Despite scathing reviews, “Batman v Superman” still triumphed at the box office with a record $166 million opening weekend. No amount of bad press could stop a divisive candidate from becoming a runaway success story. Does that make this movie the Donald Trump of comic-book films?
Before you roll your eyes, consider the parallels between Trump the politician and the Dark Knight. When a young boy asked Trump if he was Batman last year, the Republican frontrunner answered in the affirmative. “I am Batman,” Trump said in his trademark bravado style, as he awarded a cluster of school children with a free helicopter ride over Iowa. Like Bruce Wayne, Trump is a multi-millionaire mogul defined by the memory of his parents. He also owns tall skyscrapers with his last name emblazoned over the doors, just like the big “W” that hangs over Wayne Enterprises.
Over the weekend, many of Batman’s supporters were rooting for him to prove his out-of-touch detractors wrong, and Ben Affleck, the latest actor to don the Dark Knight’s suit, saw his movie so trampled by journalists that his reaction to poor press reports turned into an Internet meme. (Never mind that Affleck is a Democrat in real life.) Finally, Batman’s biggest foe is the nerdy Lex Luthor, who as portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg comes across like a mean-spirited, Ivy League-educated talking head from MSNBC.
When it comes to Hollywood, very few stories are targeted to red states, a population that is underserved by the studios. That’s why when a film like “American Sniper” or “The Blind Side” succeeds, it does so because it draws more conservative populations that don’t regularly go the multiplexes. It probably wouldn’t be a stretch to call “Batman v Superman” a movie for conservatives, too — or at least a movies with themes that members of the GOP can get behind. Batman takes the law in his own hands, even when the police distrust his ability to use his unfettered weapons for good.
It’s also convenient that one of “Batman v Superman’s” central antagonists (other than Luthor) is a Democratic senator from Kentucky. Played by Holly Hunter, she represents a bureaucrat who is trying to restrict Superman — by growing big government. While director Zack Snyder may not have embedded his popcorn tentpole with far-reaching political insights, the movie beats the drums of national pride and demonizes mysterious terrorist threats. Then there’s Superman himself: a squeaky clean symbol of Americana whose feet and back are literally draped in red.
That’s not to say that “Batman v Superman” made boatloads of money solely from Republican ticket buyers. But it’s interesting to note how the harder the press attacked the movie, the better it seemed to do. Movies with scathing reviews can sometimes still survive at the box office. But that’s becoming less common in a real-time Twitter universe — where bad buzz can quickly tank a project like last summer’s “Fantastic Four.” Some critics went so far as to label “Batman v Superman” as an even bigger disappointment than 2011’s “The Green Lantern,” starring Ryan Reynolds. What’s different about “Batman v Superman” is that, like Trump voters, fanboys say that media narrative about the movie is wrong (the movie was handed a relatively average B CinemaScore).
When reviews called “Batman v Superman” trash, it only ramped up the general public’s interest in the film. Snyder’s blockbuster touched a nerve with the masses in a way that’s similar to the working class appeal of Trump. Or put another way: It was like the press had watched a different movie than the public had. Reviewers seemed to be punishing Affleck for abandoning his A-list director trajectory, so they put him in “Gigli” jail. But for the rest of America, his decision to wear the bat cape proved heroic enough.
The success of “Batman v Superman” is just the latest example of the cultural wars between the press and the public. As reporters sharpened their knives, audiences voted with their wallets, and propelled the movie to break box office records. The only missing voice in this conversation is Donald Trump himself. But you can bet that when he tweets out his review, it’ll be glowing — just to show how wrong the media was about Batman.