Do reviews matter to movie audiences?

‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ are two of the most anticipated movies coming to theaters. While fans will have to wait until 2015 for ‘Star Wars,’ June 14 brings ‘Man of Steel’ to theaters. As critics weigh in on the latest screen version of ‘Superman,’ what does this mean for audiences? Will critiques of ‘Man of Steel’ or ‘Episode VII’ matter to movie audiences? When it comes to “tentpole” films, major potential blockbusters, do reviews matter?

The early reviews on ‘Man of Steel’ are noting the change in tone for Zack Snyder’s vision of Superman. The more critical assessments have addressed Snyder’s approach as having achieved a “joyless film,” and that ‘Man of Steel’ has “nothing soaring about it.” (Source: Jake Coyle, Associated Press)

Reviewer Scott Chitwood of Coming praised certain aspects of ‘Man of Steel,’ but also referred to the film as “nearly humorless” and “almost entirely serious.”

I disagree with the above-cited critics on ‘Man of Steel.’ Click here for the Flixnerd review.

By examining some of the early criticisms of ‘Man of Steel’ it may be possible to get a glimpse into the heightened scrutiny director J.J. Abrams will also face with his upcoming ‘Star Wars: Episode VII.’ Will the professional criticisms matter to the audience, when all is said and done?

If ‘Episode VII’ is thoroughly entertaining to audiences, perhaps it doesn’t matter what the critics think of the film.

Talents involved with ‘Man of Steel’ indicated early on that it would be a more mature telling of the ‘Superman’ story. In a 2012 interview with Michael Shannon (who portrays ‘General Zod’ in the film), he told Ben Moore of Screen Rant that the film, “is edgy in a way like when Nolan took over the ‘Batman’ franchise.”

The involvement of ‘Dark Knight Trilogy’ director Christopher Nolan as a producer and the hiring of David S. Goyer (screenwriter for Nolan’s ‘Batman’ films) should have further indicated to reviewers and audiences in advance that this would be a darker ‘Superman.’

How much influence did Nolan have on ‘Man of Steel’?

Star Henry Cavill, in an interview with F*** Magazine (via CBM) stated that producer Nolan “… wasn’t there during production itself,” and “[Man of Steel] is definitely Zack’s baby.”

Over the years, critics and fans have lamented the fact that Superman is a character whose unabashed loyalty and honesty made him less interesting as a hero. There have been superhero fans over the years who have commonly referred to ‘Superman’ as the “big blue Boy Scout” due to his lack of moral ambiguity.

In an attempt to inject some layers of character into ‘Superman’, praise is due to the creative team involved with Snyder’s film. And, according to reviews for ‘Man of Steel,’ the “big blue Boy Scout” is now more complex, struggling with the same types of self-identity and issues of purpose that we mere mortals face every day.

Only time will tell if the more critical reviews have any impact on what the audiences think of ‘Man of Steel.’ How well they feel entertained by a film can often be measured quite easily. The box office figures ultimately paint a clearer picture of how movie-goers feel about the film.

How does this relate to J.J. Abrams?

Abrams will begin production on the next chapter in the ‘Star Wars’ saga, ‘Episode VII’ in early 2014. The film appears to have a very tight schedule for film shooting and post production since it will be released sometime in 2015.

The fan expectations for the next chapter in the much-beloved Star Wars franchise will be high. The task of creating a quality “event movie” in approximately 18 months will be an incredibly challenging undertaking for the recent ‘Star Trek’ director.

On June 8, speaking at the “Produced By Conference” in Los Angeles, Abrams openly acknowledged that ‘Star Wars’ is, “so massive and so important to so many people.” (Source: Silas Lesnick via Coming

Lesnick further reported that Abrams lamented that ‘Episode VII’ had been pre-negotiated by Disney to be lensed in the UK. “When I came into it, there was already a prearranged thing for them to be shooting in England which, really does make me insane.”

The director has most likely drawn some early ire from fans already when adding, “There’s a whole lot of stuff happening at home. It’s not an easy thing.” To longtime fans, in particular the more rabid version who live and breathe ‘Star Wars,’ being chosen to helm such an important film might seem to be the best job ever for a director.

