Did Watchmen almost destroy the DC Superhero movie?

bvs22016.68: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Cut (Blu-Ray)

The shadow of Zack Snyder’s Watchmen looms large over BvS, right from the very beginning, with a portentous/pretentious (delete as applicable) flashback to the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. In slow motion it looks and feels like a continuation of Watchmen -it even features the Comedian playing Bruce Wayne’s father. Watchmen is one of my favourite films, particularly of the Superhero genre, mostly because, whatever its faults, it remains true to its source and consequently has the internal logic that Alan Moore laboured over. But the central problem of BvS is Snyder still thinks he’s making Watchmen, resulting in a film that isn’t true to its source material (whether it be Batman comics, Superman comics, or Frank Millers Dark Knight Returns which is, crucially, wholly seperate from any Batman continuity I’m aware of, something many fans forget). Sometimes BvS feels more like Watchmen 2 than the Man of Steel 2 it should have really been.

Perhaps it was a reaction to criticism of Man of Steel, and Snyder falling back to what he ‘knows’. He obviously felt that the solution was to adopt the Watchmen method of treating the Superhero genre. The whole point of Watchmen was to put superhero archetypes in a real-world situation and analysing their impact and ironic tropes. But that’s not really the ‘point’ of the Batman strip or the Superman strip. They are ‘just’ superheroes. There’s this weird dichotomy of a crazy billionaire dressed up as a bat beating up what he perceives to be people who deserve it, a centrally daft premise, and trying to validate that as a real-world response to real-world problems. Nowhere is this more infuriating than with the constant agonising that is the film’s treatment of Superman, something extended from the previous Man of Steel. It’s clear to me that Snyder is confusing Superman with Dr Manhattan, which is misguided in the extreme.

bvs3Note the similarity to the scene of the Vietnamese surrendering to Dr Manhattan in Watchmen (bowing to him as if acknowledging his Godlike status) to scenes of people reaching upwards to Superman as if again, surrendering to his Messianic, Godlike status. In just the same way as an untrusting public scared of his Godlike powers turned upon Dr Manhattan, so people turn against Superman in BvS. Its far removed from the treatment of the character in Superman: The Movie, in which he is simply accepted as a ‘good’ guy in whom everyone can believe in to do the ‘right thing’. Okay, that might be simplistic in our modern cynical world, but that’s Superman, and over-analysing and agonising over his place in our real-world is what Watchmen was about in creating Dr Manhattan. This is supposed to be a Superman movie, not a Watchmen movie, and psycho-analysing superheroes just backs you into the Dark Knight corner and ultimately gets you nowhere.

Instead of the Caped Detective, this film’s Batman is a rogue vigilante, a younger variant of the DKR version and more Watchmen‘s Comedian than is really necessary (is there indeed something deliberate about the Comedian playing Bruce Wayne’s father in the prologue?). The Comedian revelled in the chaos of the world and saw all the greed and depravity and crime as the natural way of things in a cold universe with humanity lacking any decency. Batman in BvS follows this direction, even branding villains and killing when necessary, in his almost perverse version of justice, traumatised by earlier events involving (it is inferred, at least) the death of Robin. The central difference is that the Comedian laughed and smiled about it, seeing the irony of costumed heroes only making things worse, while Batman just frowns harder at his inability to ‘cure’ Gotham of the blight of crime over the course of decades of effort and whose only response is to, well, just try harder.

In the end, the looming shadow of Watchmen just confuses BvS and paralyses it. It wants to be dark and serious and Watchmen-like, but also wants to be a Marvel movie and launch a DC-Universe version of the Marvel Studios output. It wants to be a Batman movie, adapting DKR, but it also wants to be a Man of Steel sequel. It wants to be a Batman/Superman hybrid movie, but it also wants to be a Justice league prequel. It wants to be everything for everyone, and pretty much fails to be anything at all.

bvs1The last hope of DC fans and in particular fans of BvS was its Ultimate Cut. Of course its impossible for thirty minutes additional footage to save such an already troubled picture. Surprisingly, the additional thirty minutes do actually improve on some of the internal logic failings of the theatrical cut, and fix some glaring inconsistencies and plot holes. But you know, I think you could put those thirty minutes in and take another sixty minutes out and you’d have a better picture. As it is, it’s way too long and slow and contains too much redundant stuff.

