I saw DC’s Batman v. Superman (BvS) and I thought it was good. Not great like the Christopher Nolan movies, but not bad. Many critics disagreed with me, giving BvS withering reviews and lampooning it for its excessive darkness and depiction of a more aggressive Batman than casual moviegoers are accustomed to. But despite its lack of critical success, Batman v. Superman did well at the box office on opening weekend.
On the other hand, Marvel’s Captain America: Civil War is being greeted with largely positive reviews from critics and though it has not been released yet, it will presumably open strong and like every Marvel movie released in the last ten years, be a huge commercial success and make an exorbitant amount of money.
Now to make a pretty big Hulk leap over to politics, the reception of these two films, their tones, and some of their plot elements can help us understand the current Republican and Democratic primary elections.
- Reception: Critics v. Audience Gap
BvS has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 28% out of 100%. Now a lot of people argue that Rotten Tomatoes is a problematic measure of a movie’s critical reception, but it is nonetheless useful as a general barometer of critical opinion. For reference, Twilight scored a 48% and Toy Story scored a 100%. BvS recently passed the $800 million point at the box office, and while it may not yet be Marvel’s The Avengers ($1.5 billion), it is safe to say that audiences’ and critics’ opinion of BvS diverge significantly.
Establishment v. Voters Gap
This gap between critics and audiences mirrors the gap between the GOP elite/establishment and GOP primary voters. The establishment does not want Donald Trump to be the GOP nominee, but this sentiment is not shared by GOP primary voters. Trump currently has 744 of the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination, while Cruz has 545, and Kasich lags with 144. The voters are clearly choosing Trump and Cruz while members of the GOP establishment like Senator Lindsey Graham compare choosing between Trump and Cruz to choosing between being “shot or poisoned”.
- Tone: Too Dark
BvS director Zack Snyder has been criticized for being “dark for the sake of being dark”. The film does begin with the deaths of thousands as a result of the final battle in Man of Steel. Batman is also more aggressive and jingoistic, physically branding criminals and showing a propensity for brutal violence unlike Christopher Nolan’s more conflicted and restrained Batman from the Dark Knight trilogy.
With the exception of Kasich, the tone of the GOP primary race can be described as being more negative than positive. Trump has called for the building of a border wall with Mexico and a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country. Cruz has called for increased surveillance in Muslim communities. All of these measures represent the GOP frontrunners’ effective mobilization of fear and discontent into popular support from GOP primary voters.
Captain America: Civil War
- Reception: Critical and (Expected) Commercial Success
Early reviews of Captain America: Civil War have been largely positive. With a current 94% on Rotten Tomatoes (which will most likely fall between 80-90% as more reviews come out), it appears that this move is yet another critical success for Marvel, much like Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Commercial success for this movie is also expected as this movie contains not just Captain America but other superheroes like Iron Man, Black Panther, and the much anticipated debut of Tom Holland’s new Spiderman.
Establishment and (Expected) Voter Consensus
Clinton has 1,761 of the 2,383 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination and has won most of the primary contests. In addition to this support from Democratic primary voters, the Democratic establishment also overwhelmingly supports Clinton instead of Sanders. There is a slight possibility that this might change. Sanders does have considerable grassroots support, while lacking any support from the Democratic establishment. But as long as Clinton keeps winning primaries (like the one next week in New York), the party elite and the voters will be in agreement.
- Tone: Lighter than BvS, But More Substantive
Early reviews of Civil War also point to it as being not as dark as BvS, but more substantive in that it deals with Captain America’s and Iron Man’s differing views on how or if superheroes should be regulated. Whereas the first half of BvS seems to focus on Batman trying to kill Superman, Civil War will focus on this ethical disagreement between two friends (with some fight scenes thrown in of course). The presence of Ant-Man and Spiderman in Civil War will also lighten the tone of the movie.
Lighter and More Substantive
The Democratic primary race has consistently dealt with concrete policy issues and had a more positive tone than the Republican primary race. This difference between the two primary races can probably most clearly be seen in each party’s respective debates. Whereas the GOP debates were entertaining, they usually lacked substance and instead contained more mudslinging and name calling than a frank exchange of ideas. The Democratic debates were (again this might be changing) markedly more civil, with Sanders and Clinton complimenting each other in earlier debates and talking more about the issues.
The reception and tone of BvS and Captain America: Civil War both seem to parallel elements of this primary election season. Unlike DC and Marvel, the Republicans and Democrats will have to crossover at some point to engage in the ultimate fall blockbuster: the presidential election.