Abrams also commented during the Produced By Conference that “I think the key in moving forward with something like this is in honoring but not revering what came before.” Where some fans could interpret that statement as over-confidence, it appears more likely that Abrams was acknowledging the importance of the new film while also establishing that it will be his own vision of a ‘Star Wars’ film.

Having read the early reviews for ‘Man of Steel,’ one thing became crystal clear. J.J. Abrams will face strong criticism from fans and reviewers alike with ‘Episode VII.’ With high hopes from fans and a critical eye from reviewers, comparisons to the previous six films is inevitable. With the next ‘Star Wars’ chapter, Abrams is taking on a film project that may be more iconic than ‘Superman.’

Walt Disney Pictures, the producers (which includes Abrams’ company Bad Robot), and creative consultant George Lucas will also have an influence on the final product. I use the term “product” because that’s what movies are from a business standpoint.

Movies are a creative commercial endeavor and the higher the budget and financial stakes involved, the more “feedback” a movie director might receive during production to ensure a broadly appealing (profitable) product. However, Lucasfilm founder and Creative Consultant George Lucas has stated that “I don’t really have much to do,” in regards to his input on the new film. (Source: Access Hollywood)

Abrams has shown a gift for storytelling. He possesses both the visual skills for bringing his vision to an epic fruition as well as the narrative skills that allow a movie to resonate with an audience. There are moments in ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ that are truly moving and dramatic, elements that are often absent from popular science fiction films. Abrams’ skill in combining the layers and drama of his characters with the action and spectacle of ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ should assuage any lingering fears as to whether ‘Episode VII’ will be a good film.

Looking at Abrams’ directorial efforts, he is almost the “Anti-Nolan” in terms of the tone of his films. Where Christopher Nolan has been often credited with adding seriousness and maturity to intelligent filmmaking, Abrams films have a decidedly positive vibration.

Abrams will not be able to please every fan of ‘Star Wars.’ The film may not remind everyone of their thrilling first encounter with Lord Vader or the swoon that (men and) women felt towards the charming scoundrel Han Solo. As the director of ‘Episode VII,’ Abrams will indeed bear the brunt of the blame from those expecting the most perfect science fiction fantasy epic ever committed to celluloid.

The reviewers and fans picking apart the grittier version of ‘Superman’ might also be a preview for J.J. Abrams as to the hyper-criticsms that will likely accompany his ‘Star Wars’ film. After the World Premiere sometime in 2015, disappointed fans and critics who would nitpick the minute details will be vocal, thanks to the internet.

J.J. Abrams is a very talented director. His unique combination of visual scope and storytelling skill made us connect with Tom Cruise in ‘M:I3’, turned what appeared to be an homage to Spielberg (‘Super 8’) into a terrific summer adventure, and took ‘Trek’ where it never went before.

When has it ever been so cool as it is right now to be a Trekkie/Trekkor? Abrams has made ‘Trek’ sexy, fun, entertaining, and relevant. His successful approach to ‘Trek’ came from not only staying true to the core concepts and characters, but in creating a broadly accessible movie that stands on it’s own as great entertainment. The same should be expected of ‘Star Wars.’

The critical reviews about ‘Man of Steel’ may cause some people to delay seeing the film until friends and family have “screened” it for them. ‘Star Wars’ fans are different, however.

I don’t expect to see anyone waiting in line for ‘Man of Steel’ wearing a cape. People dress up like ‘Superman’ on Halloween. ‘Star Wars’ devotees will camp out to be first in line days in advance for ‘Episode VII.’ Fans get married dressed like Han and Leia.

If ‘Star Wars: Episode VII’ connects with audiences worldwide, it will be because it’s a great film. If the early reviews are unnecessarily critical prior to the film being released in 2015, people will still flock to theaters for sneak previews and first showings.

The critical opinions may not have any influence on ‘Man of Steel’ and certainly won’t matter at all to true ‘Star Wars’ fans. After you’ve slept outside for three days dressed like Boba Fett just to get tickets, what writers like me think about continuity errors or clunky dialog probably isn’t big on your radar anyway.


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