Batman v Superman opened to commercial success but critical failure. While most fans free-willingly threw their money at DC’s latest blockbuster film, many were left with a sour taste in their mouths. I personally enjoyed Zack Snyder’s film but it was definitely flawed. The dark and dreary atmosphere of the film rubbed fans the wrong way.
Superman wasn’t his usual boy scout self instead ditching his crowd-pleasing smiles and flowery speeches for a more subdued and conflicted persona as he tries fit in with human society. Batman was more violent than many expected even using guns and killing bad guys on screen. Many fans didn’t recognize their two childhood heroes. What happened with the sense of idealism commonly associated with comic book’s two most popular superheroes? The answers may be tied to a fellow dark and dreary “superhero” film also from DC: Watchmen.
Just a few months ago, DC Comics Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and the creative team dropped a bomb when they revealed an interesting twist to the latest reinvention of the DC Universe through DC Rebirth. At the end of story, it was revealed that Doctor Manhattan from the Watchmen universe interfered with the previous universe of The New 52.
The New 52 universe resembled the cinematic DC Extended Universe’s theme of a darker tone to majority of the storylines. The heroes were full of angst to say the least. It’s now official that all of that is mainly because the godlike blue being of limitless power and pessimism decided to assert his influence for whatever reason.
Watchmen released in 2009 also under the direction of Snyder. The film received mixed reviews and did modest box office numbers. It was a portrayal of the classic graphic novel released in 1986 and 1987 written by Alan Moore. Watchmen was praised for its alternative take on the concept of superheroism. The story was anything but an idealistic take on would-be gods defending humanity from supernatural threats and instead deconstructed most of the major elements of what it meant to be a superhero.
Moore didn’t believe in the notion of imposing “regurgitated morals” on his readers and instead portrayed the heroes in an ambivalent light. The story focused on a band of dysfunctional semi-retired heroes loosely inspired from the new line of characters from DC’s new acquisition, Charlton Comics. From the nigh-omnipotent but hopelessly apathetic Doctor Manhattan to the paranoid detective Rorschach to the cruel Comedian whose proclivity for violence is matched only by his crushing sense of nihilism.
Outside the flashier fighting scenes and CG, the film followed the source material to a fault. The Director’s Cut is the recommended version with the Ultimate Cut incorporating the “Black Freighter” side story into the film.
Towards the end of the film, Doctor Manhattan hints to Ozymandias he may just try to create his own life. Though it’s not actually canon, Watchmen is the unofficial prequel to the DCEU in conjunction with the comics and DC’s focus on draping a grim atmosphere on its films can be associated with the film’s similar tone.
But while Superman v Batman and Suicide Squad struggled to tell a compelling and original tale, Watchmen did just that. It isn’t as prominent as it should be mainly because the source material now has outdated dialogue and takes place in an alternate dystopian timeline far different from our own.
Yet the film stands out as an alternative take on the superhero genre especially in light of recent films (particularly from DC) trying but failing to tell a harsher tale involving superheroes. Just take a look back to Watchmen and its angst-driven themes and see how dark superhero films are supposed to be done. ★★★★