Warner Bros., despite what you may assume after watching Green Lantern, is not run by idiots. Everything I just outlined above, they are undoubtedly aware of. Which is why I think it's a distinct possibility that they are not all that broken up about just how lukewarm the pre-release hype for this particular film: They know it's a mistake to get overhyped.

Lots of movies underperform at the box office, but the bombs you hear about are the ones that were also heavily promoted. Nobody was expecting Scott Pilgrim to do Avatar business, but the massive year long hype made its tepid reception into a story rather than a regrettable inevitability. This year the same thing happened with Cowboys & Aliens. Meanwhile, while well reviewed, X-Men: First Class actually opened the least well (though by no means bad) of all the X-Men movies up to this point, but since it wasn't massively over promoted (and since it followed two roundly despised prior entries), it's the stellar reviews that are the story instead.

I'm inclined to imagine that this may be why TDKR's hype train seems to have slipped off the rails: Warner Bros. wanted it to. No one thinks the film is in danger of a being a flop, but just as Dark Knight's box office phenomenon status drove more business to theaters to see what the big deal was, a pop culture narrative of underperformance can hold audiences back. All told, Warner Bros. would much rather have Dark Knight Rises measured as "better than its crummy pre-release footage" than "not as good as the second one." They'd also really, really, really like to not go through another year of relentless "Marvel is kicking your ass at comic book movies" drumbeat - especially since one of the big reasons they can't make a continuity-driven fangasm piece of their own is that The Nolan Brothers aren't finished playing with the Batman toys yet.

After all, if one was hoping to get expectations for their product to drop from "dangerously unreasonable" to "easy-to-exceed," letting the interweb shark tank do what it does best (read: nitpick into oblivion) is certainly one of the easiest, most cost-effective solutions you could hope for.

Granted, this is all purely conjecture on my part, but if there's one concrete thing you may wish to take away from this piece, let it be this: This is 2011. Marketers, especially those employed by Hollywood studios (or the videogame industry, for that matter), have gotten really, really good at manipulating spontaneous buzz to their own ends. Something to think about the next time you're joining in the fracas over the next "leaked" screenshot or "spy" video.

Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.

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