have actually tried to push a few boundaries and mix things up, but that’s as much a subjective point of view as the above statement. It’s opinion, not fact. Moving on:
They cleared BvS out the way, gave Civil War (which wasn’t a perfect film) an Oscar, now they’re going to work on moving Apocalypse out of the way
Firstly, out of the way of what exactly? BvS launched a good month before Civil War after, crucially, Warner Bros moved *it* out of Captain America’s way, and it had more than enough time to make the billion everyone expected, only to completely fail to do. Apocalypse has launched in the wake of Civil War but why exactly would MCU fans *not* go and see an X-Men film? They might be from a different studio but they’re a Marvel property and what MCU fan wouldn’t love to have seen the X-Men part of that world ideally? Also, has any critic described Civil War as ‘perfect’? Excellent, yes. One of the MCU’s best, sure. Perfect? I doubt it. Here’s a good one:
Deadpool would have suffered the same fate however it was released in February and was not an immediate threat
So if Deadpool had been released in March or April, critics would have savaged it? A demonstrably great film which deserved it’s near $800 million haul? Right. I personally know a guy who saw that film ten times at the cinema. TEN. TIMES. Are you seriously saying a bad review would have prevented that?
As you can read above, the statement goes on, suggesting Disney’s greed is stifling the success and adoration of everything that isn’t MCU. How blinkered, honestly, can people be? The people with the best approach to all this, frankly, are those who remind everyone that it doesn’t matter what critics think, it’s what *you* enjoy that matters. That is the great universal truth these people are missing. I’m personally of the mind that if the majority of respected critics–who, let’s be honest, have their jobs because they’ve seen a lot of films and 9/10 know a good one from a bad one–are of similar opinion, then that opinion is probably accurate. How many critics came out and said Iron Man 2 or The Incredible Hulk or Thor: The Dark World was brilliant, or even particularly good? Good luck finding any. Many said the reverse. Just like they did Batman v Superman or Fantastic Four. Did it stop me going to see them at the movies? Nope. All that happened was that afterward I regretted giving them my money, but I made up my own mind.
I know at least one person who loved Dawn of Justice and will happily defend it but, y’know what? He doesn’t have to. Just like none of the ‘Free Critics from Disney’ folk have to, yet this petition is exactly that; they’re hurt and angry that something they love isn’t popular, and that has naff all to do with critics. It’s because millions of people who went to see Batman v Superman didn’t like it enough to go and see it again, and then advised their friends not to bother in the first place. It’s not that critics are praising Marvel over everything else they’re really angry about, it’s that they go on Twitter and most people agree with those critics – that these films just aren’t very good.
My message to the petitioners is simple: *we* don’t have to like the films you do, and *you* don’t have to care either way. You have no evidence Disney are paying off any critics and the simple reason most people are throwing praise at Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy or any other MCU film is that, for the most part, they’re good films. So stop being jealous that more people think that than they do about the non-MCU film that you adore, pack in this ridiculousness and look forward to your Batman v Superman Blu-ray so you can endlessly watch the three hour extended cut on a loop. If that’s what makes you happy, good for you. Just don’t invent a silly conspiracy because the rest of us would rather rip our skins off and jump into a vat of salt instead.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.
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