The Apocalyptic dream-sequence adds nothing to the film. It may look visually interesting and feature another action sequence (if only to spice-up the pace of a flagging film), but it adds absolutely nothing to the film at all. Neither do the shots of a future-Flash shouting an enigmatic message about saving Lois Lane. Its almost like an intermission; BvS stops to show a scene from some other movie and then we’re back to BvS.  Indeed, it’s not even as if Bruce Wayne/Batman considers the dream or comments on it- not even “I just had the damndest dream” to Alfred, or a “I think I somehow just saw a vision of the future.” It isn’t referenced in the film at all. It happens and then it’s gone. Its adds nothing at all, utterly redundant, only functioning to confuse the audience, as if a trailer for BvS Part Three was edited into the film by mistake or an angry editor with a score to settle against Snyder. It really didn’t need be there at all. Its bad storytelling, it’s bad movie -making. Its just some nod to the geeks who know the original comic storyline and tease the larger DC Universe, but as far as making a decent movie, it’s a glaring error.

If you’re making a film about Batman and Superman, and calling it Batman v Superman, then thats your story. Everything should serve that story and that story should be your focus. If there is some elaborate scheme to orchestrate that face-off then establish that and see it out, and have that face-off be your big pay-off, your big finale. Don’t drop in a late cameo of Zod’s corpse turning into Doomsday just to excuse the appearance of Wonder Woman as an advert/tease for her own movie. For one thing, the logic is total bullshit- if Lex Luthor created Doomsday to kill Superman, and that scheme succeeded, then who’s going to kill Doomsday if Superman is dead? Doomsday is hardly going to be an obedient lackey for a despotic Luthor. I can imagine Doomsday killing Superman then turning on everyone else and Luthor thinking “whoops”as Doomsday lives up to his name and nukes the planet. I thought Luthor was a genius?

BvS isn’t about making a decent movie. It isn’t even really trying to be a decent movie, because if it was, it’d be about an hour shorter with a more focused story, As it is, it is just one long confusing tease for Wonder Woman/Man of Steel 2/ Batman/Justice League and all the other films Warner/DC are intent on making. It is a cynical and calculated attempt to sell a raft of further movies instead of making one decent or even great movie. Thats a betrayal of the fans and the movie audience in general, but sadly symptomatic of how films are made these days.


10 thoughts on “Did Watchmen almost destroy the DC Superhero movie?

  1. On one hand, I’d think the old, straightforward version of Superman is unsuited to modern audiences — that they want something more complex and psychologically “real”, hence the success of the Dark Knight trilogy. But on the other, that’s the exact logic Warners used for Man of Steel and to launch their whole DC movie universe, and look how that’s been received.

    It would be a shame if DC/Warners tried to course-correct by copying the Marvel tone, because a bit of variety is nice. I think DC’s comics have had that darker/more serious vibe for a number of years anyway (probably ever since DKR, to be honest), so it clearly works for them in that sphere. They need someone who can translate that to the screen more effectively.

    I think you’re probably right that the problem is trying to be everything to everyone, something which Justice League may only make worse with its apparent injection of humour. I don’t dislike Snyder, but maybe his mindset is ill-suited to this material. Though based on the behind-the-scenes stories from Suicide Squad, scared & meddlesome execs aren’t helping things.

    1. Well there’s certainly a crazy amount of money and likely careers at stake with a property like the DC line considering what Marvel Studios have managed to achieve.

      I do wonder if too much darkness and ‘reality’ is wrong for some comic-book properties, but also wish we could have seen Affleck’s Batman in a genuine DKR adaptation rather than this half-arsed effort,

      As for Superman, maybe the character has had his day, on the big screen at least. If the light-hearted, adventurous tone of Superman: The Movie, say, has no place in the modern cinema, then maybe its time to give him a rest, as this dark, Dr Manhattan-like stuff isn’t particularly appealing to me or many others either. Let him be a good guy, let him soar, let him be our champion. Don’t saddle him with all the distrust that a crazy bastard like Batman deserves.

