It‚??s hard to say when the superhero genre reached perfection, but I think I can safely argue that it was not with Superman: The Movie. At this moment in time I think I‚??m torn between‚?¶ Actually, as I start to name them I suddenly think of another ream of them come to mind. While I think over exactly what the other one is I‚??ll just come out and say that one of them is Watchmen. Watchmen actually occupies more genres than Superheroes, but I‚??m already scattered enough right now.
Watchmen is a comic book series from the mid-80s that depicts a group of completely originl superheroes (who for the most part have no superpowrs) that are loosely representative of some of the more popular superheroes that we all know and love. They live in an alternate 1986 universe where Nixon has managed to remain President and the world stands at the brink of nuclear annihilation. Superheroes, who were once an actual part of everyday life, have been outlawed and have either gone to work for the government or settled into civilian life. The story begins, after a deftly handled credit sequence that explains how the world got to be the way it is, with a murder of a husky old man that turns out to be a serious scoundrel of a superhero. The murder and subsequent investigation sets off a series of events that explore what exactly a superhero is behind the sterile veneer of simple do-gooding.
Watchmen was written by world-reknowned curmudgeon Alan Moore, responsible for such other stories as From Hell, V for Vendetta, and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He might actually be better known for being the guy who refused to be associated with any of the film adaptations of his comics, and all of the money they made too. Zack Snyder takes on the role of director after having shown people what comic book adaptations are all about with 300. If Snyder deserves credit for anything about Watchmen it‚??s for creating a nearly to the letter adaptation of Moore‚??s graphic novel - because above everything else the strength of this picture lies in it‚??s story.
Zack Snyder has a penchant for staging operatic acts of violence travelling through space. It worked wonders in 300 and Watchmen‚??s prison break scene was even more effective - I could feel tears welling up in my eyes as if I were watching the young boy reunited with the loyal dog after an entire movie‚??s worth of searching. It is in these fantastic acts of violence that Snyder is able to properly elaborate from the static pages of the source material - and this is why, besides making the choice to say as faithful to the comic as possible, we see that Snyder was a great choice for directing this film.
While many of the ideas presented in this movie have been around for so long now that it‚??s hard to see them as innovative, I was impressed to watch how the idealism of a ‚??traditional‚?? superhero Nite Owl II (an interesting hybrid of Batman and Superman) is rendered obsolete by the pragmatic machinations of his colleagues. It doesn‚??t seem like such a big deal now, but when it was written - it was a real herald of the rise of the anti-hero, not only in comics, but all over pop-culture (that includes wrestling).
In reference to what I was saying earlier about not being sure which would be a worthy contemporary of Watchmen - I‚??m thinking that it would have to adequately deal with the subject of what exactly motivates a hero to do the things that they do. Watchmen is loaded with colourful backgrounds of all kinds, coupled with the simple assumption that given the opportunity and ability, everyone would throw on a mask and punch bad guys in the face. Batman Begins boasts a classic and believable origin story, but of ends there - that‚??s Bruce‚??s personality, simple as that. The Dark Knight, while a marvel of Superhero cinematics, doesn‚??t develop Bruce‚??s character any further than it was. I had hoped that while Batman Begins deals with his relationship with his father, Tje Dark Knight might explore his relationship with his mother (who shares a name with Clark Kent‚??s mom, by the way).
So if The Dark Knight isn‚??t it, it‚??s gotta be Iron Man. Iron Man deals with a character with all kinds of conflicting motivations combining to create a sympathetic anti-hero whose motivations continue to change as circumstances change unlike Batman whose driven by a single minded psychosis. What you get in Watchmen is an entire pantheon of do-gooders that can cast a light on a whole spectrum of reasons for people to put on a mask. It‚??s a celebration of the culture for both the readers and the characters.
So if we measure up Iron Man against Watchmen, Iron Man stands out as a superior superhero film in that it‚??s definitely more fun, but Watchmen doesn‚??t exist for the purposes of being fun. Watchmen is an examination of the nature of heroism, and for that reason it could open itself to ridicule from the general public for taking itself too seriously. Despite it‚??s advantage as being more ‚??entertaining‚?? in a traditional sense, Iron Man can‚??t hold a candle to Watchmen‚??s comprehensive approach to the entire experience - the heroics, the relationships, the fights, the gear, the schemes, the costumes. Everything. So while the material might be a little heavy (and/or gruesome) at times, and it might have been a little long, Watchmen remains the superior film in terms of making the most of what the medium can accomplish.
I‚??ll concede though, that as an adapted screenplay, Watchmen has an unfair advantage over superhero movies that draw on a larger swath of source material and might wind up getting more muddled in the process. So as we begin to see narrower interpretations of superheroes coming to the big screen (like, perhaps, Kick Ass?) we might continue to see a deeper understanding of the comic book medium and the superhero genre emerging - until then, Watchmen will remain king of the castle.