Spot the difference.
Zack Synder’s ‘Watchmen’ is widely considered one of the most faithful adaptations of a comic book ever made. There are, inevitably, those who think the style was too sleek, and dislike the altered ending and the missing scenes from the news stand. But by and large, people agree that the movie stuck to the source material. The characters were presented the way they had always been intended, and the events transpired similarly with the same predestined outcome. The DCEU, meanwhile, springs from the exact same principles – a world away from the characters of old.
Superman isn’t the beacon of hope we know from the Reeve movies. He’s not the ‘Boy Scout’, always eager to find a peaceful resolution. He’s not a monolith of morality and traditional American values. His flaws are too readily shown, his humanity reduced. The events echo familiar storylines, but are distorted by the abyss of misanthropy and violence. Batman, too, is a broken reflection of the crusader whose methods are questionable, but whose values and results are not. Instead, he is consumed by a rage that seems excessive when compared to the Batmen of the past.
But most importantly, the message of the story – of an entire history of Superman and Batman stories – has been lost.
Watchmen worked because it was a deconstruction of the genre. It took the paragons of truth and justice we are so used to seeing in the comics and made them fallible and deeply flawed. Moore created a world in which costumed crusaders crossed lines the mainstream superheroes drew. Rorschach is a darker analogue of the Batman, and others like him, mired in misanthropy and paranoia. Dr. Manhattan shows the aloof nature of beings beyond our comprehension. Nite Owl and the others show the sad reality of heroes past their prime, and Ozymandias shows the logical next step from killing ‘for the greater good’.
Even in this world created specifically for them, these heroes seem ludicrous and ineffective. The deaths of the first generation of ‘Minutemen’ are poignantly mundane, and the madness of Mothman and sadism of the Comedian force us to question the sanity of any costumed crimefighter. The overt political undercurrents and the alternate timeline further deconstruct the so-called ‘American Way’ in its most archetypal form.
For me, and many others, Zack Synder captured all of this beautifully. Perhaps, there were things that could have been handled differently, more subtly. But the underlying story is there, and the symbolism and meaning is clear to see.
Until, that is, we compare it to the movies of the DCEU.
Only two movies in, we’re already seeing a brand of hero that would be at home in the Watchmen universe. They could almost be the third wave of superheroes in that world, thirty years after Dr. Manhattan’s threat. We have a superhuman who is detached from humanity, living a nomadic lifestyle and allowing people to die to protect his own secrets. We have a sleuth who does little investigating, but a lot of fighting, with no concern for human life and no clue who the real enemy is.
With every step Synder takes towards this bleak world, ‘Watchmen’ loses more of what made it meaningful. It loses its reference point, its relevance, and its sense of realism. It is no longer a deconstruction of the genre, but simply part of the genre.
Like Watchmen, the DCEU lacks relevance and meaning in this new world of murderous superheroes. They are dark and cruel in a world that has been made dark and cruel by the heroes themselves, and our only reason for caring for these heroes – let alone supporting them – is the 75 year history that tells us they are symbols of hope.
For the first time ever, young generations are living in a world where DC’s cinematic heroes are all egotistical madmen taking the law into their own hands. There is no inspirational role model or figure of morality. There is only wanton violence.
With Synder directing the upcoming movie, Suicide Squad, one has to wonder what difference there will be between the superheroes and the supervillains. Murder certainly won’t be the deciding factor. Like ‘Watchmen’, the status of heroes in the DCEU is murky at best, with no clear cut line between right and wrong.
The similarities between Watchmen and the DCEU are the greatest condemnation of Synder’s vision I could possibly present. It shows how completely misguided Snyder’s efforts are, how out of touch he is with the core principles of the genre. But most of all, it shows that Synder is not only ruining this latest venture, but also his own greatest success.