      Its rather a shame if our cynical world makes good guys like Superman redundant.

      1. I wonder if the new Spider-Man will point them in a direction of how to handle Superman, specifically because I was reading an article (more of a stream of consciousness rant, really) this afternoon about how one of the reasons the Andrew Garfield movies went awry was because they were trying to apply Batman/Iron Man-style angst and/or cool to Spidey, a character who doesn’t function in that way. Hopefully Marvel’s take will have the requisite charm, optimism, and colour, and maybe DC can shift that over to Supes.

        And maybe not.

  2. I totally agree that Snyder really wanted to treat Superman like Doctor Manhattan, therefore Batman being more Rorshach.

    I defended Man of Steel, because I could make some allowances for a neophyte Superman in a contemporary, superstitious setting, but I had confidence in the optimism and inspiration that surrounds Superman that society would turn around (but not necessarily worship him.)

    So much of Batman vs Superman was a giant bummer.

    1. I think they are trying too hard to make the DC films feel different to the Marvel films. People go to see the Marvel films for escapism and entertainment, so why not expect the same from DC? Comicbooks are an escape, a fantasy. There was a lesson to heed from Deadpool- adult and violent but alleviated by (albeit adult) humour- it certainly felt more fun than BvS.

      Also, whatever Snyder thinks, Watchmen should never be considered the definitive superhero tale; it was a commentary on the genre and comic form but never intended to be the last word. Likewise the film is a commentary of comicbook movies but hardly the definitive superhero film. I think its a great film in its DC form but prefer Superman: The Movie as a comicbook film experience.

  3. Matthew McKinnon

    I think DC’s mindset is markedly different from Marvel’s, and understandably so (and I say this as an observer, not a fan: these films are flat-out terrible): you have bear in mind that DC owned the late-80s/90s comics revolution.

    When you think of the big boundary-breaking comics of that period, Marvel basically had Frank Miller on Daredevil and Elektra… and nothing else. Their employment and profit-sharing practices were so bad that DC basically cleaned up by being marginally fairer. Alan Moore, Miller’s Batman comics, Gaiman, Morrison, Milligan, Vertigo, Alex Ross, pretty much everything good was on DC. Marvel’s only claim to fame that whole period is introducing terrible terrible adolescent creators like Todd McFarlane and Rob Leifeld who promptly left to set up their own imprints.

    So DC has this awesome legacy of ‘serious’ comics work, and it does seem appropriate that that guide their films. That’s what they have to draw on. Their comics were really important comics, so the films have to be seen to really ‘important’ as well: it’s their legacy. But this sense of self-importance is what makes their films so boring and stodgy, and good comics doesn’t necessarily = good movies. They’re very different mediums.

    (I’d also argue the Moore’s Marvelman/Miracleman casts a longer shadow over Snyder than Dr Manhattan.
    That story was the source of the carnage in Man of Steel, though Snyder obviously can’t follow through and have the same consequences for humanity that Moore envisioned because you need to keep resetting the status quo in a mainstream comics universe. )

    1. I never read Marvelman but it’d be interesting to see how widely read Snyder is with comicbooks.

      You raise a very interesting point regards DC and their more adult imprints/graphic novels. Maybe that stuff is an (ironically) unhealthy influence on their more popular/mainstream characters when transferred to film. These last few films are pretty terrible musfires afterall, and I’d argue Nolans last Dark Knight film was pretty poor too, something lost in all the praise for the trilogy as a whole. I’m not suggesting a return to the Adam West era Batman but do the Bats films all have to be so unrelentingly dark?

      Its a line Marvel need to be wary of too of course. As they do more films and try to vary things up they must be tempted to go dark with some heroes.

      I think Fox’s X-Men are guilty of being too dark and consequently being less fun/too complex/serious so its not as if everything Marvel is faultless. They just stumbled onto a winning formula and have maintained it pretty well up to now, although Guardians of the Galaxy annoyed me, inspite of its generally ecstatic reception.

  4. mikefleckcreator

    Oooh super interesting article. Well written too. Have you ever featured your writing on any other websites before? Nice work.

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