Over the past couple of years, there’s a phrase that’s accompanied several poorly reviewed comic book films or TV shows: “It’s not for the critics, it’s for the fans.” Iron Fist’s Finn Jones is the latest star to use this as a defense of his Marvel show. This group of words has become a crutch to deflect attention from a bad Rotten Tomatoes score, and fans deserve better.
In an interview with Metro, Jones dismissed the largely negative reviews of Netflix’s new show Iron Fist— including io9's, which called the show Marvel’s first real failure. He said that critics don’t get the show the way fans will, possibly because they don’t understand the comic books or community that surround the Iron Fist franchise. This follows Jones temporarily leaving Twitter after getting into a heated discussion on race and representation in Hollywood, while defending Iron Fist as “one of the most diverse shows” in Marvel’s Netflix canon.
“These shows are not made for critics, they are first and foremost made for the fans,” Jones said. “When the fans of the Marvel Netflix world and fans of the comic books view the show through the lens of just wanting to enjoy a superhero show, then they will really enjoy what they see.”
Jones joins a growing list of actors, directors, and the like who’ve come out saying different versions of this exact same idea. Several have been for recent DC films, which largely bombed critically. Ben Affleck gave the fan defense for Batman v Superman, as did Saw producer Mark Burg, and Kevin Smith for Yoga Hosers. For Suicide Squad, both David Ayer and Cara Delevingne dismissed critics in favor of “the fans,” with Delevingne adding that she doesn’t think critics even like superhero movies.
Granted, some of these films managed to make a good amount of money, particularly in the DC department. That speaks to how much fans love the DC universe, and want it to be good. The record-breaking drop in weekly sales for both Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad suggest that not everyone who saw them liked them, but the final totals might be enough motivation to keep things as they are. Though, quite a few people have told me Wonder Woman might be their “last straw” for the DCEU. If that one sucks (hoping not), they may stop watching altogether.
Barring the fact that many critics of comic book franchises are, in fact, comic book fans themselves, saying “It’s for the fans” assumes that fans hold themselves to different (i.e. lower) standards than other viewers. This might be true in some cases— for example, I tried so hard to like The Golden Compass, even though deep down I knew it was a terrible adaptation. But as a whole, this is a piss-poor excuse to fend off criticism in one of the world’s biggest movie and TV show genres. Plus, as someone pointed out in the comments, it panders to fans to try and convince them they should like the show or movie, for the sake of their fandom. Why should fans be told they should settle for less, just because it’s part of something they love?
Comic book shows and movies aren’t just something you put on for your kids to shut them up for a few hours. It’s an important and lucrative genre that has started offering up some incredibly bold stories, largely thanks to how wide and complex the comic book industry is as a whole. Logan has proven that a movie about a mutant with claws can be humanistic and heartbreaking. Captain America: Winter Soldier is a near-perfect superhero spy thriller. The DC/CW block is full of catchy dialogue, amazing action, and great crossovers. And in Iron Fist’s own family, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones are challenging race and gender norms in comic book franchises while also turning out excellent stories and characters.
Given the growth in quality shows and films based on comic books, it’s okay for audiences and critics alike to reject products that don’t hold up to basic story-telling standards. It’s even more okay for fans to suggest creators and stars hold themselves accountable when something doesn’t work, instead of blaming it on people who “just don’t get it.” That doesn’t make them bad fans, that makes them great ones.
Look, it’s absolutely cool to like something that’s hated by critics, or to flat-out think the consensus is wrong. In the end, they’re all opinions, and sometimes you know that something you love is better than others give it credit for. I genuinely enjoy watching Jupiter Ascending, even though I know it’s not a legitimately good film. There will be people who like Iron Fist, criticisms and all. But the show isn’t just for them. It’s for everybody who’s interested in enjoying a comic book story... from the most diehard Iron Fist fan to the kid who’s never even heard of Danny Rand before. Jones and others demean their audiences when they create benchmarks of fandom in order to soothe their own egos, and it’s time they gave it a rest.